Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Big Crash

There was a point, I think, right after the Lord's Test, where I was absolutely unconcerned about how the team was playing; I remained smug and solid in my conviction that this team was the king of comebacks, and that it would bounce back with the kind of alacrity that would lead to people making horrible puns that possibly included the words 'India rubber'. After all, we all know what happened in South Africa, right? Or Australia? Or Sri Lanka? Hell, the Freakin Amazing Test Match in '08 against England in Chennai, where we were losing for 3 and a half days before going on to win?

History said: India will make England slip off its perch so bad, it's gonna get rope-burn. Or something. (History isn't terribly great at mixed metaphors.)

Unfortunately, we went through a wormhole into a reality where it was India that continued slipping. And slipping. And slipping.

But more on that later.

So there we were in good ol' Trent Bridge for the second Test, and India seemed right on track. We had England at 100-odd for 6, Ishant Sharma was finally starting to look formidable again, and PK was a revelation. "See?" I said. "Everything's going according to plan."

Then: we... just let it slip.

Looking back on that moment, that session of play where we let Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann do what they pleased with the bat was The Turning Point. Possibly THE most important session in the series. When we let that go, we'd practically let go of the series, our no 1 ranking, any semblance of dignity we might have had. I remember being more bemused than angry. I still am, actually. It's like being smacked on the head by a cow that just fell from the sky. What the hell happened?

Yeah, sure, England played magnificently - not going to take that away from them - and we were crap warmed over, but - still. What? We can't be THAT bad, right? The depressing thing is that a team with the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag is performing a couple of notches below how Bangladesh would perform in the same situation. Hell, B'desh could've maybe managed a draw or two, even.

The final Test is going on at the Oval right now, and England scored bucketloads of runs in the first innings (as usual) and we - FREAKIN AGAIN - folded cheaply. It's like somebody went there and pulled the plug on some vital reserve in the Indian players. I imagine little gears and chains in the players' bodies, pulling them through over after over, through minute after minute of the depressing charade. In the few minutes I dared to watch the actual TV coverage - risky, because I tend to spend the rest of the day in a blue funk when I do - I remember Harsha Bhogle saying something along the lines of, "So Praveen Kumar continues to bowl. And bowl. And bowl."

I imagine he was praising PK's perseverance and stamina, but every word was also a statement on the black sludge that the Indian cricket viewer's soul was being dragged through.

And bowl. And bowl. And bowl. And bowl. And bowl...

A lonely and sordid nightmare.

Compounding the depression is that - man, this is England we're losing to. England! Forgive me for my prejudices, but - seriously, India? Seriously? About the only modern English thing I can bring myself to love is Doctor Who. Everything else is a horror acid trip consisting mostly of Swann's 142-character witticisms and Stuart Broad's, well, everything.

Dhoni must've known a series loss was going to come sometime. I don't think he expected it to be this bad.

I can't bring myself to watch/read/write about this series. It's physically painful. Just getting those links for the matches and verifying the scores was like taking raw chunks out of my soul. I remember my Dad watching an NDTV news bulletin about the second Test during breakfast. The anchor announced the highlights package as "Now for the Sadlights" without a trace of irony. If the team's performance is depressing, the local media reaction is even more depressing.

Sunil Gavaskar going, "The players, now that they've won the World Cup, act as if Indian cricket owes them something now, rather than the other way round" (paraphrased), was probably the only time I got angry through the whole affair. That's an unfair statement, Mr. Gavaskar. That's really, really unfair. I really can't say anything more than that, just goggle in sheer disbelief.

I can't stand it. I usually avoid news channels like the plague; now I've taken to just removing the sports pages of the newspaper and folding them under the toaster in the morning. Yes, I'm enjoying my ride in this river in Egypt; how about you?

I'm still waiting for THE moment, however. The moment where the Indian team gets that spring in its step and stop auditioning for extras in a George Romero movie. It's part wishful thinking, part romantic fantasy, but mostly proved by history. There have been passages - tiny, but they were there - of play in this tour where the Indians showed glimpses of why they are/were/are/were/ARE, goddamit, the best team in the world. Some good memories can still be salvaged out of this tour. Maybe even a couple of wins.

Meanwhile, I'll direct the depressing stuff to the ever-growing pile under my toaster.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My 0.2 seconds of fame

Finally, my report of what went down on the evening of May 4! A little late, I know, but I've been around a bit since then, and, well. The Chennai summer has been sapping me of the will to live, leave alone write.

However! Here we go.

It was the afternoon of the fourth of May, and it was HOT. I mean, not any more than usual, but it's not the kind of afternoon you'd want to play cricket in. With much sympathy (a rare thing for fans as entitled as we), three of my friends and I met up at a shopping mall nearby and took an autorickshaw to about as close as it could get to the stadium. On the way, we saw the team bus, and possibly spotted Albie Morkel at the window. Excited? Hell yeah.
Having purchased our CSK caps from one of the several vendors lurking around, and having made sure we were all decked in yellow, we proceeded to walk toward our designated gate. We were soaked in sweat by the end of that walk. I was dreading how much more of our body volume we were about to lose inside the stadium.

Security was... well. About as tight as they could manage. We knew about the no-food, no-water rule, but they also confiscated my tube of sunscreen and my friend's deo spray, which, well. Kind of pissed us off. Serves you right if my face comes off in great bloody strips and the toxic fumes from several thousand sweaty armpits kill us all, was my thought. In retrospect, it was probably silly, but that close to the stadium? I think I was already prepping myself for mindless emotional reactions. Yay!

So! Into the stadium we went. It'd been three years since I'd last been to the MAC (the last time was a CSK v DC match I went to with my family; that happened to be one of the only two games DC managed to win the whole '08 season, so I warned the others that they were taking a bad-luck charm with them). It looked... pretty, with the giant white canopies and the gaps between the stands and the profusion of giant screens (counted at least three at first glance). The major improvement, though? The seats. Also, the general appearance had made a giant improvement: I remember the first time I visited the MAC and being hugely disappointed by how shabby everything looked. Now, though? I felt like I was really visiting the stadium for the first time.

Our stand was the I stand, lower tier, which was fantastic because it was right by where the players practiced before the match started. The Men in Startlingly Bright Yellow were already there, stretching and doing catching practice when we arrived. The Rajasthan Royals had not come out yet, and the stadium was just starting to slowly fill in. Armed with those inflatable Zoozoo headband things we went straight to the fence to start gaping at the players ("who's that with the weirdass shirt?" "Hussey?" "You kidding me? That's Albie." "ALBIE! Look here!")
Just as Raina was leaving, we called out to him, waving frantically. He turned back, grinned at the four of us, and waved back. Did I mention Raina is awesome? Because he is. We tried the same with Morkel; he kinda glanced back and gave a reluctant little wave with his hand still near his hip; Badrinath didn't even respond. Which is kind of rude, since we were the only people out there calling for him. (We didn't laugh when his pants came down, though. Not much, anyway.)

So as the toss and the pre-match interviews went on ("there's no time gap between the pitch-report and the toss?" gasped my friend, a first-timer. Aaah, the routine of watching cricket on TV. Anything for ads featuring two-timing girls with bulky mobile phones.) and we started settling in (not really). We painted giant yellow hearts on one side of our cheeks and a CSK player's name on the other (I was "Ashwin" by the way; why not Dhoni, you ask? Ashwin needs all the fan-support he can get, yo! Plus it occupied maximum space, so. Y'know. Fun.)

So there we were, screaming and laughing and creating a right royal ruckus a good half-hour before the match had even begun. We managed to draw the attention of the official CSK website photographer, who snapped us grinning wide enough to split our faces open. Aaaand the photo came on the CSK website!

Our 0.2 seconds of fame, I declared.

Anyway. The match started, and it was tremendous fun. For one, it was actually cool. As in, it was pleasant and not horribly stuffy as we'd dreaded, mostly due to the fact that there'd been a lovely cool breeze blowing every few minutes. Also, we were in the shady part of the stadium, which meant there was no direct sunlight. It was an amazingly pleasant surprise.

Dravid was going great guns - it was a little surreal to be watching it real-time with no closeups of the batsman or following the ball as it went to the boundary; I swear at one point I was grasping at thin air for an invisible remote - and there was much chanting of "C-S-K! C-S-K!" from behind us in encouragement. Just to rile them up, we would go "Ra-jas-than! Ra-jas-than!" every time they started their chant. What? It was fun, although we did get a lot of funny looks.

However, we didn't always have a great view of the action, and had to move a little higher later in the second innings. Another disadvantage of being where we were was that Aniruddha Srikkanth kept fielding right in front of us, and we had a near-constant view of his generously-endowed posterior and his occasional fielding gaffe (he fell right over the ball even as it raced under him in the first over. I pray he didn't hear us cursing. We love you really, Aniruddha!).

Wickets fell like rain in the last ten overs - skiers falling down the throat of Murali Vijay, mostly; damn, that man must be a specialist in that sort of thing by now - and we screamed, oh how we screamed! Gave high-fives and vent to our throats in a way that would've cracked glass were we watching this at home. This is it, I thought, this is aaaall it's about. And it's brilliant.

It was. To give yourself to the ebbs and flows of the game like that, with complete abandon, and have ten thousand others do it with you? The feeling is like the best drug, man.

The second innings began, and perhaps the only blip there was that we lost Vijay early (one of my friends who's a HUGE Vijay fan was crushed; I laughed until I was reminded that I'd react the same way if Dhoni were to get out early. Which, y'know. Touche.) and that the result was all too predictable toward the end. "Let Raina get out and Dhoni come in!" cried my first-timer friend. "Let it be a cliffhanger like the Kolkata game!" Hell-llo. Gift. Horse. Mouth. A strict no-no. That is all.

At the end, Raina did get out with 4 to get, which amused me to no end. We cheered for Shane Watson and Johan Botha to break up the monotony ("Botha! Botha! Bo-THA!" "Dude. That sounds wrong." "Um. Johan, Johan?" "THE J IS SILENT!" "Geez. You sound like you're his mother.")

Shaun Tait, who was not playing but passed by where we sat, received a few cheers from us, too. He turned and gave a small wave, which, yay.

There were many aborted attempts at Mexican waves - aborted because one section of the crowd, the stand right next to us, in fact, would just not get up. Finally they did, and we did six continuous Waves. It was kind of awesome.

The winning moment was more of a "finally!" than a "wow! awesome!" moment, but yeah. A superbly comprehensive victory, the weather was great, and we were not the little puddles of skin-coloured goo on the cemented floor as we'd feared. The drinks were a tad expensive - Rs. 60 for an iced tea that was neither iced and tasted nothing like tea; in fact, it kinda tasted like ultra-diluted beer, but an incredibly enjoyable experience otherwise. There's nothing like being there, particularly with friends who are just as cricket-crazy as you.

Let me tell you what I love about this CSK team. They are a team. They are about the most locally represented team out there. Badrinath, Vijay, Ashwin... indispensable. (My heart still aches that Balaji is among the men in yellow anymore). I love that there's always somebody who steps up when the others aren't performing: if it's Hussey and Raina one day, it's Albie and Dhoni the next, or Vijay and Badrinath. If Albie and Randiv are bowling crap, it's Dougie and Jakati; if it's Ashwin and Bravo one day, it's Raina and Kulasekara the other. Mumbai is all Tendulkar, Rayudu and Malinga; Bangalore = Gayle. Not so Chennai. I love it.

I especially love that these guys can come back from bad situations and fight blood, tooth and nail till either victory or the very last ball. Is why they are the most successful IPL team out there any mystery? I don't think so.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Brilliance in an airport lounge.

I went for the CSK v RR match on May 4. There is much I want to tell regarding that, but considering I left that very night for a trip to Sri Lanka and returned only today, the report will come a little late.

Before that, however--

Just a few hours ago, I was in the Colombo airport, in the departure area, boarding passes in hand, flight just half an hour away, itching to go back to Chennai. They were showing the KTK v RCB match on the TV, and after I spent a few minutes boggling at the new Bangalore uniform -- lime green, seriously? They look like runaway runway markers. Or like unicorns vomited on them. -- Prashanth Parameswaran came to bowl to Chris Gayle. I like Parameswaran. I like that he came from nowhere, with a mouthful of a name that pulls Danny Morrison's tongue into knots and tons of cool attitude. I wondered how he felt, bowling to somebody like Chris Gayle. I mean, sure. Sehwag is Sehwag and everything, but Gayle tends to be even more unpredictable, and can demoralise you like nobody's business in the space of a few balls.

That over went for 37 runs.

Thirty-seven, people.

If I remember right, the first ball went for 6. The second was a no-ball hit for six, so that's 7, and the free-hit went for 4, so that's 11 runs off that second ball. Then I think he hit two more sixes and two more fours.

It was quite a scene. We were all gathered around the TV, some of us with huge grins on our faces, others with hands over their mouths, still more staring at the screen, fascinated, like it was some sort of newly discovered extra-terrestrial life-form. The last call for boarding the flight was on. Nobody moved. A frustrated wife tried to pry her husband away from the TV, but he kept saying, "Just one more ball! Just one more!"

(thirty-seven. the mind still boggles. such casual violence.)

Then Vinay Kumar came on to bowl. As Gayle came on strike, there was much conferencing. Mahela, Vinay, the 'keeper, everybody. Prashanth stood by the side, sweating and maybe a little shaken. Vinay threw everything he had. A bouncer. Slower ball. There seemed to be a catch dropped off his bowling, but it was a bump ball that bounced inches in front of a diving Ramesh Powar.

Then. Finally. Vinay went for a Malinga-style yorker. Went under the toe-end of Gayle's bat and dismantled his off-stump. Much rejoicing.

This was the point we all rushed to the coach that would take us to the flight, but the match situation at that point in time?

3.4 overs, 67 runs, chasing 126.

Freakishly awesome, and all in that space of time in an airport lounge in Colombo.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Oh dear lord.

One response:

Also, sorry. Got nothing meaningful to add, really. I thought I'd get more into the IPL as it progressed, but I've been able to muster nothing even near the enthusiasm of the last three years. However! I'll be going to a couple of matches in May (and I'll finally be seeing the brand new MAC!) so hopefully that'll put me in a blogging kind of mood.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

'Tis the season of the Eye-Pee-Elle!

Disjointed post, ahoy!

1. Okay, I'm getting sick of the Dhoni-madness. I lapped it all up with much glee the first couple of days, but all the bandwagon-hopping hypocrite groupies are pissing me off. You really love the man so much? Try sticking by him when he's not winning World Cups!

2. IPL! I mean, look. I consider myself a pretty indefatigable cricket fan: keep it comin', is my motto. I'll snark, I'll groan, I'll shake my fists, but trust me, I'll make sure I follow the match somehow: TV, internet commentary, radio, mobile updates, what have you. But this time? First match was CSK v KKR, and I couldn't work up anything. I was half-asleep until the last five overs of the match. The World Cup took more out of me as a spectator than I'd expected. Huh. Who'd've thunk?

3. Speaking of the last five overs, hah. What an exercise in hilarity. But good for you, Southee. Aaaalso, I think everybody needed that cliffie. Both teams and their fans were sleepwalking till that time. All of us needed that fillip, I think. Feeling ready for the rest of the season? I think. Hopefully I'll get tickets to go to a few of the matches this time 'round.

4. I know I've been pretty critical of IPL opening ceremonies in the past, but I expected this to be better, since, you know. It's Chennai, and everything. But, no. It sucked beyond belief. I couldn't even watch it. Why?

  • Too much Bollywood. I honestly expected the likes of Sivamani, Simbu, Vijay, etc, etc., to be shaking a leg out there. Not Sunidhi Chauhan and Shah Rukh friggin' Khan. WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF BOLLYWOOD, AND ITS STUPID, GENERIC PSEUDO-PUNJABI BEATS. IF YOU WANT A CEREMONY IN CHENNAI, YOU MIGHT TRY MAKING IT A LITTLE MORE LIKE IT'S ACTUALLY IN CHENNAI.
  • Blah blah blah magic and then the obligatory Shah Rukh friggin Khan "speaking" (read: horribly dubbed) in Tamil, and dancing to the very obligatory Appadi Podu. Do you guys realise that that song is over eight years old? Man, slap a label and milk it to the very last stereotypical drop! Insulting and disappointing.
  • SRK? Vijay pwns you in the dance-department. Just saying.
  • I repeat: this is Chennai. Not pseudo-Mumbai. What a frustrating and terrible ceremony.

5. It was physically painful to see Balaji bowl for the opposition. Seriously. Love the man so damn much, and he sticks out like a sore thumb in the Sourpuss Squad, also occasionally known as the Kolkata Knightriders.

6. What the hell, Gambo. Comin' in at 6? Not one of your brighter ideas. I get it when Dhoni does it - he's played in every position in the line-up, and 6 is usually his place. But you're an opening batsman, dude. Not a slogger.

7. One of my favourite moments from last night's game was this: Gambo hits one to long-on (I think, I was still fighting sleep at the time), where Albie's fielding. Albie fumbles a bit, but he gets the throw back to Dhoni, who kinda stops the ball with his body. The ball rebounds off his gloves and dribbles behind him, so he loses sight of it. Gambo senses an opportunity and scampers for the second run. Dhoni's looking frantically for the ball, but Styris swoops down on it and throws it at the stumps with Gambo short of his crease. KKR sink further into the depths. And what happens? Even abject incompetence from Dhoni is made to look like genius. He set Gambo up for the run-out by muffing the take! seemed to squeal the commentators. Dhoni just grinned sheepishly. I laughed and laughed and laughed.

8. I love that CSK is more or less the same team as the last three seasons. How much do I love this team, you ask? Sometimes even more than the Indian team, is my answer. Chennai, the city, remains my only love in India.

9. ... And that's all she wrote. I'm back at the hospital after a break, and I am exhausted. Possibly last night's fatigue wasn't entirely due to post-World Cup hangover. Whatever.

ADDENDUM: Oh god, I'm so tired I think I'm hallucinating. I just saw Laxman hitting a six.

*reaches blearily for caffeine*

Sunday, April 3, 2011


I sometimes feel out of place in cricket discussions: the upstart, the young girl who's followed cricket for barely nine years, the fangirl who hero-worships Dhoni like some people hero-worship Tendulkar. They speak of several years of supporting a faltering Indian team, watching it slump and then grow and then slump again; they talk of the choking emotion in watching it move from triumph to triumph after the turn of the century. Their heroes are slowly going out, one by one, except for that one man who's been a constant fixture in Indian cricket for more than 2 decades. They talk of the '83 World Cup victory with unbridled nostalgia; in '83 my parents were still five years away from even meeting each other for the first time. This World Cup win, then, is special for them in so many ways - ways that are scattered across cyberspace, freely - but for me?

My affair with cricket started with the 2003 World Cup, when I was a giggly 12 year old who barely knew the difference between 'leg side' and 'off side'. My grandmother was - and is - the original cricket buff in the family. She religiously watches every single match that India plays - and as many other cricket matches as she can - and her enthusiasm as the '03 Cup approached rubbed off on me, more than any amount of media hype. I remember studiously cutting out the colourful World Cup match schedule from the backpage of The Hindu, laminating it, and then checking it every morning to see what match was on that day. Much of my emotional investment in the game today comes from my memories of that tournament. I whooped and I cheered and I cried. I pestered my Dad with all sorts of cricketing questions. I remember enjoying listening to Sanjay Manjrekar and Rameez Raja commentating together. I remember giggling at all the jabs at Mandira Bedi. I remember the Tarot card reading before the Ind v Kenya semifinal. I bought an India jersey just before the final and sat in front of the TV, hoping, hoping, praying. Of course, the team flopped at the final stage, but long before Tendulkar fell, Ponting blitzed an amazing century and I think we'd all come to accept that India wasn't winning this one. But hey, we said, we reached the final. That's pretty damn good, right?

At that time, it was. I religiously followed the Indian team after that. There were periods - most of 2006 - where cricket was the last thing on my mind, but for the most part, I followed the team that I believed would do it, would do it next time. I acquired a working knowledge, played backyard cricket with my brother, devoured as many cricket-related articles as I could.

In 2007, I was the hormone-ridden 16 year old who believed "Dhoni's going to win the World Cup for us this time." I was in the throes of a crush on the man, what can I say? Those dreams, of course, came crashing down pretty quickly, but it was nice while it lasted. I had a copy of the World Cup schedule - this time, it was an already-laminated copy that came free with some magazine or the other - under my pillow, so when I woke up, the first thing I'd do was check the day's match.

One of the things I remember best about the run-up to the tournament was our ability to fool ourselves. Not all was well with the team - the unceremonious ousting of Sourav Ganguly, Chappell being an unpopular coach and media-handler and PR... well, just unpopular in general, home series losses to Australia and Pakistan, a godawful tour of South Africa, where we lost everything except that Test win in Jo'burg and our first-ever Twenty20 - but we won a couple of hastily-arranged bilaterals at home against SL and WI, which of course, assured us that we could still make a fist of things. It wasn't to be, and like the '03 final, we'd (or I'd, anyway) forgiven the Indian team long before the final wickets fell against SL and Rahul Dravid's tears broke my heart. I remember feeling a kind of malicious glee as reports came in about a tournament that was poorly organised and poorly attended, a tournament that had its final end with one of the most pointless and farcical finishes in the history of the game. After all, how can a tournament that had neither India nor Pakistan even make it to the second round ever be popular? But still I told myself: we would do it, we would do it next time.

That debacle prompted me to up my cricket obsession by several levels. I followed the exploits of the team more intensely than ever before. If you ask me, I can tell you anything you want to know about India's matches in between May 2007 to December 2008. Anything. I can even quote some of the scorecards. "Religious" didn't even begin to cover it. We were beginning to lift ourselves after that disaster, and I didn't want to miss a moment. A Test series win in England, a curious, good-now, bad-now, good-again sort of 3-4 loss to Eng in the ODIs (characterised by the most atrocious fielding I have seen from the Indians ever), and then: the inaugural Twenty20 WC.

Hah, that tournament. Full of dizzy highs. The thing that I found remarkable about that tournament - more than Yuvraj's six sixes, or Irfan Pathan's performance, or RP Singh's magic with the new ball, or even Rohit Sharma's emergence - was something that happened during our tie in our first match against Pakistan, and that ridiculous(ly awesome) bowl-out we had to decide the winner. Malik had no clue what was going on; he just picked five bowlers who'd bowled the best that day, and that included the likes of Umar Gul and Asif. Dhoni? Dhoni picked Sehwag, Harbhajan and Robin Uthappa, who'd never bowled an international ball in his life, much to everybody's astonishment. Result? India win that 3-0.

Why? everybody asked Dhoni. What was the rationale? And Dhoni said: they'd been preparing for just such a scenario. The squad had divided itself into 4 groups, and during practice sessions, they would have bowl-out tournaments. So, it was easy, he said. He just picked whoever had the best record in those little tournaments. In fact, he said, Rohit Sharma, who was not in the XI in that game, had a 100% record.

That, for me, was mind-boggling. Here was a guy, just appointed captain of the team, playing a tournament in a format of the game that was still in its infancy, coming into it just days after a long, draining tour of England, with no senior players, having played just one Twenty20 till that moment, no practice matches, no coach... and he was so goddamn prepared. He was at the top of his game, he had every base covered, right from match one of his captaincy. This was a keeper, I thought, and I didn't mean his role in the side. I hoped it was a portent for great things to come.

We would do it next time. Next time.

I watched this team with a sort of open-mouthed fascination over the next year or so. The superbly entertaining, if controversial -- oh, who am I kidding, it was that entertaining because it was so controversial -- Australian tour, the CB series of awesomeness, IPL, the Asia Cup, the Mendis menace and the SL tour, the Border Gavaskar trophy, Ganguly and Kumble's retirement, the captaincy going over to Dhoni completely, the whitewash of England in the ODIs and then that magnificent Test win at Chennai-- 2008 was a fab year, and I loved every moment, cherished them. I became more involved with cricket online -- I joined various forums, I'd check out cricinfo at least once every day, I started reading blogs, and late '08, I finally created one of my own.

'09 and '10 were what I like to consider the sobering years. I didn't follow cricket as closely as I moved to my college hostel which has no TV (it's an evil hostel, I know) but I made up for it with online commentary. One of my favourite memories was listening to Sachin Tendulkar score his ODI 200 on radio a year and half ago. A long lazy afternoon, but I was sitting in front of my radio, super-tense and practically vibrating with excitement. And when Sachin hit his 200th run? I ran out into the empty corridors - everybody else was either sleeping or reading or lazing about - screaming. I knocked at doors, screamed "Sachin scored a double-century!" and hugged everybody in sight, friend or enemy.

But yeah. Those two years gave us a better idea of what this Indian team was settling into. There was failure now, interspersed with success, and people were finally beginning to realise Dhoni was human (about time!) but not dealing with it very well (which sucked). We are a lot with our heads up our asses a lot of the time - the sense of entitlement we possess is staggering, and I do not consider myself an exception. But I love this team, and I understood they had to grow on their own terms. I ranted and raved when I could, and I defended them fiercely. We can still do it, was my constant refrain.

So. This World Cup arrived. My gut feeling was India's going to win this. I told my friends until their ears had fallen off: there can't be a better opportunity for India than this. We are perfectly placed. If we don't win this, then we don't ever deserve to win the World Cup.

My previous post elaborated my feelings on India's journey in this World Cup: I felt like they were saving their best for the last. We would do it, we would do it, I chanted. And how--!

The first striking thing was the fielding. My jaw dropped open! So quick, so fast, so dedicated! Not even in the T20 WC '07 did I remember them being this sharp. Yuvraj, throwing himself around and saving boundaries like a friggin' Superman on steroids! Raina! Kohli! Gambhir! Sreesanth, Zaheer, flinging themselves near the boundary rope! My house did not have current supply for exactly the period between the 44th over and the end of the Sri Lankan innings, and apparently that was the time the Indian plans came apart. Just as well for my blood pressure that I didn't see that, then. But still -- to come out with this kind of a mindset with a billion people breathing down their necks... my heart burgeoned with fresh admiration.

The prospect of chasing 275 was an interesting one. My grandmother had given up. It's Sri Lanka's day today, she said, with a shrug of her shoulders, All fate. What can we do? But I told her to just wait and see. Unlike a lot of the fans out there, I've seen this team slug it out a lot more times than I've seen it roll over in the mud.We would do this. We would do this. We ARE doing this.

Sehwag goes first thing, but I pushed down my trepidation, swallowed it like it was a particularly large chunk of bitter medicine, and thought: Okay, Sachin. Here you go.

Here's the funny thing about Sachin Tendulkar. He has played so many matches and played with so many generations, I bet he has enough to material to fill half-a-dozen very interesting books. He also means different things to different generations. To my generation, he's the Established Hero. We were what? 7, 8 years old when he played some of his most memorable innings? Hell, I was born a whole year after he made his debut. A lot of my contemporaries idolise him, of course. But for me, he's the kind of guy who you just have to admire, but not hero-worship. I can't. I'm baffled at the Tendulkar-devotion. Maybe I didn't live his greatness; after all, when I was starting to really get into cricket, he was struggling with his tennis elbow and run of poor form. So, no. Tendulkar is not god, at least for me.

But last night? I might've thought just that.

However, he was out, and it was upto the Unscarred Generation to get us through. I like Kohli. He has attitude - shit happens is just a few notches below we are performers at a circus for my favourite candid comment from a cricketer - and he has the ability. With experience, he can be a future leader. And Gambhir. With his advances down the pitch like a rampaging anaemic bull with ADD. He was brilliant, but it was upsetting that he threw it all away on 97. More than his century, I raged, he's allowed Sri Lanka a window of opportunity. But then Yuvraj came to join Dhoni, and I sat in my living room with my grandmother - nobody else, just the two of us, sweating because neither of us dared to get up and switch on the fan lest another wicket fell - and we hoped and prayed and watched.

What can I say about Dhoni? For me, one of the sour points of this tournament was that Dhoni'd had a very average tourney with the bat. It nagged me like a particularly persistent insect at the back of my brain. But I told myself he'll come through when it matters. It seemed like a selfish thing to wish for, that Dhoni get in and play big, match-winning innings, that I rarely discussed it with anybody else. But the hope lived on in my heart.

He delivered better than I ever thought he would in the final.

To cope with all those expectations, in anticipation of the massive backlash he'd receive for his selection decisions and strategic moves if he failed, to deal with humidity and noise and chronic back pain - at one point, he looked scarily like he couldn't move another inch - to do all this with the poise and grace that has become uniquely his - no amount of 'ice' and 'cool' metaphors can do justice, sorry - and hit the winning runs with that trademark shot for six (how many times has he finished off a chase with a six for us in his career?)... wow. I salute you, Mahi. It's not like I needed another reason to hero-worship you, but you were brilliant.

Brilliance. That's all I can say. Like a thousand brightly burning suns.

I screamed during the winning moment. Not for long, though. Not even as much as I screamed for our win over Pakistan. After that, I hugged my grandmother and sat down and watched the celebrations and heard the fireworks and grinned and grinned like my face would split open. And the only thought in my head was:

We did it. We did it, this time.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Grammatically speaking

... you're wrong, Mahi.

Double-negative? Seriously?

Also, nice tongue-in-cheek, cricinfo.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Measured Post

Now that I've given myself enough time to recover from the India-Pakistan encounter, I think I can manage a decent-enough post building up to tomorrow's final. Or manage some level of coherency at any rate. In case you do want my reaction, which involved much CAPSLOCK and fangirling, you can check it out here.

Now. Tomorrow, India v Sri Lanka for the ultimate glory in the cricketing world: the world cup. I think it kinda fits, you know? Over the last three years, if there's been one constant, it's been: there's an India v Sri Lanka match 'round the corner. Right from the Asia Cup in 2008 - or is it even before? Our history goes way back, but I'll start with 2007.

In early '07, we played a four match bilateral with SL in India before the World Cup, which we won 3-1. We kicked their asses, I remember. However, it was SL that broke a billion hearts when we lost to them and crashed unceremoniously out of the '07 WC. Then the Asia Cup in '08, where we were on a high, rebuilding and recovering, just having beat the World Champions in their own freakin' backyard and destroying the Lankans on the way. We had a completely in-form, frighteningly awesome line-up. And yet in the final? We crumbled to Mendis' carrom-ball. Score to SL.

The Mendis nightmare continued as we toured them later that year. He bamboozled the likes of Dravid and Laxman and Ganguly as SL cruised to a Test series win. However, we came back and won the ODI series 3-2. I don't think it's possible ever to underestimate how important this win was. Almost as big as the CB series win. For me, this is where the Indian team began to show that it had the guts for a right royal scrap. This was as much a defining moment in recent Indian cricketing history as any other.

Then. Another ODI bilateral in early '09, 4-1 to India. SL touring India later that year, Tests and ODIs, both going to India. Then we tour them in '10, drawing the Tests and winning the ODIs.

In between. Five tournament finals: Asia Cup '08 (SL), Compaq Cup 'o9 (Ind), tri-series final in Bangladesh '10 (SL), Asia Cup '10 (Ind), the Micromax tri-series with New Zealand '10 (SL).

That's a lot of cricket in less than three years. I remember a lot of exasperation everytime yet another series was announced, and I even wrote a parody-piece about it. And to think that the biggest tournament in cricket also culminates in an India-Sri Lanka final? Is it the same old yet another, yet another? Can we expect things to be different this time? Especially when these teams know each other inside-out?

Let's have a look at SL's performances leading up to the finals. Well. I don't remember much of SL's matches this tournament, because they've been so efficient. I honestly can't remember a goddamn thing from their group matches, except their middle order had a funny propensity to make life tough for them. Huge wins against Kenya, Canada... a loss to Pakistan, I remember, their only aberration... a washed-out match against the Aussies... then? A win against New Zealand, I think? And Zimbabwe? I honestly can't remember without looking it up, because their campaign has been so unremarkable. Most of their plans have worked, and worked well.

Clinical wins against England and New Zealand in the quarters and semis, and you have to say Sri Lanka have peaked, yeah?

That's the funny thing. I can point out a particular stage in the tournament where each team has peaked, and say, "yep. That's about as good as they can get." Sri Lanka are in that stage right now. Dilshan on song, Sangakkara and Jayawardene in form, Malinga, Murali (if fit), Herath/Randiv/Mendis... everybody chipping in. Rosy picture? I think so.

But what's funny about it, you ask? Well, the only team that hasn't reached this 'peak' stage is India. In every match you get the feeling India is performing sub-optimally, doing just enough to get the job done. Our first match against Bangladesh is probably the closest we've gotten to playing to our potential. Is that scarily awesome, or scarily worrying? I don't know. But that we've gotten all the way to the final despite not being at our best adds some credence to India's apparent strategy of saving their best for the last. Maybe they don't want to get burnt-out before the Big One. God knows we've done that before.

A fairly comfortable win against Bangladesh, a hair-rending tie with England, wins against Ireland and Netherland, both games in which we made our chases a little complicated because of overconfidence at the top, then that last over loss to South Africa, and finishing off our group with another good win against the West Indies. A well-fought quarterfinal encounter with Australia... and then the win over Pakistan in the semi.

About the game...

I will not lie to you, I looked forward to that game like it was my next breath. I mean, I don't know how much of it is the media hype; I don't watch news channels anymore, particularly during a major cricket tournament. But even so: that morning I woke up and the first thing I thought was oh my GOD today's India v Pakistan! And then: oh my god today's my mom's birthday better go run and wish her. But, yeah. I was super-excited.

The match lived up to my expectations. A team is only as strong as its weakest link, so while everybody went on and on about how it was Pakistan bowling v Indian batting, the real battle was between the Indian bowlers and the Pakistani batsmen. And guess what? The bowlers won. It is very special, considering how handicapped the attack was without a second specialist spinner, and that neither Nehra nor Patel had exactly covered themselves with glory in the previous matches. But they came good, and that's just this Indian team all over again: they falter and they fight, but by god, they won't just lie down and take whatever crap's dished to them.

(A note of appreciation here: I raged and raged when I learned that Ashwin had been dropped for the game. The Nehra choice worked very well - he bowled superbly - and Dhoni could've just grinned and soaked up the "oh he's such an intuitive captain" praise. But he didn't. He had the balls to admit that he made a mistake in reading the pitch, and that he ought to have gone in with two spinners, while still appreciating Nehra and Munaf's efforts.)

A lot of talk's going around that it was more a case of Pakistan losing than India winning the game. They dropped Sachin Tendulkar four times, they say. That's criminal! Perhaps. If Sachin'd gone, what's to say Yuvraj wouldn't have performed? What about Kohli? What if Raina had gotten a longer stint? What if Dhoni'd settled in earlier? Maybe if Sachin'd gotten out early, would we be looking at a 280+ score? 220? Can anybody say for sure?

Ultimately, India took its chances better than Pakistan did. Isn't that all about what cricket is? Isn't a pitting of skill against skill? Particularly considering it's a no-contact sport and you're freakin banned if you so much as touch shoulders with an opponent player. India batted better, India bowled better, India caught better! End of story! Why undermine the performance?

I have to say, though, that the Pakistanis did have a great tournament (apart from a few mad overs against NZ) and Afridi was fantastic and super-gracious in defeat. That, though, brings me to one last grouse:

It is best exemplified by this article by Aakash Chopra.

Look, I've never been a fan of the guy. I can't judge his cricket-related articles - not my area of expertise - and I've heard they're pretty good, which, hey. Great for him. But this one? So much more broad-based - too broad-based, in fact, and I think have sufficient authority to comment on it.

"Is this really patriotism?" he asks in the title. No, Aakash, it's jingoism. Welcome to the party. You're, uh, about 60 years late.

The support for the Indian team bordered on crass, he says. Again: where have you been all these years? Then:

In fact, now that we have beaten Pakistan it's considered okay if we lose to Sri Lanka in the final, for we have been avenged. Don't you find it strange? What does it tell you about our evolution as a responsible nation?
Oh god no - pop!sociology or whatever the hell he's attempting. No, Aakash, don't do it!


Post independence and the division of the country, we just carried forward the same sentiment i.e. sport being the vehicle to assert supremacy. The relations between India and Pakistan remained sour for the longest time. We've fought wars and still continue to have other equally important issues plaguing us. Yet, there's enough reason to believe that we as people, have matured and come a long way in trimming down that animosity, especially via Bollywood and numerous other cultural exchanges, perhaps reiterating time and again that the rivalry is only political. Or at least I'd like to believe that India has definitely evolved and has become a responsible nation. Unfortunately though, all it took was a cricket match to topple that process of evolution. Are we not, in a sense, pushing ourselves back a 100 years?

Just look at that. Look at the histrionics there. I thought I was a drama-llama. "topple that process of evolution"... "pushing ourselves back 100 years"... it's a cricket match, man! Stop attaching more importance to it! You're kind of defeating your own case, y'know.

If there are issues between India and Pakistan now, it's got to do with a little something called "terrorism". I'm sure you've heard? It's got nothing to do with a bunch of guys in coloured pyjamas knocking a ball around.

Also: dude. Sport has always been a source of crass jingoism! Sport is not like real life, where there are a million shades of grey and there are no absolutes. In sport, there are a definite set of rules, a clear playing field, and a definite winner and loser at the end of it all. If we let ourselves go as far as sport is concerned, should it be considered a devolution of intelligence on our part? Bollywood and cultural exchanges are fine, but on the playing field, it's always going to be an Us v Them, and it's always going to bring out our basest instincts. This is the case with every high-profile rivalry out there. Or have you not been evolving with the times? It's a global village! Keep an eye out for crowd reactions every where.

Then he vies for our sympathy, by describing the pressure felt by a player during these kinds of matches. He talks of the reactions of fans and how the players fear them, citing the vandalising of Kaif's house in '03 and the super-hype that the Pakistan tour of '04 got as examples. "We are humans too," he says. "Will we be the nation's pariah just because we couldn't win a game of cricket?" No, just win the next one and you'll be their darling again.

Okay, I don't have much against this part. The pathos is heartfelt and completely understandable. I can't imagine how it must be to have millions of hopes hinging on every move you make on the field.

Then he ends it so:

It's about time that we, as a nation, answer these questions. Are we going to behave like this every time we play Pakistan? If we detest them so much, it may not be a bad idea to severe all cricketing ties with them, for a cricket match can't be used as a benchmark to prove our superiority as a nation. Every time we behave like the way we did this time, it pulls us down as a responsible nation. The choice is ours.

Oh, is it, Mr. Chopra. What exactly did we do? We detest them? Really? We're looking at cricket matches as our only parameter of success against them? India and Pakistan have a lot of history between them, and the antagonism comes from wounds far, far deeper than any random cricket match. Like everything else, every place else, emotion is allowed free rein on the field. We scream and shout and hate and love, and at the end of the day we go home and sleep and go to work the next day. So don't boil everything down to a cricket match, Aakash. You're kinda shooting yourself in the foot.

Also, one of the most memorable India-Pakistan incidents is the standing ovation the Pakistani team got from the Chennai crowd in '99. Or more recently, when we gave the second-biggest cheer of the night to the Pakistani contingent (after our own athletes) in the Commonwealth games opening ceremony. Maybe you could take those incidents and spin a spiel about how close India and Pakistan actually are, huh?

Oh, god. I went completely off-track, huh.

Anyway, tomorrow? Has every chance of being India's day. I remember watching this ad and thinking how appropriate it was. Notice the man wearing the Dhoni jersey and walking the tightrope. He falls off at one point, and the crowd gets worried and anxious. Collective gasp. But he hangs on to the wire, hauls himself back on, and continues walking, much to the relief of the crowd.

I thought: that's India. That's the Indian team in a nutshell.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A night of cricketing cliches

This video's been inescapable over the last week, and I finally checked it out last night:

OK, look. There's a lot of rhapsodising about Chennai's civility, their, um, intellectual culture, all that jazz, and yeah. I've heard it all before. It's not that I didn't like it - rhapsodising about Chennai is one of my favourite pasttimes; Chennai is the only place I will ever love in or about India - but it's the same old cliches of the urban elite. Being involved in the pre-election circus as we are now, it's hard to believe anyone can call us evolved from the tree-jumping forms we used to be, leave alone "the most civilised metro in India". Granted, the only other "metros" I've been to in India are Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi - so if that's true, what does it say for the rest of the Indian urban life?

We South Indians are just more paranoid. That's it. We live a 'just in case' culture that has both its advantages and disadvantages.

Am I being lazy in generalising, you ask? To that, I tell you, sir, "Hypocrite!"

Also, I kept an eye on the SA v NZ match yesterday. Right from Amla's freak dismissal, I knew NZ were in with a chance. Did I expect such a dramatic collapse from the Saffers? Not really. I don't know what to say, except, look! Another cricketing cliche: the Saffers' bad luck when it comes to big-tournament crunch-games.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Did you know--

That the English cricket team once used a bowling machine called Merlyn?

What, it's totally relevant. I came across it while researching Arthurian legend, on Wikipedia.

Why Arthurian legend, you ask? Well, knowledge for knowledge's sake, and all that jazz.

Seriously. Don't you have a hobby of link-hopping on Wikipedia? Once, I started off looking up colon cancer, and ended up reading about the Czar lineage in Russia. It's awesome fun. :D

What? There's a World Cup going on? India v Australia Q/F?


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oh, what do we do with them?

~ The hills are alive
with the sound of muuuusiiiic.... ~

Play with the same freedom today and forever, guys, and there's nothing you can't do.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

To be honest, I wanted to skim this. (Yes, I'm aware I'm being ironic.)

I've been lining up a few articles to take apart on this blog, and you'd think - given my oft-professed hero-worship of one Mahendra Singh Dhoni - that this one on Dhoni's captaincy by Ms Ugra would be on my list. You wouldn't be wrong, but, baaah. I don't know. I skimmed it - Dhoni's methods are instinctual, he should play more safe, Piyush Chawla Yusuf Pathan blah blah blah with some tangential yet cheeky references to his love of video-gaming and adventure sports (good god, woman, cricket captains have had worse hobbies in the past!). Ms Ugra's halfway snarky style also is not terribly becoming for the kind of sports writer she's supposed to be - I kind of want to keep saying, "A ha! Your grudge is showing, Ms. Ugra!" or "I C WHUT U DID THAR." as I read her stuff.

To me, it's just another example of the outpouring of the doubts that're emerging at this point in India's World Cup campaign. Oooh, Dhoni's haphazard approach to his team's composition has led to our ruin! Our ruin, I say! It's annoying, but par for the course. I trust my team. Even tomorrow, they can put up a crushing performance and these people will be falling over their feet in their rush for the thesauri to pen all the hyperbolic praises they can cook up. In the seven short years that I've been following cricket seriously, I've seen and heard enough to be pretty damn jaded.


I'm bored, and it's been a long time since I've really vented, so! I'm forcing myself to have a more in-depth look at Ms Ugra's article. *deep breath* Nothing for it. HEEERE we go. *pinches nose, takes the plunge*

The article is titled, "Is there madness in Dhoni's method?" Y'know, if you wanted to play on that expression, I'd've preferred a "to" instead of "in", but whatever. Nit-picking.

She starts off talking about a World Cup advert. Um, okay? There're about 43.8 billion of them on TV right now, but turns out she's talking about the one that goes, "The team doesn't win just like that, you've got to make it win." She then says:

Should Dhoni turn his attention away from his favourite off-field pastime of video-gaming and watch the advert, it might sound like an instruction directed at him as well.

Ahahahahaha. I must confess I haven't seen that ad, either, and my favourite past-time is watching cricket. But, hey. Whatever. It does sound like something the ad-people'll cook up this time of the year, so I concede that point. Also, not sure what to make of the reference to his love for video-gaming, or the fact that she makes some random ad sound like a freakin political documentary, but "instruction directed to him as well"? I'm not... sure what she means. Should Dhoni start inserting control chips into his players' minds so that he can make them play exactly according to his plans? Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if Dhoni does fantasise about doing exactly that, given how much of a control freak he is.

She then talks about how his captaincy has been a smooth ride so far, relatively wrinkle-free. Well. Nothing succeeds like success, and all that jazz. But now, she says, NOW:

Now, suddenly, over the course of a few weeks of the World Cup, creases are beginning to show both in the Indian team and its captain. India's World Cup is still alive, but already gloomy calculations are being made as to how their place in the quarter-finals is actually not secure. For the first time since his oxygen-depleting ascent, neither is Dhoni's as captain. On Sunday against West Indies in Chennai, he will be watched closer than he has been in a long time.

I kind of want to dig up articles from the '09 controversy over the T20 WC. Y'know, the bits about the so-called Dhoni-Sehwag spat? That epic, infamous press-conference? Then the tournament itself, where his every decision of his was criticised roundly (including, I think, by Ms Ugra herself)? Or, going even further back, his decision to skip the Tests during the '08 Sri Lanka tour? Hell, even Kumble has publically disapproved of that decision, going on record saying that he believed India'd've won that series had Dhoni played. What about the '10 T20 WC tournament? What about the '09 Champions Trophy? What about his decision to play Ashwin instead of Bollinger in the Super Over in the '10 Champions League - another decision not a lot of people were happy with? What about his SOOPER-SEKRIT marriage? What about the time where he was alleged to have threatened to resign if the selectors didn't include RP Singh in the squad?

That stuff is just off the top of my head. I understand that his campaign has been much smoother compared to say, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Azharuddin - hell, any Indian captain, but looking at normal captaincy standards? That's pretty stressful. This is NOT the first time he and his methods have been criticised and doubted from all quarters, and it definitely will not be the last.


As startling as Dhoni's message may have been to his batsmen who played "for the crowd" on Saturday, it has not surprised them. Nor has it sent them, the India faithful will be relieved to hear, into despair or doubt. It is what Dhoni's modus operandi has always been: to speak directly, briefly and non-confrontationally to players; let them know what he believes needs to be done. In media briefings he does most of the same, but can frequently be snippy. Always, though, he will laboriously explain why he changed the batting or bowling order, chose to bat or chase, and then offer philosophical observations about hybrid fuel and life jackets.

Sweet mother of God.

I was a little surprised at the "play for the country, not the crowd" quote, too - ready with lame-ass snark about "what, people in the crowd are not part of the country, now?" but I do get what he means. The lower order seems too ready to give in to the lures of showmanship - particularly when the top order has been successful - instead of putting their head down and acknowledging when the going has gotten tough. It calls for a level of maturity that is admittedly tough to attain, especially since everybody starts complaining and whining loudly about it. Dhoni wants his batsmen to show that maturity. It makes sense.

"he has been frequently snippy"... ladies and gentlemen, I do believe we have out first "your grudge is showing!" moment. From what I've seen of Dhoni's press conferences (which, admittedly, is not much), he makes it a point to answer everything with a smile, even if he isn't forthcoming about everything. He has a cheeky way of avoiding stuff he doesn't/can't answer, and I have almost never seen him snap at any journalist/interviewer, no matter what the provocation. He doesn't drown himself in long-winded, pseudo-polite cliches, like, say, Rahul Dravid; neither does he go the "look at me! Aren't I measured and INTELLIGENT?" route of Kumara Sangakkara. If anything, he can be disarmingly to-the-point. And, as we know, reporters need vague fodder to misinterpret.

Oooh, and look, snark. I agree that Dhoni's philosophy can be bafflingly amusing sometimes, but they're harmless. And sometimes show a hell of a lot of insight. Plus, he's amazingly quotable, which I absolutely love about him.

Then she talks about some of his decisions in the World Cup so far: the ones that've provoked the most debate. The insistence on playing Piyush Chawla, for one. Yeah, yeah, I've criticised that decision roundly right from the beginning, but Dhoni has his reasons, as baffling and stupid as they are. I agree. The PC-over-Ashwin thing is a total brain-fade on the captain's part, not to mention Kirsten and the rest of the team management.

She also mentions a couple of decisions in the Nagpur match against the Saffers: the whole promoting Yusuf Pathan thing, and also choosing Nehra to bowl the final over. 'Kay. I dislike YP tremendously, but that's beside the point - he's in the team as a pinch-hitter. Period. Dhoni doesn't even ask him to bowl much; hell, Yuvraj Singh is ranked higher as a bowler, and gets mnany more overs. So, with 8-9 overs to go, several wickets in hand, Batting PP in progress, run-rate comfortably over 6.5, a guy who's been known to hit sixes at will, a guy who's had a lot of success recently against this very opposition - YOU DO THE MATH.

About Nehra bowling the final over - I remember going, "oh no. OH NO. Baaaad decision. BAAAD DECISION" at the TV while watching Dhoni hand the ball over to Nehra. Just a few minutes prior, I'd been willing to bet anything that Bhajji'd bowl the final over. Why?

1. He was smack-dab in the middle of a great spell
2. He was bowling three-four-run overs to batsmen in the slog overs even when his colleagues were getting hammered at the other end
3. It was Nehra's first match after an injury layoff.
4. Nehra had looked nowhere close to his best at any point in the match
5. NEHRA WAS NOT EVEN IN THE MIDDLE OF A SPELL. I swear to God! Zaheer finished his 10 over quota with the 49th over, bowling in tandem with Harbhajan. Bhajji had one more left in his kitty. Logic says "Harbhajan, you goddamn idiots!", but Dhoni had other ideas.

I get it, Nehra's experience in these kinds of last-over humdingers factored in Dhoni's reasoning. But what the hell, man? Don't play safe! If you'd taken a chance and gone for the spinner in the last over against a couple of bloodthirsty and desperate batsmen, there's a good chance we might've had a different result now!

I'll be expanding on this point after the next quote.

Until now Dhoni's has been captaincy by instinct over method, his own school of reasoning, and like with most captains once they gain greater control of their team, a healthy dose of obstinacy. In the last four years of his captaincy in the short game, if Dhoni had to be asked what was India's best ODI performance under his leadership, he would be choosing between the early CB Series win of 2008, an Asia Cup victory, or bilateral series wins in New Zealand and West Indies. Not such a tough choice, is it?
This "instinct-over-method" thing is a myth that irritates me every time I see/hear/read it. How is it so goddamn "instinctual" when you just said that he explains each and every decision in meticulous detail? Seriously, people! If anything, I believe that Dhoni reasons out his decisions way, way too much. He comes out to play with detailed plans in his head, and if it looks like it's not working, he builds - and executes - more plans. Not for him the "aah, whatever. Let's see what happens if I push this button." He's likely worked out every possibility, including contingency plans for if the button turns out to be a trigger for a nuclear-device. Sometimes, he just needs to say "whatever" to that brain of his and go with his gut.

"Obstinacy" - only recently? Dude, he's been a control-freak right from the beginning, and he's deeply possessive about his team - which can be a good thing and a bad thing. What about the time he insisted that seniors like Dravid and Ganguly should be dropped from the team to blood more youngsters? He was barely six months into his captaincy!

I have very, very fond memories of the CB series win - I rank it above the '07 T20 win, above the Asia Cup, above every damn thing India's won so far - hell, the crowning moment from that series is my banner for this blog. But that line's unfair to India's progress as a team over the last four years. We've won every bilateral series except the last, reached more finals than I can count, and are you forgetting the series win against SL in '08. Given the circumstances under which that came, I rank it much, much higher than our '10 Asia Cup win.

Besides, what was the point of that sentence, Ms Ugra? Dhoni's arrogance and obstinacy is somehow preventing India from winning tournaments? Their winning patterns haven't changed a bit over the last four years.

Now Dhoni's decisions, made using both reason and instinct, are backfiring often because their basic premises may be incorrect. Why should the cotton-woolling of Chawla not be interpreted as cricket's version of babysitting? [...] Or how about No. 4 being Virat Kohli's sacrosanct spot, before or after which he should ideally not be sent? Kohli is 22. Should he not be running loose wherever and whenever he is sent? Yuvraj Singh has spent all but 41 matches of his ODI career flitting between Nos. 4, 5 and 6, Rahul Dravid has kept wicket in ODIs, Sourav Ganguly broke one of the most successful ODI partnerships for India to go down to No. 3, Virender Sehwag went from being a middle-order batsman to an opener who has redefined the Test-match art itself.

Chawla is being babysat, and it sucks. I don't disagree. But it looks like that's ended, and Ashwin's comin' back, which, yay. \o/

The rest of the paragraph is giving me a headache. What IS that sentence about Virat Kohli? I don't know if my reading comprehension has broken down, or if it really makes little to no sense. Is she saying the team ought to be more flexible? Is that it? From the obligatory comments on Dravid and Ganguly, that's kind of what I can deduce. Whatever.

I DON'T UNDERSTAND YOU, MS. UGRA. One of the main complaints regarding Kohli was that he wasn't being sent in at number four often enough! He's not a pinch-hitter, he's not the kind of batsman that Yuvraj and Dhoni are - he's the type of fussy top-order player who needs to be assured of an early enough spot in the batting order where he can settle in and work his mojo. Have you seen him at 3 and 4 over the last year? No. 4 is the only option available to him, given Sehwag, Sachin and Gambhir practically walk into nos 1, 2 and 3! I mean, weren't you just complaining about YP being pushed up and down? Or Dhoni employing himself as a floater? Dhoni has said about a billion times that he wants this order to be as flexible as possible, to match with the game-situation.


To move Yusuf Pathan up the order in a match against one of the best attacks in the World Cup on a wicket that was stopping was again based on a formula that the openers had given the platform and the pace of the innings needed to be amped up. [...] Against Ireland, Pathan (30 off 24 balls, two fours three sixes) was pitch perfect. Against Dale Steyn in the Powerplay, he should have been the last option. Like all captains Dhoni also has his players of choice who are given more licence, and his team recognises instinctively who those players are. Unfortunately for Dhoni his captaincy has not coincided with the discovery of new match-winners, like those found under Sourav Ganguly, for example.
I don't know, I guess the batting order was bein' flexible when they decided to push YP up the order? Aaaalso, let me remind you of YP's recent history: against the very same opposition, the very same 'he's-so-goddamn-unplayable' Dale Steyn, in said opposition's home ground, he has played match-winning innings! Even when the rest of 'em: Tendulkar, Yuvraj, Dhoni, what-have-you, had failed. How quick we are to forget. It was worth a shot, at any rate.

Also, the nonsense with "players of choice"... "given more licence." Suuure. Dhoni plays favourites every now and then. What a shock. Hold me, I think I'm going to faint.

Another underhanded comparison with Sourav Ganguly aside, Dhoni hasn't found matchwinners? Seriously? He's not nurtured the progress of Gautam Gambhir? He's not propped up Yuvraj Singh, unleashed the bowler within him? Virat Kohli? What the hell are you going on about? It's a great disservice to these players to say that they haven't been giving match-winning performances over the last few years, and to think that the budding players under Dhoni's captaincy can't blossom into match-winners later.

No, really. Think about it. You call Dhoni a Ganguly-discovery. But apart from the 148 against Pak, he only started to come into his own under Dravid, and only under his own captaincy did he grow into his potential! Yuvraj? Was going nowhere, until Dhoni gave him a bit of rope. Ditto to Harbhajan. And Irfan Pathan? Yeeeah, right. Who else? Ashish Nehra? Has just come from the wilderness. Zaheer Khan? Terribly erratic before he finally decided to get his butt over to England and play a couple of seasons of county cricket. Mohammad Kaif? I laugh at you.

When a captain's instinct starts to head off in a direction where things do not go the way he wants, they sometimes overwhelm and undermine reason.

She provides the example of Harbhajan not being allowed to bowl immediately at Duminy, despite Duminy's weakness against the former. That's not a failure of instinct; that's Dhoni being too rigid, like I've said before.

THEN she discusses the Harbhajan v Nehra decision for the last over in Nagpur:

The decision between Nehra and Harbhajan Singh became a 50-50 toss-up, with the spinner offering to bowl the 49th so that the team's most nerveless bowler, Zaheer Khan, could send down the 50th. If the 49th goes well - like it did for the Indians against South Africa in Nagpur, where Zaheer conceded four - the man bowling the 50th at least has a buffer. So far it had gone to Dhoni's plan. Nehra was the moment Dhoni gambled, because he has been India's best ODI bowler over the last year, the go-to man at the death.


Nehra has bowled the final over for India four times in his career, the two now forgotten instances being Karachi, the first ODI of the electric 2004 India-Pakistan series and against West Indies in a 2005 tri-series in Colombo, which took India to the final. Nagpur was the first time India lost. Before the World Cup he had taken 73 wickets since his comeback into the Indian team in June 2009. Why should Dhoni not have gone to him? Other than the fact that he may not have been warmed up not having bowled for 12 overs. It was a logical gamble that didn't work. Pathan and Chawla are the illogical gambles - they were perhaps doomed to tank.

(I can never forget that Karachi match, btw. Fond, fond memories. That Kaif catch to dismiss Abdul Razzaq, the way he smashed into Hemang Badani, practically tripped over his face but still managed to hold on to the ball? EPIC.)

I'm glad you have given it the Seal of Logical Approval, but this works against your argument that YP should not have been promoted. Wasn't Dhoni going by history there too? How are the two decisions different? Shouldn't Dhoni have been a little more reckless and thought about giving Harbhajan the final over?

We finally come to the end of the article:

As much as Dhoni wants his batsmen to "curb their instincts", it is the best time for his leadership to internalise the same message. Since his debut for India in 2004, he has changed his batting to eliminate risk, yet he will not bat higher up the order as Ganguly repeatedly beseeches him to do in both commentary and column. He has a better average and 100-plus strike rate batting at either No. 3 or 4, but has done so in only 32 of 162 innings. His keeping has vastly improved from the 2007 version, and he still remains one of India's better runners between wickets. The match versus West Indies may have to mark the moment that his leadership evolves in a different direction. Or it could take a route he would rather not contemplate.

Um. Y'know, I want to see Dhoni up the order, too. I really do. Who will he have to displace, then? Sachin, Sehwag, Gambhir, even Kohli - outta the question. Yuvraj? I don't know, he does play you-go-first-I-go-first a lot with Yuvraj, mostly when he wants a right-left combo in the middle. Thing is, it's a much tougher decision than it looks on the outside. He's fashioning himself as a finisher - the guy with the levellest head in the team, the guy who can come in, take stock of things and play according to it. To whom else can he entrust this role? YP? I don't think so.

Yeah, the match against the Windies is going to be pretty important. Probably not for the same reasons that a lot of people think, but yeah. Whatcha gonna do, Mahi? Throw caution to the winds for once?


Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Dear MSD,

Hi there. Big, big fan here. I mean, I like to be pretty objective about cricketers in general, but I have never been able to criticise you. So, yeah. I like and admire you a lot, and I try and defend your every single decision, even if sometimes they boggle the mind - because, hey, you can't argue with that stellar captaincy record, yeah?


What the friggin hell were you thinking, choosing Chawla over Ashwin today? Chawla was utter and complete crap against friggin Ireland on a track where YUVRAJ SINGH, part-time galore, picked up FIVE WICKETS for next-to-nothing, and you've got a perfectly good and fit specialist spinner in your squad, and you still pick Chawla?

Ashwin has played under you for several matches, has been your key player in winning two tournaments in a single year, and you still pick Chawla?

Ashwin can bowl maidens in the Powerplay overs in twenty20 matches to the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Sachin Tendulkar and you still pick Chawla?

Ashwin has proven himself to be an even better lower-order batsman than Chawla - just ask Tamil Nadu in the last domestic season - and you still pick Chawla?


"Compared to Ashwin, Chawla needs more practice so we decided to play him today. Ashwin is mentally stronger, and it doesn't matter against whom he comes in, he will do well."


What the hell, Mahi. What the hell.

Yours in furious bewilderment,


Dhoni explains further.

[Dhoni] said he had been pleased with Chawla's performance against Netherlands - he had bowled with a "lot more freedom" - and reminded the world of Chawla's emotional career history. We should remember, he said, that Chawla had made his debut "quite early... he was still a teenager. He comes back in the side in a big tournament like this and people all over try to criticise him from left to right, so you can imagine his state of mind. So I think it was a very crucial game for him."

Dhoni explained that Ashwin, two years older, was not quite so fragile. "I know he is mentally very tough and up for a challenge or competition. It is good to have someone in the reserves who has mental stability." Ashwin's composure is clearly being seen as an investment that would be cashed in on during the knock-out stages while, in the early half of the World Cup, India wants to spread the equilibrium around.

"You want your bowlers to be in a very good mental state in the second half of the tournament, where you play against the best teams and you will be participating in the knock-out stages - that was one of the main reasons why we picked Piyush ahead of Ashwin." By doing so, Dhoni said the Indians were set for an ideal scenario knowing that the bowling now could be changed on situational demand.

God save us from the pop-psychologists in cricketing garb.

Apparently Ashwin's so-called mental stability will compensate for the rustiness and tension he is bound to feel when he is unceremoniously thrust into a knock-out game and expected to run through the opposition line-up. And if he doesn't? All the blame's on him.

Thanks a lot, Mahi. You might want to re-check your psychology degree.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Now, seriously.


Seriously, people. It's getting old. Have you ever been to Kochi? To Hyderabad? Hell, even to Delhi in the middle of summer?

Poor Chennai. It gets all the bad rep.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Reaching for the sky

(from here)

I'm sorry. I think I just fell in love. ♥

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

100th post! \o/

That's right. After two and a half years of much passion, procrastination, and intense love/hate, this blog has finally reached 100 posts. \o/

I was hoping to post something special, was hoping it would have to do with India, but right now? With Ireland having pulled off a Victory of (Pure) Awesomeness against England? I have to talk about it.

So I was talking about letting go of intensity and sitting back on a huge score, and - well, England certainly didn't seem guilty of that, at least in the beginning, skittling through Ireland's top-order, and at 111/5, I just yawned and thought "same old, same old" and switched off the TV. About half an hour later I was getting messages, asking me to watch O'Brien go after the English bowlers.

I did, and wow. I mean, WOW. It was the kind of innings that just seemed absolutely effortless; like a sort of cricketing Midas, every stroke that he played seemed to go over the ropes. And it wasn't like he was just throwing his bat at everything, oh no, there was a method to the madness, or perhaps a madness to the method, and when they took on the Batting Powerplay and unleashed hell on the English bowlers, it was a magnificent sight. Finally, a batting team that's used its Batting PP well! 62 runs came off five overs, and that turned around everything for Ireland.

That's not overshadowing Mooney's efforts at the end. He seemed determined to run his partners out, but his little cameo - not to mention Kusack's efforts with O'Brien - made sure Kevin's efforts meant something. This is the kind of temperament befitting a regular international team, people.

So, where now for Ireland? They play India on Sunday, and as much as I enjoyed Ireland's performance today, I'm definitely holding out for a big victory from India. Definitely Ireland'll be thinking, we can do this. They just completed the highest ever successful run-chase in World Cup history. They must be feeling like they can do anything. But where's the line between self-belief and heady over-confidence? That's something the Irish team will need to figure out over the weekend.

For now, though, celebration.

(As for England? I don't really feel sorry for them - seriously, I've found even Australia and Pakistan much easier to sympathise with, I have no idea why - but they've had a tough week. First that unexpectedly close win over Netherlands, the physically and emotionally sapping tie against India, then this loss against Ireland. And they've got a tough one against SA this Sunday, and the Saffers are looking like a million dollars, like possibly the best unit in the World Cup right now.)

So, this is kind of humiliating.

I will not say much about our tie with England, since I screamed so much that night at the TV I woke up with a sore throat and almost lost my voice for a whole day. I do not have much else to expend regarding that match.

But! I will bring up some things that are related, though.

Today is the England v Ireland match. England were going great guns; looked set for 360, 370 maybe.

Guess what they ended up with? 327/8.

It doesn't matter that England are going to win, and win easily: what matters is that the Irish bowlers were able to restrict the lineup just as well, or even better, than India's much feted attack. I don't know about you, and I certainly mean no disrespect to the Irish team - they're pretty damn awesome - but still. Isn't that a bit humiliating? A teensy little bit, maybe?

I think out of all the verbal diarrhoea that Sunday's match inspired, this article by Kumble just sums it up. Just look at what he has to say:

The lessons for India are clear: On a good pitch, their main strike bowlers, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh, must deliver, like they have on numerous occasions. This time too, Zaheer turned the game around in the end, but, that also brings us to the other vital lesson: They cannot afford to relax.

I suspect India lost those quick wickets in the late middle-order because they felt they had enough runs. A similar attitude was apparent when they were fielding. It seemed like they just couldn't believe that any team would chase down 338.

That's it. That's all that needs to be said. It's perfect.

I wasn't the least bothered when our lower order imploded at the end of our innings while watching the match, because, hey? 338? More than defendable, right? Turns out the guys out there shared that viewpoint, and we were all proved wrong.

So can it all just come down to keeping up the intensity, then? I've seen this very bowling attack produce miracles. Hell, even on Sunday they nearly won us back the match after having taken it to the point of no return!

I don't know. But that, right up there? I'm in total agreement, and nothing more that can be said about this will ever ring truer, or even matter; it's all up the boys who turn out in blue over the next three weeks, and what they do.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The arrogant spectator

So I read this article by Suresh Menon, and he makes a number of excellent points. I've rarely gone to the stadium myself, but it also put into my mind the last time I saw a match at the stadium: during IPL 2008, when CSK was playing DC at the MAC. It was one of only two games that DC won in an otherwise sad campaign, and Adam Gilchrist led the way with a nice fifty. I remember how the people around me stood up to applaud when he hit his fiftieth run - I was a little disgruntled, I remember, stubbornly remained sitting until I realised I was the only one in my section of the stadium - and I overheard the couple of guys sitting next to me saying, "it was worth coming here, just to see Gilchrist play like this." It wasn't even a terribly special innings - this was back in the days when CSK's bowling attack was wafer-thin and sucked horribly - but everybody thoroughly enjoyed the game, stayed right till the end, even when it was more than apparent that CSK was losing.

I know it doesn't speak for the majority, and an IPL match doesn't compare to the atmosphere of a proper international match, but I think I might've just felt a little proud of my city then. Just a little.



Thursday, February 24, 2011

Oh, we loves ODI, we loves ODI so much - no! We hate ODI, we hates ODI so much!

So, okay, I don't really have the Gollum-voice, but you get the picture.

The World Cup's underway, and after the first week that consisted mostly of unremarkable minnow-bashing, people are still yawning and waiting for something good to come up. That might start today; after all, today, we have the Saffers taking on the Windies, and come this weekend, three very interesting matches: Aus v NZ, SL v Pak and, of course, the kicker: Ind v Eng on Sunday.

So: looking back at the first week of the World Cup, the trend seems to be the Test playing nations trampling all over the, uh, "minnow"-teams. The ICC has already decided to trim the participating nations down to ten next year, which means, there's not much scope or incentive in the future for the Associates. But hey, given the ass-whuppin' the Associates got over the past week, 'sall justified, right?

I disagree.

1. India v Bangladesh: look, what's this? 2001? Wake up! Bangladesh aren't minnows anymore: they're minnows with steroids. Force to be taken somewhat seriously, if not entirely reckoned with.

2. Kenya v everybody: I'm sorry. Forget I said anything. For being the semifinalists of the 2003 edition, the African team has been painful to watch this year. I mean, come on, their match against NZ lasted less than the duration of a regular T20 match! And it was in Chennai! And some people had the gall to say that the crowd was very thin for that match. Like I've said, if the circus performers have nothing to offer, the seats ain't gonna fill.

3. Australia v Zimbabwe: On paper, you'd think: yeah, the Zimbabweans did kind of put up a fight in the first innings. Pity they didn't have a better batting line-up. For the unfortunates like me who actually watched it on TV? SNORING AWAY, I TELL YOU. I didn't sign up to watch Shane Watson bat like Rahul Dravid on valium.

4. Sri Lanka v Canada: I have a couple of uncles in Canada. I tell 'em: try out for the Canadian cricket-team. All you need is to be born in the sub-continent, and have a half-way decent knowledge of how to play cricket. All said and done, though, I liked the Canadian team's attitude. They probably looked the most sprightly and enthusiastic of all the Associates thus far.

5. England v Netherlands: This was the one worthwhile match this whole week. I mean, it was pure gold. At first, England's shenanigans on the field, the Pietersen-Anderson gaffe, the Swann drop, the misfielding, negligent field placements - England were losing it. Sure, they won eventually, but Netherlands dragged it till the 49th over, and ten Doeschate was utterly magnificent. A century - AND THEN two wickets? Awesome.

Every match kind of exemplifies what's wrong and wonderful about this format, I think. But, really. Let the real World Cup begin, please?