Thursday, January 20, 2011

Facetiously uptight

Right. Now that Yusuf Pathan came out of nowhere and played a match-winning hand in South Africa, I think we've pretty much established that this series? Is totally awesome. I'm not a fan of YP, have never been (but given the choice is between Jadeja and YP, I'd go with the latter any day), but stuff like this is what ultimately makes the game so interesting.

I trawled through cyberspace for some good match reports (because for some reason I am just not able to stay up beyond 11 PM these past few weeks) when I stumbled across this.

While reading it, I was mostly annoyed and maybe a little amused (go figure) but guess who wrote it? Ayaz Memon. The dude who gave us the running commentary during the IPL auction and whose writing I used to like once upon a time. I have since lost a lot of respect for his 'expert opinion' after he became one of the yammering heads on TV, appearing in nearly every other match preview/review show, hobnobbing with the likes of Arun Lal and Navjot Singh Sidhu (and Sameer Kocchar!). IMO, nobody can come out of that without being tainted.

That said, the article was still annoying, and I want to pick apart a few points. He talks about the selection of the Indian squad for the World Cup, and how he thinks it's flawed. It's titled "Don't discount luck. And, oh, positive energy." Straight away, a laboured attempt at dismissive snark. Not working, Mr. Memon. You're trying too hard already.

This is how it starts off:

The vicissitudes of life could not have been made evident to Rohit Sharma and S. Sreesanth more dramatically than through the events of the past few days. In the Indian Premier League (IPL) auctions, Sharma fetched $2.1 million (Rs9.5 crore) from Mumbai Indians and Sreesanth raked in just under a million dollars as the talismanic player for the Kochi franchise.

A little over a week later, however, both these talented young players found themselves in the rubbish heap after the Indian team for the World Cup had been chosen. Do the IPL franchise owners know something about them that the Indian selectors don’t?

Let's see, now. Piyush Chawla, the other "surprising selection", raked in almost a million dollars in the IPL auction himself. No, I have no idea why all the franchises went after him, either. Pretty much like Sreesanth, eh?

Also, both Robin Uthappa and Jaidev Unadkat "raked in" a whole lot more money than, say, VVS Laxman and Ishant Sharma. Are you implying that means they are better? By using the IPL logic in a selection process for an event that is drastically different from the IPL, you have just shot yourself in the proverbial foot, Mr. Memon. Fail.

He then makes a couple of valid points about the team being short of a batsman. He suggests that the selectors ought to have gone with Dinesh Kaarthick or Parthiv Patel, who can serve the dual function of being an effective batsman, and reserve 'keeper. True enough. As I understand it, though, Chawla and Ashwin were included not just to add depth and variety to the attack, but also because of their all-round skills. I haven't seen much of this batting skills of theirs (although Ashwin did play a couple of crucial knocks for CSK in IPL 2010), but hey, what do I know. The selectors should have a much better idea. Still, I accept that as a good argument.

Then, the whole tone of the article changes:

Many serious cricket followers were not amused with chief selector Krishnamachari Srikkanth’s pleas to the public that they should send out positive vibes to the Indian team chosen for the World Cup.


Given the passion that cricket arouses in India, Srikkanth’s “everything’s fine, now let’s all create an aura of positive energy to win” seems like puerile mumbo-jumbo.

Because sports? Is SRS BSNZ, yo.

I mean, what the hell was that supposed to be? "serious cricket followers"... "not amused"... "puerile mumbo-jumbo". I thought sports is supposed to be about fun and positivity. Sure, it's become more of a business venture these days, and a very big option as an actual profession, but dude. Don't take a crap over a couple of fairly innocuous - if cliched - statements because the bowler you thought would be selected didn't make it!

Also, that was probably Srikkanth's way of saying, "look, we've selected who we thought were the 15 best men to represent the country in this shindig; you might as well go along with it." That's pretty much every selector's line, practically their prerogative, as much it is ours to criticise their selections. Why single out the man and his turn of phrase?

I say "single out" because Mr. Memon just does not stop going on and on about it:

Before I come to that, however, a bit about the man is in order. Srikkanth is among the more endearing cricketers I have known. He is unpretentious and chirpy, often brazen enough to call a spade a shovel and sometimes flippant enough to call a shovel a tablespoon.
(okay, I have to admit I love that last line)

When he became chief selector in late 2008, the appointment did not meet with universal validation in Indian cricket. I know of several of his peers who sniggered that he lacked the gravitas for the job.


I suspect this image was a hangover from his playing days. An engineer by qualification, Srikkanth was anything but precision-driven in his approach in the middle.


Such thoughtlessness was seen to extend to most areas of his cricket. His carefree batting—imagine a watered down version of Virender Sehwag—was considered irresponsible even if it was exciting and his tenure as Test player earned him perhaps more censure than approval from critics and experts.

Mavericks were not readily endured in Indian cricket those days, but to be honest, Srikkanth lacked even half the consistency of Sehwag to convince his detractors otherwise. In limited overs cricket, he was a major player with his derring-do and arguably the most influential batsman after Kapil Dev in India’s 1983 World Cup triumph.


If the rapid rise of the Indian team in the International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings since he became chief selector is any indication, then perhaps the “positive energy” syndrome he talks about may have worked.

And all of that is important, why? And look at those descriptions - "watered-down version of Sehwag", "irresponsible even if it was exciting," "lacked even half the consistency of Sehwag" - wow, I can see you have a high opinion of the man. Also, isn't there supposed to be a selection committee? I don't know why people fail to mention the fact that there are supposed to be five other men who make the decisions too. Srikkanth makes himself an open target, I admit - he is just so in-your-face, cheerily loud and says really crazy things some times, and I loved it when he started whistling when Sehwag was blasting away merrily in some Test match or the other - but at the end of the day he's making decisions based on the input he receives from the other committee members, and more importantly, the captain and the coach.

Then, again, the article changes tone:

I am being facetious, of course, but interestingly, historically, India’s fortunes in World Cup cricket have defied conventional logic. In 1983, for instance, to predict that Kapil Dev’s team would win the title was challenging sanity. But the impossible happened; India beat the mighty West Indies and the cricket world was turned upside down.


India had terrific teams in both the 1987 and 1996 World Cups. Mind you, both these tournaments were played in the subcontinent where conditions would suit the home team, but both times India lost in the semi-finals.

Again, in the T20 format, for the inaugural World Championship in South Africa, India were the last country to agree to play. [...] Against all expectations, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team triumphed and turned the cricket world downside up once again.

There is no gainsaying the fact that meticulous planning and perceptive team selection are of enormous value in sports. But in a major tournament, unlikely heroes are frequently thrown up and the luck factor cannot be discounted entirely.

Okaaay, so ultimately, what was your point? "This squad is imbalanced and wrong - and by the way, let me tell you all about how carefree and irresponsible a guy the chairman of the selection committee used to be, implying that his opinion can't be taken seriously - but what the hell. Selection doesn't matter to the Indian team in World Cups anyway." Really?

I mean, if this article was supposed to be snarky - like the title suggested - it would've worked. But it wasn't. It jumped from seriousness to sarcasm to outright dismissal like it was on LSD. Inconsistent writing, or Mr. Memon couldn't make up his mind? I don't know.

He finishes with mentioning his team for the World Cup - which excluded Nehra and Chawla and had Sreesanth and Rohit Sharma instead - and finally this:

But in hindsight, I am prepared to accept that the committee has done a decent job. Some luck Dhoni and Co. will need. Ah yes, positive energy from supporters too, as Srikkanth says.

Now where have I kept the beads for the winning mantra?

Ahahaha. :|

I expect so much better from you, Mr. Memon. If you'd just laid out your arguments for why you think Sree/Rohit/Kaarthick should've been included and why Nehra/Chawla should've been left out, I would've enjoyed it a lot more. Instead, what I got was a whole lot of Srikkanth's backstory and failed sarcasm.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The best laid schemes of mice and men, pt 2

a.k.a: HOOOLY SHIT!!!

I switched off the match when South Africa was 140/4. It was one in the morning, and I was tired and didn't want to make my holiday depressing. This morning I woke up to a text message from a friend that simply said "Ind won 1 run!"

Cue frantic consultation of TV news channels.


And do you know where it all went sideways for the Saffers?

The Batting Powerplay.

I mean, look. Smith was 70-odd, less than 20 overs to go, and barely 40 runs to win. India looking just as clueless as ever on the field. No sensible person would've expected anything other than a Saffer win. But they didn't.

Smith's plans in the Batting Powerplay went up in smoke, much like Dhoni's did.

And Munaf Patel? Wow. I mean, this is some serious luck. Hopefully this will be the boost India required to get their heads back in the game, and start looking a little less clueless.

It's a Pongal miracle, guys.

The best laid schemes of mice and men

Yeah. Pretty much the story of the day for India.

It's funny how we've never looked quite 'all-there' in this ODI series at all. I mean, it's not like the bowling is spectacular, or anything, it just seems like the guys in blue out there are going out and winging it. Working with spit and a prayer.

Also, Lonwabo Tsotsobe seems to be the flavour of the month. Good for him.

I never thought this ODI series would be quite this boring to watch, but after a riveting Test series that got me very emotional very often, I can muster little more than indifference to this.

Maybe it's a defence mechanism. God knows I need one, being a fan of this team.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Of things that melt the heart

I came across a few articles today that made me go "aww" (just bear with me):

This one, where Muralitharan has this to say about not playing for CSK anymore:

"I played with them for three years and have several happy memories with the team. My wife is also from Chennai and she is upset with this change but it happens in the game. I will miss Chennai, my teammates and miraculous captain Dhoni," Muralitharan said.

"Chennai had the excellent captain, a wonderful team and tremendous support. We enjoyed playing for them and last year was memorable in which we won the IPL and Champions league. I have taken a lot of wickets for them," said the veteran, who has 515 ODI and 800 Test wickets in his kitty.

Aw, Murali. We'll miss you, too.

And then this, where Dhoni puts in his two cents on Albie Morkel's omission from the Saffer squad for the current ODI series:

Dhoni admitted that he was very surprised that South Africa no longer thought Morkel was good enough for one day cricket, "He is a very good player in the shorter version of the game and I have much respect for him."


"I don't know why he was not chosen, but I regard him as a very special player and guys with his ability are rare. We would like to have a versatile player with his ability in our team," said Dhoni.

Apparently, Albie responded to this:

In an interview to South African daily Beeld, Morkel said: "It was a great honour to hear that a player like Dhoni had good things to say about me. But I don't think the selectors will change their mind now."

I love you, CSK. I really do.

Which is why I'm glad that this year we managed to retain much of the old group (c'mon, in T20 parlance? Three years = old). I cannot imagine any other people turning out in the Startlingly Bright Yellow. It was rather sad, actually, to see Balaji and Muralitharan go, and kind of exhilarating to see the kind of possessive fondness Chennai fans have got for these people. Not just the Vijays and the Ashwins and the Muralitharans, but also the Albies and Husseys and Dougies (you will not believe just how popular Bollinger is 'round these parts).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Don't you just -

- love a regular fanboy?

Sometimes following the online commentary is an experience in itself. :p

EDIT: Amla is out!! \o/ Allow this fangirl to do a little jig of happiness.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In the mental crawlspaces of the rich

I watch the IPL. Hell, I enjoy watching the IPL. 'Tis probably a testament to how much time I've spent trawling through the muck that poses as the Internet over the past two years that I actually feel guilty saying that. The IPL is the Root of All Evil, right? Right, sure. I'm not arguing against that, honest. But it's fun, and it gives me something to look forward to every evening for two months of a year. Like the only reality TV show that's worth watching. Plus, it has a team that represents Chennai and a whole host of players I adore and admire, and given how much of my investment in this sport is purely emotional, I find a lot to get behind.

So this time when I heard they were televising the player auction for 2011 (did they do that the first time? I don't remember), I watched it with much anticipation.

Aaand, uh. Okay. I spent most of the first hour with my mandible stuck firmly to the ground. Because, holy shit, it was mindblowing, in the most perverse way possible. After a while, I got into the rhythm of the whole thing. It was easy to forget, after some time, that they were dealing with actual players; it was like watching a gigantic Fantasy-Team game - can you fit in your dream team within your budget before your opponents do? Play and find out! - and I was getting behind the CSK contingent, praying that we managed to buy back the likes of Ashwin, Murali, Dougie and the rest. It may have gotten a little out of hand (my mother informs me I was raving put that paddle down, crazy Kochi lady! at the TV while the bidding war for Muralitharan was going on between CSK and Kochi, but hey) but it was fun, you know? It was only when the second day came about, and even the team owners looked like they were fooling around and treating the whole thing as a game, that I began to feel queasy. To their credit, though, I thought the CSK contingent remained serious throughout, hardly cracked a smile, and mostly left during the so-called "reauction" at the very end, when they were pretty sure that they'd finished what they'd started out to do. (but then again, the owners barely grinned even when we won the trophy last year, so maybe they're just naturally sourpusses).

People think that this is shocking and demeaning to cricket. I mean, sure, okay. I've always thought that the IPL is just more of a flamboyant circus that doesn't hesitate to show its garishly-painted butt while the rest of cricket is a circus that pretends it's not and covers itself in mouldy trappings in the name of heritage.

I was wondering just how surreal it must've been to sit in that auction room, as part of one of the contingents. Or maybe that's just me, and the owners were perfectly grounded even as astronomical sums of money were splashed about on people they couldn't tell from Adam (give me one person from the team that bought him who can even pronounce "Francois du Plessis"). I don't know. My belief is that everybody who signed up for this circus - franchise owners and players both - knew what they were getting into. They knew what lay ahead, what was likely to happen. And apparently, 353 of them were perfectly fine with it.

Is there a sense of wrongness to all of this, especially given the corruption that's rampant in the IPL's short history, and all the malingering and power-plays in the administration? That the IPL as an incentive is skewing the priorities of whole generations of young cricketers? Certainly.

Can I bring myself to care? Not really. My one explanation would be that cricket seems to be perennially caught in crisis; so much so that I think it's the only way the sport survives. Australian cricket is in crisis after being walloped by the English; Mumbai cricket is in crisis after failing to reach the Ranji semis for the first time in a billion years; cricketing administration is in crisis because Australia and England aren't calling the shots anymore the BCCI is throwing its money-bloated, corrupt stinking weight around; the inundation of Twenty20 is bringing out the basest instincts out of a generation of cricketing innocents, and will nobody think of the children?! But to be completely honest, I don't care about this the same way a lot of don't really care about the stuff that's happening in the rest of the world. If we were to judge ourselves hypocrites by watching the IPL, then there is not one person in the whole world who is not a hypocrite, in some walk of life or the other. Mind you, this is not an attempt at justification. I'm just calling it as I see it. A spade a spade - and maybe occasionally, a shovel.

Every generation has its own demons to grapple; the greatest enemy of our generation is our apathy.

Friday, January 7, 2011

On a tightrope to glory

I saw this earlier today, and it made me smile. Just thought I'd share:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

So this is how it goes.

So the Test series is over. The third Test ended in a draw, and the series is drawn at 1-1.

I... don't know what to feel about this, really. For most of today, I was practically fuming. 340 in a day - the fifth day, no less - was difficult but surely gettable - but hey, what do I know. I'm worse than an armchair critic - I've almost never played the game, right? They have their reasons, whatever they are. I'm sure there'll be a lot of talk about the pitch, the bowling, the batting approach, all that pseudo-intellectual analytical bilge that will eventually drown out a simple truth: neither team really tried winning this thing on the last day.

I think my main heartbreak of today was the moment I rushed home from college, eager to check India's progress. Gambhir and Dravid were fermenting at the crease, which probably meant that Sehwag had left early. I checked what he'd scored: 11 off 40 balls.

Eleven. Off forty balls.

The disappointment was a physical thing; a lump in my throat. These guys had come out to play for a draw, and nothing else. The disappointment grew into frustration with every maiden played, every ball that was padded away or left or idly observed like the delivery was some remote scientific phenomenon. I raged and I cursed, and finally burned myself out. I'm just... disappointed. This was a fabulous series - I haven't had this much fun watching Test cricket since our Australian tour of '07-'08 - and this wasn't the ending it deserved. Not at all.

Sometimes, it's easy to fall into the notion that this Indian team is progressive, aggressive, super-modern. We haven't lost a series in a long time, we've staged some of the most memorable comebacks in recent history, we've got an awe-inspiring line-up with seniors who can apparently do no wrong. But this tendency to fall back when things get tight? That's not keeping with our super-aggressive image, but it's the truth. This team only bites back when it's been kicked to the ground, spit upon, and told that it's crap. Venom spews from otherwise sedate eyes; there's a manic intensity where there was once complacent indifference. But when we are going good, when we are at an advantage and there remains only those final few steps to cement our supremacy? We falter. We think, ah well. Y'know, we gotta be safe and ensure that we at least secure a draw. We think, a series draw is good. We're happy with it. NO.

This is the first time we haven't lost a Test series in SA, right? But we haven't won any either, and that's the whole frickin point. After a position of strength - they're 130/6, on the fourth day, one batsman injured and the other - not even a specialist - out of form, and we've got some bowling mojo going for us, what do we do? Fall back, and let them get away with it. I remember the same happening against NZ when we toured them, almost two years ago now. The third test was supposed to be ours. It had 'India' written all over it. Sure, there was supposed to be rain on the fifth day, but NZ were already 8 wickets down with half a session to go on the fourth day, so no problem, right? Except we fooled around, bowled rubbish, dropped catches, and allowed them to survive. No play was possible on the fifth day and the match ended in a draw. We won the series 1-0 anyway and there was much hot air about our first series win down there in decades, but what's the point, because we could've so easily won it 2-0?

We talk about a unified, super-modern team, but with this team? Same song, different verse.

Dhoni. Just to paraphrase your delightful little statement on crowds at Test matches: "we are the performers in the circus, but you need the circus to be full." We are not fools to sit in a circus where all that the performers do is juggle a single ball because it's too risky otherwise. This is exactly the kind of pointless bullshit that drives people away from Tests. It's not so much the low scoring rate as it is the lack of intent from India, and to a lesser extent, from South Africa. It's made me ask existential-esque questions.

Why am I here? Why am I watching this? What's the point? Do I really care that Sachin is the first person to score a run at the precise moment the sun's rays are at an angle of 34.98 degrees with far end of Table Mountain, thus creating a new record in the process? You can stuff those runs and inflated averages somewhere else, because they are worth jack-squat.

I don't care about history. I love this team, and I not only want it to win, but have come to expect it to win, or at least try.

Unfortunately, the team itself doesn't seem to think the same way.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


340 to win.

Kallis has pretty much ensured himself a man-of-the-series award, I think - a double-century in the first Test, and centuries in both innings in this one. Just to be safe, though, he threw in a 'batting through the pain of an injury' to woo the more sentimental folks on the jury. He's got me on that one.


The hell, India? You had them at 130/6!! What happened? I didn't watch the match because I've been travelling all day and only caught some of the cricinfo commentary on my mobile, but really? After all this talk about how the wicket's tough to play on and that it's only getting tougher, Morkel and Boucher and Steyn, hell even Tsotsobe for a bit there, run havoc like it's the last five overs of a T20? I'm confused here. Was it the bowling, the batting, or the usual pre-match exaggerations (in which the players, the media, and the viewers are all complicit).

Anyway, 340 to get. Logically speaking, only two results are possible here: a South African win (the HORROR!) or a draw (what a friggin anti-climax that would be to an otherwise riveting series).

But this Indian team doesn't like to follow logic on the best of days, which can both be a good thing, or a bad thing.

In the end, as always, it all boils down to Sehwag. Whatcha gonna do, Viru?

"See ball, hit ball."

Aaaah. Excellent. :D

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Stttraaap in, folks!

Iiit's the battle of the century!

In this corner, we have... Dale Steyn! 6 feet plus and the best fast bowler in the world, watch as he rips them in at speeds of more than 90 miles an hour! He makes the ball nip and swing and bounce, and hell, do the salsa!

In this corner, we have... Sachin Tendulkar! This little colossus amasses runs not by the hundreds, but by the thousands! He has conquered the very best in international cricket until now... can he do so now?