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.