Monday, January 2, 2012

Lurching through a kaleidoscope of the nonsensical

First off: a very happy new year to everybody out there! Let's hope this year is filled with happiness, success and exciting cricket.

I apologise for the long hiatus. 2011 has been rather trying from a cricket fan's point of view. While I allow that my laziness is partly to blame, this year has been so full of dizzying highs and desperate lows that it's become more a chore than a pleasure to keep up.

The World Cup victory - has it only been eight months? Gosh - has already vanished in a haze of premature nostalgia, and people composing end-of-year review posts have already started warning us that the victory shouldn't hide the greater problems with the Indian team. Namely, our pathological inability to win anything substantial on foreign soil. While I avoid a large chunk of cricket writing these days - I can never shake off the feeling that I'm being talked down to, that there's a great deal of obfuscation regarding different forms of the same sport, that people who enjoy, or claim to enjoy, cricket at its basic levels can find it repulsive when not played for five days - I agree with the basic principle.

The time difference between our tour of England and England touring us was a matter of weeks. In every other way, however - they might as well have been photographic negatives.

The batting floundered, the bowling was inadequate, sure. But I've heard this story before. This team seems stuck in an eternal bog of inadequacy, sea legs on a distant shore, although they are probably more travel-savvy than most billionaires around the world. Our batting literally cannot get any better - VirunGauti at the top, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar at the top of their game, the Australian Nemesis VVS Laxman, both Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma making strong claims for no 6, Dhoni at 7, a surprisingly accomplished Ashwin at 8, and, uh, well, let's forget about the tail. This flopped repeatedly in England, and in both innings at Melbourne. If our bowling is some sort of patchwork rotating door, the batting is like one of those antique behemoths that crumble to dust at the slightest pressure.

At home, however - they swell like a tidal wave, and all is forgotten and forgiven in a burst of jingoistic retribution.

This team is stagnating. The stage has changed, the props have changed, the actors have changed, the director has changed, the music is loud and the audience is more rowdy, but the script remains the same.

You can call that an uninformed, or barely informed, generalisation. Sure, go ahead. But when I look at the cricket and feel nothing but a tired sort of deja vu, I have to wonder. Is this 2003? Is this 2007? Because it's the same friggin ground, the same friggin team, and the same sort of mindless capitulation after a strong start.

The technical analysis behind India's repeated failures abroad is beyond me; it could be the technique, it could be their mental status, it could be a hoodoo priestess in a rundown shack in Canberra, for all I know. All I hope for now is a quick re-write, before all the columnists start gnawing away like maggots on a three day old corpse.

Again and again, I keep coming back to this quote, but there has perhaps never been a more candid, more true statement about modern cricket:

After all, if taken in the right sense, we are the performers in the circus

Dhoni nailed it. 2011 was a particularly busy year for the circus. I have a vague recollection of a South African tour in January - wasn't Yusuf Pathan quite the hero in that? He's disappeared into the ether now - a ponderous group stage of the World Cup (barring a couple of exciting games) ate up most of February and all of March, and - after the glorious, glorious first week of April, we had the IPL right through the rest of the month and all of May. And then - again, I vaguely recall - a tour of West Indies? Or something. Duncan Fletcher got appointed as coach somewhere along the way, and Rahul Dravid made one of the most ironic statements in the history of the world with regards to a sense of humour.

July and August - touring England and getting our asses kicked, then coming home and kicking ass in return - squeezed in a Champions League in September before the West Indies came home, and -

- you know what? I don't even know anymore. There was cricket, and it was played.

Two of the best things in 2011 for me - apart from April 3, of course - was Dhoni surging to limited-overs glory in the middle of the ear, doing it in his inimitable, last-man-standing, boy on the burning deck style at first, then in a sort of Rockstar Terminator style later. The second was, of course, the rise and rise of one Ashwin Ravichandran. The man's a gem. He really, really is. I feel nothing but pity for Bhajji.

Coming to our current tour of Australia - given that we are following the paths tread as deep as the Grand Canyon, the Sydney test should be a better one. Whitewater raft your way through this one, boys - quit stagnating and shake off the seaweed.

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