Saturday, December 31, 2005

Last thoughts on Gangs

No matter what happens, and what form the end of his career takes, I'd like to acknowledge an Indian cricketer with qualities I've often wished other Indian cricketers possessed: personality and guts. The first man to say something to a television or print journalist that went beyond the trivial inanities that Indian cricketers subject us to (Tendulkar included). And the first to stand up and talk back to a whole host of folks, notably the BCCI and opposing teams!. Maybe he has talked back once too often and his lack of cricket form has caught up with him. But hes done a great deal to put some resolve into this crew. There is a huge rush to show Ganguly the door. Fair enough. Lets go with the best team but lets not forget what this man has done for Indian cricket.

Belated realization

From the Department-of-This-is-a-good-thing-now:

"Langer said critics had to realise that constant appealing by slow bowlers was part of the game when fielders were crowding around the bat in a tense atmosphere. "When you play on a wicket that is spinning a lot like we saw in Melbourne, there are a lot of people around the bat and there's a lot happening. In the past we've been critical of over-appealing on the subcontinent but if you look at it, that's almost the nature of the game in those circumstances."

Translation: The cricketing world has to realize that while in the past, it might have been OK to talk about "excessive appealing by over-excitable subcontinentals", its now time to change tack. We're doing IT now. So, please, realize that its good for the game.

Yawn. Someone wake me up when someone other than an "excitable subcontinental" gets fined for over-appealing.

Friday, December 30, 2005

'Ol George, always relevant

Years ago, I read George Orwell write that Hitler missed out on his ultimate secret weapon: newsreel footage of German soldiers goosestepping. As Orwell suggested, these should have been played as an advance weapon on any war front; the English soldiers would have died laughing.

I fear the same fate might await Andre Nel's histrionics. I can't imagine that any batsman takes his exaggerated gestures seriously. He needs to tone it down, or up the menace levels. Right now, he's flirting with Spinal Tap, and thats not good.

Many a slip

The South Africans have done many things right on this tour and they are still 1-0 down with a crushing 184-run defeat to show for it. They have bowled tightly and with discipline; they have not flagged in the field; they have not been outmuscled in the sledging department; and so on. So whats gone wrong? They have dropped catches; their batting has not taken the initiative; the captaincy has not been aggressive enough. Besides the bleeding-obvious advice to hold their catches, their captain needs to attack a bit more: the slips cordon often looks porous and too many times easy singles are being given away to a batting line-up that knows how to look for them.

What RSA need at Sydney is a big, blustery innings from Smith that lifts up the rest of the batting lineup. And they need to leave the butter at home for five days.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Good catching form - in the stands

I saw one of the best spectator catches ever last night. Symonds clattered a massive blow straight back off Kallis, and the ball climbed high, 10-15 rows into the stands. A forty-something gentleman stood up, and smoothly pouched the ball. His style was perfect, and given that he was surrounded by seats, the effort was exemplary.

Years ago, while I was attending a IMG one-day game at Bankstown, bonus gifts were being offered to spectators that caught sixes in the stands. A Queensland batsman lofted one into the stands next to us, and a gentleman vainly tried, beer cup in one hand, to catch the ball. No luck. Slater trotted up, and quipped, "if you'd put the beer down mate, think of how many beers you could have bought!"

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Petitio Principi?

Last night, as Mark Taylor discussed bowling changes and field settings, he casually remarked, "and so of course, this begs the question, why isn't Ntini using a short-midon?". Or words to that effect. Taylor wasn't pointing out fallacious reasoning on anyone's part. He was using the phrase "this begs the question" literally, as in "this question demands to be asked". Awkward turn of phrase; not out of place, I suppose, in cricket commentary, which has given us "back-of-a-length".

Monday, December 26, 2005


I've watched a few tests at the 'G over the years. First, Boxing Day 2001, Australia-RSA: we (Vincent and I) left the ground after suffering one interruption after another on a cold, windswept day. We went to a pub and watched the rest of the game while playing pool. Then Australia-England, 2002 Ashes: thanks to the construction affecting the availability of some 20,000 seats, we couldn't get in on Boxing Day and landed up going on a desultory stroll that brought us to the Rose Hotel where we watched the rest of the day's play. I attended another couple of days including the final day as everyone was let in for free and Australia struggled to bring the match to a close. Then Australia-India, Boxing Day 2003 (besides the second and fourth days play), where I saw Sehwag score his 195, and the collapse that cost India the test.

The G's location, in the heart of the city, means that the approach to the ground is very urban. You get to the City Center and then take a tram, or drive to one of the surrounding neighborhoods and walk through the parks. The train stations, bus stands, and all the assorted trappings of urban public transportation remind you of where you are. Perhaps the ground is too big, too much of a behemoth to be truly charming, but its positioning in Aussie sports history is unmistakeable.

If you want to make the 'G a bit more magical for yourself, you'd do well to watch an Aussie Rules game and go down to the turf after the game for the post-game ball tossing that breaks out. The parks that surround the 'G make possible to a truly relaxed lunch break, as you sneak out, break out a sandwich, and then have a beer at one of the pubs across the street before strolling back in. Inside the G, the cavernous stands cry out for exploration; idiosyncratic viewing angles abound at varying elevations.

I've had good company watching cricket at the 'G over the years; the quality of conversation about cricket in Melbourne is unmatched. Heres hoping for a speedy return to the 'G.

The perils of late night cricket

I tuned in dutifully for the Boxing Day test only to be greeted by news of a most un-Australian delay in starting the game. The commentators' efforts to kill time before the first ball could be bowled were painful to watch. Thereafter, it was a much more straightforward turn of events: the early wicket, the fightback, the patience of the South Africans. But towards the later part of the day, I missed most of the action, as I fell victim to that deadly affliction: the doze; brought on by overconsumption of both food and drink. I'd been snacking all day, polishing off Christmas-Eve Dinner leftovers and some nice wine I'd discovered on the weekend. As the night wore on, and as I gamely hung in, the eyelids grew heavier. Suddenly, I was woken up by a sharp spike in the volume from my PC speakers. A wicket had fallen. This would be repeated several times over the next hour as Australia collapsed, and so did I. (RSA still need two wickets and I wouldn't start celebrating yet if I were a South African fan).

Finally, my frustration at missing the wickets at these strategic points - thanks to my body refusing to co-operate - finally got to me, and I wearily turned down the volume, switched off the lights in the living-room, and retired to bed. I'll eat a little less tomorrow. I do miss the days when I could pull off all-nighters like these so easily (I never managed to do it for exams).

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Cricket goes to free TV in India

I'm interested to see what the effects will be - long-term - of the Indian board's decision compelling TV rights holders to share the broadcast stream. This is a huge populist move, ensuring that folks without access to pay-TV channels in India have access to cricket. Echoes of the same issue were heard in England after the decision to award the cricket contract to Sky; and in Australia where Ashes broadcast rights are held by Nine, who would not show the game on free-to-air, choosing instead to show early sessions on pay-channels and only showing free-to-air in the post-tea session. For those who worry about the move to pay-TV and the death of free-to-air, this is a good move. I had been surprised by how uncritically folks in India had accepted the move to pay-channels.

As for diminished revenues for the ICC, perhaps they could ask the ECCB, they of the "spiritual home of cricket" to help out a bit. They did get a fat deal with Sky, didn't they?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Suts in full effect

John Sutton, philosopher, cricketer, playwright, and all-round great guy (OK, fine, he's a good friend), smashes 52 off 19 balls in the Shires competition in Sydney. Way to go Johnno!

Read his report here

Friday, December 23, 2005

Wearing hearts on sleeves

A good cricket writer writes with passion and flair. Dispassionate analysis? Boring. So, lets look at Dileep Premchandran, of 'coruscating' fame. A year or so ago, Premchandran wrote a spirited defense of Kumble that led a friend to query, "Did you read Premchandran's piece? He told Kumble critics to take a flying f**k at the moon?". I had read the piece and yes, I did get the feeling that I was being told something along those lines. Pretty heart-on-sleeve type stuff I thought.

Now, again, here is Premchandran, blasting away at those who would ever have doubted Yuvraj's ability (Not me,thankfully, I wouldn't want to be subjected to such ire):

"But while Agarkar's innings spoke of the great depth of India's batting, he had to cede the day's honours to a man who came to the crease with everything to prove. His first-innings failure....had reopened the debates about Yuvraj Singh belonging at this level and, shamefully, there were quite a few people willing him to fail here just so that their warped designs for Indian cricket could be carried on." [second set of italics mine]


"the management and selectors that reposed faith in one of India's brightest young talents are fully show contempt for those who doubt the efficacy of a long-term vision" (italics mine)'s masterclass from Yuvraj suggested that India, despite such widespread paranoia of change(italics mine), might finally be ready to embrace the less-travelled road that is the preserve of champions."

Amazing stuff. Just how angry was Premchandran during the Ganguly dispute? On a scale of 1-10, dear reader, do write in, and let me know what you think.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Standard Shtick

Quick, can you recognize the style below?:

"Normally the Poms rely on pitches that have not had a drink for longer than Bob Hawke or else have been affected by the sort of disease normally found only among Ukrainian politicians."

And, no, the use of "Poms" does not mean he is an Aussie - (neither does the reference to Hawke and neither does the fact that he is an Aussie citizen). I'm not sure what to term the style above - its not simile or metaphor laden.

If you did identify the writer, you've been reading this man's articles for a while.


Andrew Miller writes, as part of his coverage of the English team on their disastrous tour of Pakistan:

"Without England's blessing, cricket becomes as relevant on a global scale as the popular subcontinent sport of kabbadi - that curious game of tag wrestling that attracts a committed following but has as much clout on the international stage as the World Conkers Championship."

Insufferable tosh. England was irrelevant for years in the 1990s and the game went on just fine.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Proteas win back opportunity

I must confess to being as surprised as anyone else that South Africa drew the first test. But my surprise was not as great as it could have been had I not watched the pre-lunch session on the last day. In that period of time, RSA's batsmen gave some evidence that they could and would survive (though Prince's skittishness againsts Warne was not reassuring).

South Africa must sense now that they are in with a chance. They will be the inspired team at the MCG; they have shown themselves capable of dismissing Australia for less than 300; Smith is due for a big score; Kallis will be back.

The next two tests will be crackers. And they'll start earlier at night out here on the East Coast. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Wasim the bearded poet

Gideon Haigh pays tribute to Wasim Raja. For those of us that saw Wasim Raja bat during that ill-fated Pakistan tour of India in 1979-80, Haigh's comments come as no surprise. Raja was a beautiful bat, and the only cricketer that I've heard described as a poet. His dismissal for 93 at Delhi, and his unbeaten 97 at Kanpur were true heartbreaks for me. Thanks for the memories Wasim.

Too much of a good thing?

Cricket writing, like most sports writing, is full of cliches. Its hard to avoid them, and a really good writer would go the extra mile (see, cliche!) to not work them into his piece.

Given this, I was impressed to see Dileep Premchandran, one of Cricinfo's staff of talented Indian writers, use the word "coruscating" in the course of describing an innings. It was a new and fresh word, and I loved the the variety it brought into the daily bulletins.

Now, I fear, Premchandran is overusing the word. I saw it again, just recently, and immediately remembered it being used for the first time. I found this reaction strange. After all, I don't react the same way when someone uses "scintillating" or "stunning" again and again. So, perhaps its very novelty makes it stand out in a way that other, more common words don't. Still, I went and googled "Dileep coruscating" and sure enough, it pops up a lot in his pieces. Hmmm..maybe he does overuse it, after having gotten excessively attached to it (for a long time, I used semicolons obsessively and then, having been exposed to em-dashes, began using them incessantly).

So, I don't know, Dileep, get rid of "coruscating". Its done its work, you're just going to need to find another word. But thanks anyway, for introducing some diversity into the writing.

Still glum on Gambhir

I'm getting worried about the series against Pakistan and England. Ground Control to Spaceship India: you have an openers problem. Somehow, I cannot see Gambhir getting to 50 against the English and Pakistani attacks. Which means trouble for India's middle-order. And since Sehwag cannot be expected to score tons in every innings, and neither can Dravid/Laxman keep performing rescue acts, India are facing a tough time in the series to come.

Honestly, given what I've managed to watch on the telly recently, I'm not at all optimistic about these two series. I think someone like Dhoni is going to have a hard time as well (though I'm more hopeful that he will pull something out of the hat than Gambhir will).

And another thing about Gambhir. While his little spat with Nel in the ODI series might have given the impression he is a fighter, I would suggest that he got rattled a little too soon by Nel's stares and scowls. He will cop the same against England and Pakistan and he will need to calm down and work on his concentration. If he stays out there long enough, that is.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Kumble's ton

I don't quite know what to make of Anil Kumble. Is he India's greatest bowler? Statistically, there is no doubt about it. And honestly, I do not know who I would place ahead of him. I'm tempted to put the young Kapil Dev ahead of him but he didn't have the longevity of this man (Kapil looked absolutely ghastly in his last few years and I really wish he had retired 30 tests before he did - he would have left much better memories).

The problem with Kumble for me is just that one thing, that one little bugbear. He hasn't done well abroad, and given India's problems in winning tests abroad since 1986 (when we beat England 2-0 in England), its clear to me that part of the reason we didn't win abroad was because when your main strike bowler and spearhead's style of bowling doesn't travel well, neither does the team (I'm leaving aside the Indian team's horrendous habits against pace attacks).

On a personal note, I've found his amped-up reactions to fielding off his bowling to be in quite poor taste. Given that he isn't a particularly good fielder himself (some of the most amusing fielding efforts I've seen over the years have come from 'ol Kumbles himself), his reactions seem a bit excessive.

Still, all said and done, when you're playing a test at home, he is the man. And I don't doubt that he is a fighter - which is more than what I could have said about many players in Indian teams over the years. I'm not quite sure why his batting fell off after his 88 at Eden Gardens in 1996, but in tight situations its good to have him around.

About time

So, Shabbir Ahmed finally bites the dust. He gets a one-year ban from the ICC after failing tests.

While I think the ICC policy on chuckers has been confusing, and I've lost track what is legal anymore and what isn't, I'll say one thing: Shabbir's action was by far, the most flagrant violation of the thou-not-shalt-straighten-thy-arm dictum. The first time I saw him bowl, I did not know who he was (I think this was last year against India in an ODI), and I sat up, alarmed at his action. I asked a Pakistani acquaintance what he thought of his action, and his response was "oh, yeah, he has problems!".

So, there you have it.

Proteas lose opportunity

Well, South Africa have gone ahead and blown their best chance to put one over Australia. 258 all out and RSA 38-0 at the end of the first day. Theirs for the taking, you'd think. And things looked even better the next day. Now, at the end of the third day, they're chasing 450+. And Hodge has scored a double hundred, with the entire Aussie second innings helped along by a generous catching effort by the Proteas, who, I think, must have dropped half-a-dozen catches. This is brutal. I hope this doesn't mean that RSA don't show up for the rest of the series. Yet another hyped contest, yet another no-contest?


Watching cricket being played in India brings a different set of visual impressions than watching cricket in Australia. The light is different for one. Indian games are played in the winter, and typically start under the heavy, hazy light so typical of that time of the year. Australian games are played in the summer and take place in bright, bleach-your-body-bone-white kind of light. Indian games end in poor light, typically with multiple checks by the umpire, much conferring with batsmen, and the final walk-off an inevitable occurrence. Australian games rarely end in poor light - it is the summer after all. Despite all the talk about the liveliness of Indian crowds, it is the Australian crowds that are more lively for most of the day (and certainly more balanced - its hard to get an Indian crowd to clap for boundaries by the opposing team's batsmen!). Australian crowds fade late in the day as the beer and heat kicks in. At that point, dehydrated legions of young men sink to their knees in the stands and can only summon the odd hoarse "onya Warnie!".

But perhaps the biggest difference is watching Indian spinners go at it late in the day. Multiple fielders clustered around the bat in the gloom, (but not backed up by large crowds because those don't seem to go to watch test cricket any more), appealing on every second ball, hoping to trigger off yet another collapse. Doesn't seem to happen on Australian grounds (the Indian spinner bit that is).

Ironically, of course, I've seen more test cricket live in Australia (on more grounds, against more teams) than I have in India. Thats what I get for not living in India (or in Australia for that matter).

Telly Follies

Has there been a worse bunch of commentators than this present lot, currently 'working' the India-SL series? Arun Lal, Laxman Sivramakrishnan, Javagal Srinath? Inane analysis, boorish cheerleading for India, twisted language and worse of all, comments that are, for the most part, just plain superfluous. I don't know why India cannot seem to produce television crews capable of doing justice to the game. Cricinfo has tapped into good cricket writing in India (witness their present crew) and rescued us from the tripe dished out over the years - one can only wait with bated breath for something similar to happen on television. (Yeah, right).

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Cricket on the stream

So, I've gone ahead and subscribed to two different cricket telecast packages from Willow TV. An old friend Vijay Srinvasan either runs the company or was one of its founders. On broadband, picture quality is decent. All thats missing is decent time zones - tests in India start at 11 PM EST and go on till 6 AM. Tests in Australia are much, much better. The Perth test starts at 930 PM EST.

Getting both this year was a necessity. I always feel starved for cricket - so the India tests were a non-brainer. As for the Australian/RSA series, this is the first southern summer in four years that I'm not headed Down Under, so I'll have to get my summer fix by getting a bit of the cricket on the stream. Slip, slap, slop, and I'm done. (I'll deal with the bad sleep patterns later).

Glum on Gambhir

Well, I was worried about Gambhir and he's just gone ahead and made things worse with a panicked little innings that just ended a little while ago. dear oh dear. But VVS is in, and he's already played one delectable shot.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Ganguly - sentimentalist attachment or cricketing value?

Here, Ranatunga suggests that Ganguly's hunger be welcomed as a positive addition to the Indian team.

In my previous post I had perhaps taken the same 'sentimental' line that other writers had - when writing on Ganguly. That is, give the man a better deal, just because he had done so much for Indian cricket. There is a flaw in this reasoning of course, and it should be acknowledged. That is, no one deserves a place in the Indian side for that reason - he should do so for cricketing reasons. So, are there good cricketing reasons for having Ganguly in the side?

On Cricinfo again, Anil Nair says no, and links the ruthlessness needed to deal with the Ganguly omission as essential for India's move to modernity:

Now, at the very least, I'm not sure that developing a ruthless streak - in pursuit of quality - apparently - is essential for modernity. (THAT is a huge topic, and I'm going to defer talking on that for a moment). But lets keep the discussion in cricketing terms. Nair suggests that Ganguly will not survive the pace attacks that are coming up - Akhtat and Harmison will find him out and that will be the end of it. Fair enough, these worries are real (they extend to other members of the Indian side as well, though, for as the South Africans showed in the brief ODI series, when a real pace attack shows up, this Indian batting looks decidedly more wobbly). And if the intention is to develop a pair of openers then retaining Gambhir and bringing in Jaffer made more sense.

The Ganguly Omission

I'll be brief on this one. I think Ganguly long-term, doesn't belong in the Indian team. At the moment however, something else is getting covered up in this debate. Which is that Gautam Gambhir is getting found out, and my prediction is that on the Pakistan series he will get shown up pretty badly.

Ganguly does deserve better than this clumsy move, a man who has captained for so long, and done so much to put some backbone into one of the wimpiest outfits on the planet.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Danish Kaneria or Mohammed Kaneria?

I'm wondering how long it will take before Danish Kaneria converts to Islam. There must be some way to place a bet on this online.