Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Not looking good, what?

Interestingly, Pakistan were still batting 500 runs ahead as the third days play came to a close. It won't give Indian fans much comfort, but the size of that lead, is some acknowledgement of the 'strength' of the Indian batting lineup. My use of scare quotes is deliberate. Ever since the 1990s, we've read and heard a great deal about the wonders of this Indian batting lineup. But all along, there has been a certain brittleness about the top-order. It normally tends to manifest itself in away series (one reason why India hasn't a series away (outside the subcontinent) since 1986). On many occasions, just like the first innings in Karachi, India's bottom order has been the one to restore the scoreboard to respectability.

I don't hold much hope of India drawing this match. The time that India need to bat out is immense, and sadly, I expect too many players to try and play out time rather than keeping things on an even keel by continuing to score the odd run. The one condition under which I would be willing to revise my gloomy prediction is if India get a decent opening partnership featuring Sehwag.


Hmmm..interesting headline caption over at Cricinfo: "Faisal Iqbal justified his selection with a prolific maiden century".

Yeah, that Faisal, he's really prolific at scoring maiden centuries - does it all the time.

Peanuts in the gallery

Pardon my scepticism, but what exactly is the ICC going to do with this investigation into 'racism' at Australian grounds?. Other than security walking through stands with microphones set on 'high' to pick up traces of offensive language being directed at players, what could be done? Offenders could be reported by other spectators (thus requiring their co-operation), players could try and identify those that had yelled out, and police could act decisively to throw out offenders, and so on, all of which means way more policing at grounds, and that always seems like a bad idea to me.

More interesting, is the puzzling nature of the abuse itself. As a South African friend of mine said:

"It's inexplicable. The remarks are in Afrikaans, so chances are that it's South Africans. But the phrase that is being used translates to "n*gger-lover". So I'm at a loss to explain what the motivation is. Especially since it seems to have been aimed at Andre Nel. If him, why not everyone else in the team? More specifically, if they have an issue with non-white players in the team, why not hurl abuse at them? It's beyond me. Perhaps it's an Australian trying to upset the South Africans?"

I understand the bit about it not being directed at people other Nel - he seemed to have made a special little spot for himself in the hearts and minds of crowds the world over. But the rest is still puzzling. My personal theory is that some drunken Afrikaner at Perth started it, and then Aussie copycats have been going on with it (not knowing what it means but knowing that it pissed off whoever on the ground was the target for it).

Monday, January 30, 2006

Taufel on top

Another good day for Simon Taufel yesterday. Two lbw appeals, one successful, one turned down, showed why. The first, a confident call by Razzaq against Yuvraj, turned down because of an inside edge visible to, and heard by, Taufel alone. Not till the fifth or so replay did commentators pick up the inside edge (by which time of course, Rameez had gone on a bit about how lucky Yuvraj was to be out there). When Yuvraj did go, Taufel adjudged correctly that the ball had made contact with the bat after doing so with the pad, and was headed on to the stumps otherwise. Good call.

Kolkata watchin'

I wonder how Kolkata's electricity supply is bearing up right now, what with all those millions of sets turned on, tuned in to the National Stadium, Karachi.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Losing it and second chances

So I describe the first day's play to my wife, and conclude with, "So India lost the initiative a bit" - and am told "more like, they propelled it 100 miles an hour towards the floor".

Well, yes (was she trying to say they 'dropped the ball'? - I'm never quite sure in these moments when our cultural differences, only partially reconciled, come to the fore). India took 3 wickets in the first over of play and thereafter, proceeded eagerly to put Pakistan back in the match. The odds were always on some counterattack being mounted, and Akmal did just that. But 245 all out after 39-6 represents a Houdini-like move, made easier by the indulgence of guards nodding off on duty. To have India at 74-4 means that Pakistan go into the second day looking for one early wicket with which to take over this match completely. First sessions are always important; the series could be decided in this one.

Pathan's story has come and gone. The importance of his effort will only be clear once the game is decided. But a far more compelling story is in the making. The two men at the crease include one Sourav Ganguly. Seldom can a more dramatic stage have been set for a cricketer. The team is struggling, the ball has life, he will face a hostile crowd and attack, and his position is up for grabs. Every single black mark against him could be wiped out with an innings of quality, and he will not ever, live down a quick, weak dismissal. Its all set for Ganguly. The pressure on him will be intense but he has a chance at redemption that is only rarely given to us. Tune in tomorrow to see the fate of this former captain decided in the most compelling of settings: facing a Pakistani pace attack in Pakistan with the series on the line.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Scraping the bottom

Rediff.com has clearly fallen on hard times, and are increasingly desperate for someone, anyone will do, to write for them. Scraping the bottom of the barrel thus has netted them Moin Khan, who deprived of the thudding of ball into gloves that kept his cerebellum in place, has started dispensing tripe, nay, dishing it out in copious measure.

First exhibit, another example of the delusional belief - apparently rampant in Pakistan whether it be crickters, journalists or bloggers - that Pakistani cricketers, and games against them, "haunt" Indians:

"Pakistan's recent victories in major Tests have been when they have batted first except when Pakistan won by nine wickets after Rahul Dravid made that dreadful mistake in Lahore two years ago when he elected to bat first on a seaming wicket. I am sure the ghost of that decision still haunts Rahul."

Then, this astonishing hallucination, prompted by Tendulkar's mistaken "walk" in the second test, which contains this fling:

"Sachin's controversial dismissal also reminded me of a few batsmen who preferred walking off the pitch on their legs rather than being carried away on stretchers when the great Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were at their brilliant best"

It takes a particularly convoluted mind to take a walk and turn it into evidence of cowardice. Perhaps the nurses at the Home for Retired Cricketers are being stingy with the medication. Moin, make sure you drink all the potion in the little cup on the bedside table before switching off the lights at night.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Home Returns and Library Trips

So, Monty Panesar has been picked as England's second spinner for their tour to India. Stand by for the inevitable stories to follow on his feelings on returning to the land of his forefathers, whether his loyalties will be tested (and his proclamations of how he is 100% English), photo-essays on his trip to the family pind (village), and on whether he will set up a training session with Bishen Bedi. You heard it here first.

The article above also contains the following gem, which I had not heard of before, and which suggests Robert Croft needs to make a trip to the local library and head straight for the history and geography section:

"On England's last tour of India, Robert Croft pulled out for safety reasons - fearing repercussions from the invasion of Afghanistan"

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Sledging - II

So, I had promised a qualification of my earlier post on sledging and here it is. (In other posts, I had taken both Afridi and Akhtar to task for their antics on the fourth day - like they care). So, whats acceptable on a cricket ground, and what isn't? I think most cricket fans and players instinctively know what is - and most of their defense of such behavior is, quite simply, defensiveness about their team. Most fans and cricketers don't mind the odd glare, or "a bit of chat" (in the right circumstances, some batsmen will get sucked into it, and even talk back a bit and defuse the tension). Some of the jokes in the slip cordon about the inability of the batsman to get wood on ball, or about how hard a time he is having and so on, are also OK. But when that becomes non-stop, and includes running up to the batsman to indulge in a pantomimed chestbeating, and swearing and spitting, everyone knows the line has been crossed (this list should include sendoffs, which I find particularly problematic). Most defenses that are mounted amount to the usual, "in the heat of the moment", "just a bit excited" and so on. But these seem out of place in a game where there is little or no physical contact, where most action takes place in one burst before the dramatic lines have to be redrawn.

However (here comes the qualification), there is prolonged tension on a cricket field unlike any other sport, and quite often this can make the proceedings out in the middle almost unbearable in their tautness. Tempers fray on fielding sides as well as bowlers yell at fielders (and captains hold heads, and others roll their eyes). In these circumstances, I can understand the burst of temper, directed perhaps at the situation in which the bowler finds himself - but then, this doesn't excuse him using a tantrum merely to unsettle the batsman. That is, I find it more understandable when things are going badly for the fielding team (so perhaps thats an out for the Pakistani team on the fourth day).

Still, tons to be said. Like, why did the Windies never need to sledge in their glory days? Because they always won? Or did they sledge and we never found out because TV coverage just wasn't that crash-hot?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

High potential

India-Pakistan series are often touted as the ultimate, the greatest, cricketing contest of all, putting the Ashes and the World Cup to shame. In the minds of their supporters thats certainly true (Pakistani fans for instance, love to draw conclusions about the nation based on cricket results). And perhaps at one-day internationals that might be true as well (OK, I exaggerate because nothing really comes close to the World Cup - and you know which World Cup I'm talking about - no, not the cricket one). But in fact, their encounters are often crashing bores. Tests don't excite Indian or Pakistani crowds very much, and if past history is anything to go by, a combination of dead pitches, unseasonal scheduling (in an unseemly haste to indulge in golden-goose killing), and weak bowling attacks can often make for dull, inspid cricket. A quick look at the terrible series played from 1983-1985 would be instructive in this regard. And perhaps the 1989-90 series as well. Thankfully, we've seen some attacking batting in this series, and thats about all we've gotten out of it. Now, on to Karachi, fingers (and various other body parts), crossed, hoping for the best. (Yeah, I know I did this before this last test, and it didn't help either).

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Onya Simon

I'm very impressed by Simon Taufel as an umpire, and agree with assessments of him as the best in the world. Three separate incidents confirmed this, each showing different aspects of his skills. First, he stepped in quickly after Shoaib's beamer, warning him, acting decisively to keep things under control. Second, when Akmal whipped off the bails to stump Dhoni off Kaneria, Taufel raised his finger right away, not bothering to call for a television replay, trusting his own judgment (Koertzen just did the same, giving out Kumble! Good stuff). Third, he gave Pathan out LBW, correctly judging that the loud bat sound occurred after the ball had already hit the pad (Razzaq's delivery straightened as it headed for middle stump).

May your tribe increase.

Carrying on like porkchops

Yesterday, Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Akhtar both carried on a bit. Afridi's carrying-on was more of the pesky nuisance variety, chattering away from gully, though he was getting close to being a a dweeb with his running up to the batsman and getting up close and personal. Perhaps he wanted some feedback. Akhtar's was the usual petulance, lots of pouting, cursing, taunting the batsman. Where things started to go over the line was Afridi commencing the chat somewhere in the run-up, and taking it from there. And so did Akhtar. At some point, this crosses the line and starts to become a bit irritating largely because it interferes with my sense of watching a cricket game: I become convinced that I'm watching a temper tantrum of some sort. And the predominant feeling while watching a child throw one, is to shut him up somehow. Not quite the experience you associate with cricket appreciation.

And today, Akhtar spat the dummy. First, he got hit for three spanking fours by Dhoni (the last one a smashed pull after Shoaib went round the wicket). Shoaib then bowled a beamer, refused to apologize, and snatched his hat from Taufel. I'm puzzled; do Pakistani fans like this sort of thing? Both kinds of behavior, I mean. I'm genuinely curious. When they watch this on telly, do they cheer this on, or do they roll their eyes? Indian journalists note this behavior in their dispatches from the ground, but Pakistani journalists don't bother, which leads me to believe that they either approve, or are used to it. Both of which bug me a bit. Australian journalists comment too, on their players behavior, whether critically or to point out overreaction on the part of umpires or opponents. The Pakistani Press Corps? Silence.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Fairy tales

So, here is a link to a little spat that broke out on Different Strokes over at Cricinfo (well, perhaps I exaggerate but the original article was a depressing reminder of how fairy tales persist). Have fun. I promised a debunking of Abbasi's article in my two posts, and I hope to deliver very soon.

Interesting innit?

Osman Samiuddin, of "Sehwag's runs would be halved if catches weren't dropped" fame (thus joining the "if my grandum had a moustache.." brigade), and who has been barely able to restrain his glee at the Pakistani plunder of the Indian bowling attack, changes tune:

"Until the afternoon, nearly halfway through this series, Test cricket had been at its most hateful."

Poor man. It must really hurt, seeing one huge total go up after another, only to see them not help your team at all. Pakistani journalism can do better than this. Or can it? In the next post or so, a reminder that it might not be possible.

Six good ones

On the third day's opening session, Shoaib's second over - to VVS Laxman - was an awesome sight. The average speed in the over was 150Kmph (the first four were all above 150K, the fifth was 147, the last one again over 150K); he had pushed VVS right back. The batsman stared hard back down the pitch, pulling himself together; the bowler strained and strained, urging more from the pitch, his body, the ball itself. One over of frightening speed. The batsman held. The bowler, sweaty and exhausted, was dissipated by the next. Shoaib goes quickly, but in full swing, he still manages to put on a good show.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The sun has set

Michael Atherton provides a good reminder of why many Indians will be cheering the BCCI on as it moves towards a super league. His language, replete with admonishments, finger-wagging, tsk-tsking, conjures up visions of smarmy schoolmasters sonorously lecturing recalcitrant schoolboys. Sorry, Mike, the Raj is long gone, and you aren't talking to feisty natives any more.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The flagging spirit

Post-tea sessions can be cruel. The optimism of the morning session gives way to resignation and weary acceptance, the body tires as hamstrings and lower backs refuse to spring back into action, the ball loses life, and worst, batsmen sense this all and pile on the heat.

Watching Inzi and Afridi cart the Indian bowling all over the ground was to watch defensive lines fall, troops scatter, and stragglers run for cover. Frustration mounted, and when that inevitable companion of the bad-day-in-the-field, the wagged-finger (as Sachin's withering glance at Yuvraj for a bad piece of fielding showed) finally made its appearance, you sensed the day was over for the Indians and they wanted nothing more than to be back in the dressing room.

After Adelaide 2003, no prediction is safe, but statistically speaking, it is highly unlikely that anything like that will happen again. But I won't file a complaint with the Probability Bureau if it does.

Friday, January 20, 2006


A quick historical note on Faisalabad, just to be a bit nostalgic. Watching Zaheer Abbas score 176 on television back in 1978 - when India and Pakistan had resumed cricketing ties a mere seven years after the Dacca surrender - was a formative moment in my cricket watching years. The game petered out into a draw, but not before Gavaskar managed to provide heartbreak, dismissing Zaheer for 96, caught by Chauhan! Zaheer remains Gavaskar's only test wicket.

Just to make sure I got my fill, Zaheer obliged in the next test with a sublime 235.

The Faisalabad test ended in a tame draw that time. Heres hoping for a result, with the co-operation of the weather, the pitch, the crowds, captains (former and present), players, umpires, board officials, groundsmen and staff. Thats a whole of lot of coming together required, but I'm optimistic.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


I'm watching this fingerwagging fest underway in Australia as former players and umpires light into the Aussies for 'bad behavior'. I've disliked players that "carry on like a porkchop" myself in the past, so before I comment on this episode, let me start by posting something that I wrote a while ago (and I'll then qualify it in my next post):

Players are human beings and the cricket pitch is just a piece of ground set a certain distance from fences, roads, shops i.e., the rest of the world. There is nothing holy or sacrosanct about a cricket pitch or the rest of the ground such that the emotional impact of words said out there is lessened. If you call someone a f___ing c___t, it will have the same impact as if you said it at the train station. The awareness of potential penalties prevents players from getting into a brawl but that is about it; just because one does not take place it does not mean that the people involved have not been affected. I played Northern Suburbs cricket for two years in Sydney and there was a clear demarcation in the kinds of relationships we had with opposing teams. Those that sledged a lot were a bunch of c___t's and we would not dream of having a drink after the game with them. So whatever happened to the Aussie ideal of "shake hands, go have a beer?" When you sledge, people remember, and they bear grudges. The mythical healing quality of the handshake after the game is much overrated.

Sledging is not just a bit of a chat. Very little of what gets said on cricket fields is friendly banter in the way that sledging's apologists imagine. How can it be banter, when most of it consists of snide comments made to your teammates about the opponent? Plenty of the comments are insulting, abusive, downright derogatory, and simply out of place on a cricket field.

Furthermore, if the defense is that "a little chatter" helps to test the batsman's mental resolve, why do we need the obnoxious sendoff?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Quick, turn around

A good friend, currently travelling through India (and hence able to watch more of the India-Pakistan tests) writes in with this little tidbit:

"It was great to see Imran Khan's transformation with Manjrekar. On day 1 and day 2 he was saying that Pakistan has deliberately created a flat non-turning pitch because (1) Indian has weak medium pacers and finger spinners and (2) Pakistan bowlers are fast in the air therefore they don't need fast tracks and Danish Kaneria is a wrist spinner so he can spin anywhere. On day 3 and 4 he was saying that Pakistan board needs to carry out an inquiry to determine why the track is so placid given that Pakistan can only benefit from a fast track."

If you think this was an adept reversal of course, I urge you to find a video tape of the famous India-Pakistan WC 1996/97 quarterfinal. Then, track Imran's comments from the time that Aamer Sohail gets bounced by Prasad, lashes him through the covers, sledges Prasad and is then bowled next ball (and is told by Prasad what time it is). The speed with which Imran went from being a fan of Sohail's 'streetfighting qualities' to castigating him for irresponsibility would put his quickest indippers to shame.


So, Sehwag is getting slammed for his comments professing ignorance of Mankad, Roy and their world record for the opening wicket. Read this link to get a sampling of the comments. I find some of the comments a bit smarmy, but understandable. Ramachandra Guha's take on it seems the most balanced to me. [Frankly, I'd rather have Sehwag, who can actually score runs by the bucket against Pakistan, than a history major who can't handle pace bowling].

Its worth remembering what Brian Lara said after the Windies made 418 to win against Australia. I quote, with some imperfection, of course: "I looked at the scoreboard of the last time it was done [India made 403-4 to beat the West Indies in Port of Spain, 1976]. It wasn't a big deal. A couple of guys made 100s and one guy made 50 or so."

The "two guys" were Gavaskar and Vishwanath. The third guy was Mohinder Amarnath, whose epic 400-minute innings of 85 held the innings together. I'm betting Lara had no idea who any of those players were. And thats shocking coming from a Trini.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Super League draws closer

The ICC is huffing and puffing, but its not going to be able to blow this Super League idea down so easily. The test world has been weakened by its mishandling of the Bangladesh and Zimbabwe teams (23 years after their debut, the latter are rapidly sinking), and something like this was bound to happen. If relegations and divisions are not to happen, then de-facto tiers like this will emerge. The cricketing world was only going to tolerate this state of affairs for so long. Test cricket suffers terribly from dilution of its standards, and that situation is upon us now.

What joy

Looking at this picture of Rana after his dismissal of Sehwag, you'd think he'd dismissed someone for a duck on the opening day of a test. Instead its Sehwag for 254 on the fifth day of a drawn test. Well done, Rana!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Missing in action

I wonder why Osman Samiuddin - over at Cricinfo - took the day off yesterday. Poor chap, must have been exhausted by all that effusive writing about the Pakistani batting over the first two days. Maybe one of Afridi's sixes knocked him out.

How sweet it is

Nothing quite like it in the world: watching a Delhi boy score a century against Pakistan. Then, it gets better: watching a Delhi boy score a double century against Pakistan, in Pakistan, at Lahore. A couple of garnishes: hitting 46 boundaries, and being the second-fastest double centurion in history.

There were suggestions in the blogosphere that Pakistan might have done damage to the mental make-up of the Indian bowling attack. What now, I wonder? Seventh-fastest century? Pshaw!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Lacking in presence

Watching Sehwag's unfinished 89-ball innings of 96 yesterday was a strange experience. While the strokeplay was a pleasure to watch, something about the setting and atmosphere was discordant. The light was poor and the entire stadium took on a gloomy hue of grey, undeterred by the green of the grass and the white of the player's uniforms. The crowd was thin, and only faint smatterings of applause greeted each shot issuing from Sehwag's blade. The runs came fast, and yet one could barely detect any drama in all of it. No bright lights, no cheering crowds, no attacking fields, nothing that would have upped the drama quotient and provided the appropriate backdrop for his heroics. In the end, when he walked off on being offered the light, you sensed he didn't care very much whether he was out there or back in the pavilion. Actors like their stage to provide some presence - the Gaddafi Stadium had none.

Confusion - Part II

Bob Woolmer confuses me again. I don't understand how the following four sentences hang together:

"What impresses me, though, is the lack of antagonism or violence between the supporters. There is no inane chanting as at a football match in England. Large queues have waited patiently for tickets all day in Lahore. Cricket, I think, is the most significant factor in creating a patient outlook on the sub-continent, in spite of matches between India and Pakistan leading to almost unbearable tension."

Sentence 1 is not connected to sentence 2; 2 is not connected to 3; 4 is a complete throwaway line. In fact, 4 is ridiculously patronizing and shallow.

Confusion - Part I

I'm seriously thinking of nominating Bob Woolmer for Confused Person of the Year award. I will make this case in two posts (there is just so much to go on).

In reverse chronological order, first, we have this gem:

"I have always rated Sehwag. We've studied lots of ways of bowling at him and certain bowlers tend to get him out quite easily. Ntini seems to have the wood on him." Sehwag averaged 98.2 against Pakistan before this series and has hit three hundreds against them, including one triple and one double. "He plays well against Pakistan; certain cricketers like playing against certain teams."

Isn't interesting how its always the batsmen with averages over 50 that have been sussed out by "certain bowlers"? And that line about "certain cricketers like playing against certain teams" is a complete throw-away. Are they strong teams or are they weak teams? Please clarify, Bob.

Idiot of the Year

Its only January 15th, and we have an early winner in the Idiot of the Year competition: Imran Khan. No commentary needed as you read this excerpt from the Atlantic.

How the mighty have fallen. And how far.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Keep it simple

Whatever the relative merits of Ganguly's selection, I fail to understand the argument against Dravid opening. One of them is, "would you risk your best batsman in the opening position?". Here is what the argument looks like:

1. Opening positions are risky

2. Your best batsman should not be exposed to risk

Conclusion: Therefore, your best batsman should not open.

1 is a no-brainer. 2 is a no-brainer for the wrong reasons, for what is the point of having a 'best batsman' in there if not to help you negotiate risk? (Gavaskar opened India's batting for years, and he was India's best batsman by far) A similar argument demolishes the case for having a nightwatchman. Try it at home. Here is another argument:

1. Risky positions are best negotiated by skilled batsmen capable of playing fast bowling

Conclusion: Opening should be done by a skilled batsman capable of playing fast bowling. Note, I'm not concluding that it should be done by your best batsman.

I suggest that if someone were to make a quick list of the qualities an opener would have, Dravid would have them all. So there. What seems to underlie the argument against Dravid opening is that its better to offer someone as sacrificial fodder, let him take the shine off the new ball, and then let Dravid accumulate runs. But if an opener is out quickly, then not only does Dravid play against the new ball, he does so against the backdrop of a wicket already having fallen (i.e., in a more fraught situation). Do you see the similarity with the argument against having a nightwatchman?

Cricket is a complicated game and it doesn't get simpler when it is over-mystified by uncontested mythologies.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Nope, it ain't

I don't think these sentences - taken from Cricinfo's Tour Diary - work:

"It’s a fine moment to witness, when the crowd interacts with the player, and when the players responds. It’s one of those ontological joys of watching cricket."

Vaidyanthan wants something other than 'ontological' in there. I think he is trying to say something like "its one of the most fundamental, or basic, joys" or something along those lines. But if thats what he is getting at, he is using the wrong word. If he is using 'ontological' as in "of or relating to essence or the nature of being", then is he saying that it is one of the "essential" joys of cricket? Or one of the constitutive joys of cricket? If its either of those two, then he should just use those words. "Ontological" only serves to obfuscate in this case.

Welcome to the terrordome

As drinks are taken an hour after tea at Lahore, India are rapidly finding out how different Pakistan is from Sri Lanka, and what happens to teams whose bowling attack is opened by someone with an average of 47 or so (and whose so-called bowling spearhead averages roughly that figure against non-Bangladesh like teams). Fingerlicking stuff. For the Pakistani batsmen, that is.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

All good

Please check out the Tour Diaries over at Cricinfo. Vaidyanathan is a very nice guy (I base this on one courteous reply he sent me after I had impolitically blasted off a quasi-flame at the new Surfer blog a few months ago), and it tells in his tour diary. He can't find anything wrong in his host country; the language is very polite; he is oh-so enthusiastic about everything he sees; he hasn't had one single awkward moment or encounter; no disappointments. The tour diary doesn't have the zing that a slightly skeptical eye would bring to its reports. Its cheerleading flavor makes it a bit prosaic at the moment; I wish he would question a bit more even as he tries to keep it true to its impressionistic mission.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Making the bigtime

As Charles Kennedy bites the dust in England, the New York Times decides to carry one of its usual a-whiff-of-the-exotic pieces by deciding to mention cricket in this piece on England's confused attitude's towards alcohol:

"This fall, when the English cricket team defeated Australia in the epic series known as the Ashes, the players embarked on a 36-hour orgy of drunken carousing in dozens of different bars. Freddie Flintoff, the star of the series, boasted to The Sun about how he "drank and drank and drank," appearing on national television with muddied speech, bloodshot eyes and an unsteady gait. One cricketer carried an open bottle onto the stage when accepting his Ashes medal; another reportedly threw up in the prime minister's bathroom during a reception at 10 Downing Street."

Standard NYT style: "the epic series known as the Ashes" and the use of Flintoff's nickname in a paper which refers to most people with "Mr." And the slight exaggeration - I doubt the players went to dozens of different bars. Its hard to move in the later stages of a pub crawl. BTW, who threw up in the PM's bathroom? I'd heard a few stories about Hoggard and his intemperate conversation with Blair but don't know if it included a royal upchuck as well.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Media blues and that man again

Over at India Uncut, we are being treated to a report and some photos of the Indian team's media non-event. Nice photos. My personal favorite is that of Dungarpur making Jaffer pour him a glass of water, the way you'd have your servant take care of you. But thats Dungarpur for you, fundamentally inegalitarian. I doubt he said "please".

Pay attention to the big guy

There seem to be two forces tugging at Indian cricket right now: the populist drive of the central government, which is forcing Ten to share its broadcast stream with free-to-air broadcasters, and the BCCI "young turks" bent on maximizing revenues from Indian cricket by cutting a better deal with the ICC (like more one-days with teams like Australia and England). The Super League idea has been a vague threat for years and years and I'm surprised that its taken this long to become an explicit topic of conversation (but perhaps a change of guard at the ICC was needed). The presence of two-tiers in test cricket needed to be made explicit at some point; this is whats done it. And the 800-lb gorilla like presence of the BCCI was going to be acknowledged as well - it'll be interesting to see what deal gets cut.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

That Bradman Photo

A great cricket photo taken during the 1928-29 Ashes in Australia (Bradman's debut series): Bradman stepping out to drive Farmer White. Sadly, I do not have a copy of this image, but I'm hoping someone will find the old World Cricket Digest that did have it and help out. In the photo:

1. Bradman is at least 3 feet out of his crease.

2. The back face of Bradman's bat is parallel to his back.

Try this at home: pick up a bat (pick up a stick or a broom if you don't have a bat). Make like you're off-driving and follow through with the bat. See where the bat lands up. In all probability, the back face will describe some reasonable angle with your back. How could the back face of Bradman's bat land up parallel to his back? I've never seen a bat land up in that position. Does anyone else share my amazement or am I missing something?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Super slo-mo

On the last day of the Sydney test, the Cricket Show dispensed some eye candy in the form of a special section devoted to super slo-mo shots (1000 frames a second - and we were promised that 4000 frames per second is just around the corner). I called my wife over - a long suffering non-fan of cricket - and pointed out some of the beauty on display: the wrist action of the leg-spinner, the awesome power of a fast bowler's stride (and the associated strain put on his back and knees - my wife went "ouch" as we watched, followed by a "wow"), the flexing forearm muscles of a batsman as he launches into a square-drive (Ponting launched an absolute crackerjack of one against Nel that rivals anything Gordon Greenidge ever produced), and the athleticism of the wicketkeeper making a dive down the legside. All in all, it was a revelatory moment, and enabled me to launch into a spiel about the obsession that cricket fans have with images of cricket.

I'm not sure if there is any other sport which manages to elevate its photographers to quasi-celebrity status. Most serious cricket fans will have heard of Patrick Eagar and Ken Kelly, and others will be able to talk about their favorite cricket photographs at length. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to try and track down some classic images that were favorites of mine, and talk a little bit about what makes them stand out for me. I'll start with a discussion of a famous photograph taken during the 1928-29 series of Bradman driving Farmer White.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Dung sounds right

The most irresponsible and offensive man in Indian cricket, Raj Dungarpur, disgraces himself againby firing a broadside at Ganguly at the start of the Pakistan tour. How can we be rid of him? Perhaps he'll get lost in Lahore's winding lanes? Or choke on his sheeeeesh-kabab? Or be kidnapped by the Taliban while visiting Peshawar? Someone please, put Indian cricket out of its misery.

Update (January 6th): Now, Dungarpur denies making the remarks. Sorry, but I don't believe it.

Second guessing

No point in it. Smith could have delayed his declaration to put more runs on the board, but his ire really needs to be directed at Jacques Kallis who made only 50 off 96 balls. The boldness of the declaration was incongruously matched by the laziness of Kallis' effort. The failure to promote Boucher and Rudolph, the reliance upon Botha - playing in only his first test, the failure of the seamers to really trouble the Australian bats, all of these contributed just as much. And the batting of Ponting - full throttle, classic Aussie batting. It could have only served as inspiration for the man standing at the other end, Matthew Hayden.

All in all, a series that was closely fought but could have been even closer had RSA shown some more intiative and held their catches. It does not seem like South Africa have managed, since their return in 1992, to really produce an aggressive batting line-up. Mickey Arthur wants to change this, and I wish him luck. The Proteas have a great outfield presence and their bowling is aggressive and purposeful. An aggressive batting approach would make this into an even more attractive team to watch.

Years ago, when watching the abortive 'unofficial' test between India and South Africa at Centurion Park, a young South African sitting next to me on the grass remarked that youngsters liked watching their team in the outfield - just as much as the scores they racked up - because of their style of play. South Africa needs kids like him to come and watch them bat as well.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Whats in a nick? Name, that is

Mike Selvey holds forth on the subject of cricket nicknames here, complaining about the lack of originality in some of the nicknames, the confusion that awaits when players with the same handles play in the same game and so forth. Reasonable points, not that I think anything important rests on which way the decision goes. If nothing else, it might lead to a little trivia game or two, trying to figure out the etymology of a particular nickname.

But, on the subject of nicknames, let me again acknowledge the pre-eminence of Australian sporting nicknames and the associated drive to quickly find one for a mate on the same team. I lived for 13 years in the US before moving to Sydney for a couple of years, and played on several softball teams. No nickname emerged. In Sydney, shortly after I played my first game for the Centrals, I had two nicknames ready to go. One was Dokic, and the other, my favorite, which has stuck to this day (I even have a Friendster alter ego with the same nickname): Chopper or sometimes, just plain Chop.

I'll leave it to you to figure out how I got those nicknames.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Keep it private

Kamran Abbasi will soon be offering his apologia for the ever-growing role that religion is playing in the Pakistani dressing room. Or so we are promised according to the advance publicity material for Cricinfo's monthly magazine. You heard it here first. (Osman Samiuddin has already pointed out how well "adherence to an Islamic code" is working for the Pakistani team).

I didn't like Hansie Cronje and his band of born-again Christians, with their covenants and their prayers (and presumably, crusades against the heathen world out there). And tell you what, I don't like Saeed Anwar's band of proselytizing cricketers. Youhana was the first to go; and as I've predicted below, I expect Kaneria to convert sometime soon.

Just keep the religion private, folks. Spare me the public prayers, the pieties, the invocations of the Almighty, the talk of "it" bringing the team together. And spare me the bloody conversions. That is so 1100 AD.

Heads up on humiliation

Why do some Pakistani journalists use the language of humiliation and shame so much? When India toured Pakistan last, news of India's wins was greeted with articles filled "black days of mourning", "days of shame", "national humiliation" and so on. Now, Osman Saimuddin writes on Karachi being denied its due as a test venue during the English tour:

"It wasn't so bad that the ECB refused to play there....but that the PCB....bent over backwards to avoid Karachi altogether was shameless and spineless. (my italics)

Monday, January 02, 2006

Heals you legend

So, on the Cricket Show last night, some attentive viewer wrote in and asked whether Warne and MacGill used special hand signals to let the keeper know what was in the works. A nice technical moment followed as Healy launched into a sensible exposition on keeping to spinners. In sum, there is no need for hand signals in cricket (as opposed to baseball), because a) the ball does not travel so much through the air (90 feet in baseball means plenty more tracking required in flight, and more chance for late movement), but b) turns after making contact with the pitch, so the wicketkeeper can read it off the hand, and also off the pitch. Furthermore, the wicketkeeper has a easier task than the batsman as he is only defending (the passive role of gathering the ball) as opposed to trying to score.

Taylor then pointed out that though Healy made it sound simple, it required tons of net practice for Healy, who made it a point of keeping to Warne during all net sessions as a way of improving his spin-reading skills. All in all, it was an interesting digression from the usual silliness of lunch-time shows.

I found the discussion on the difference with baseball fascinating; baseball pitching is notoriously difficult to hit (.300 averages are rare) and the late movement contributes significantly to this state of affairs. Cricket fans ignorant of baseball are fond of waffling on about how easy it must be to hit baseball pitchers as, you know, "all they do is bowl full-tosses". Forget the intimidation factor in 95 mph fastballs, I can't imagine how MLB batters ever manage to handle late movement across the plate.

Chappo gets my vote

For the KFC Classic Catches comp my vote goes to Chappo, who I had previously blogged about below. Great catch; great technique, as so eloquently described by him yesterday during a break; nice of Wide World of Sports to go after him and put him in the comp.

Hope you get it Chappo; the fifteen minutes of fame, that is.

Oh, no, not again

Groan, yet another India-Pakistan series is upon us. Didn't we just play a year ago? And haven't we just been through the ghastly media circus that will soon be upon us: former cricketers waxing or waning nostalgic about tours, locales and cricketers (and their own achievements); descriptions of Pakistan (and its people) as "just like us" ( I once met a woman who gushing on about Pakistan and the rural countryside, remarked "Oh, you know, its just like Punjab". I had to gently point out to her that the noticed resemblance was not all that surprising given that it was the Punjab she had just visited); the obligatory paeans to the nihari or kababs or biryani; the dismissal of "security" concerns as figments of new-globalized-Hindu-nationalist-middle-class-paranoia (how can you worry about travelling in this country when they all love us so much?); the swooning over Lahore; the 'Wild-West' descriptions of the NWFP; the gratuitous invoking of the history of warfare between the two countries (see? I just did it); teenybopper comments from both sides of the border on how handsome or sweet or cute their respective idols are; and worst of all, the horrendous India-Pakistan commentator pairings that await us on whichever channel decides to broadcast the games.

This is one time that I'm glad I am not back in India, watching it all go down in gory, full-blown detail on seven channels all at once. I'm not even sure that I'm going to watch the cricket (yeah, right). But at least once the first ball is bowled, the cricket will provide some distraction from the inanities issuing from the commentators box.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


I lived in Surry Hills, Sydney for a year or so, within walking distance of the SCG. On big game days (like the Swans playing at home in the AFL or a one-day international), you could hear the crowd going up in a big cheer. There are several pubs around the SCG, some of which I frequented over the years: the Cricketers, the Bat and Ball, the Olympic (especially before Rugby Union games). Over the years, I went for tests against the Windies (January 2001), England (2003 - where I saw Steve Waugh get his epic 100, with a four off the last ball of the day), and then of course, India in January 2004 (the Oval 1979 test all over again; more on that in one of my next posts).

But this moment is for talking about the SCG, with its beautiful green stands (including the old-fashioned members' stand) and its lovely high lighttowers which bathe the ground in a radiant glow. The Hill no longer exists, replaced by the Doug Walters stand (where I've spent most of my sunburned time watching test cricket at the SCG), and neither does the old, beautiful scoreboard, which has now been replaced by an extremely informative electronic scoreboard complete with giant television screen. I've also watched from the Brewongle stand; the only time that I've sat in a covered stand (and brother, did it feel good to get out of that scorching Aussie sun). I'll be looking for familiar sights and sounds when the test starts tonight, feeling just a bit homesick.