Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Rough start

India's opening attack is off to a slightly ragged start--some no-balls, boundaries, misfields--and the pitch looks flat as predicted, with nothing for the new ball, and an outfield that is quick as blazes. England are looking good at the moment: lots of solid strokes, and two confident looking openers at the crease (and its a very good toss to win). (Sadly, in the commentary box, Srinath is stinking things up; Atherton's pained expression at one point was revealing, he keeps trying to have a conversation with 'Jav' who keeps dropping the ball).

The wait

Counting down the last few minutes before a test match has never been easy. In the old 9:55 days (Indian old-timers will know what I'm referring to), it was countdown to radio commentary. Then it became countdowns for television (always dreading the opening shot of the ground that showed rain clouds, or recently, drops on the bloody television camera itself!). Now, I wait for confirmation emails of payment for broadband telecasts, log in, click away, and then wait for the PC screen to spring into life. The technological trappings have changed over the years, but the anxiousness of the wait hasn't. (Its past 10 now in India, past 11:30 in Brooklyn, and my screen still hasn't come alive - the nails are starting to look like an inviting meal).

Ah, we're on - and Pathan is off to a horrendous second over, three no-balls and three boundaries already. Phew.

Perhaps it is

Perhaps I was being too optimistic about England's chances in this series. If this answer by Troy Cooley (during an interview with CI) is any indication, the physical injuries are just the tip of the iceberg. In response to the question, "How's Harmison's homesickness coming along?", Cooley answered, "He's got that under control very much. He'd still obviously rather be in England, and I'm sure most of the England players would."

Monday, February 27, 2006

All is not lost yet

English injuries and misfortunes have now reached alarming proportions, and are sure to provoke the sort of gloomy predictions being made by Christopher Martin-Jenkins in the Times. I don't think this sort of pessimism is warranted however, for plenty can still go wrong for the Indians as Nasser Hussain quickly points out. Nasser is a clever man, and he's only doing what he has done plenty of times in the past: having a sledge at his opponents, and stressing (as he did back in 2002 when India toured England), that opponents, who are favored to win, get treated as losers if they merely draw, or do not win convincingly enough. India will be favored to win now, (I never bought the pre-series tips of them as clear favorites), and the expectations will be immense.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Repressed memories?

And then, there is an interesting gaffe by Vic Marks, in an otherwise well-written piece:

"Even if the giants in the middle of their order are dismissed cheaply, there is an exciting and unfamiliar - to English eyes - trio below them: Mohammad Kaif, who replaces the injured Yuvraj Singh;the dashing, hirsute wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni; and Pathan."

Has Marks already forgotten a certain one-day final four years ago, where Kaif scored 87 and won man-of-the-match? Or has the trauma of that memory caused repression? Or that Pathan spent a season with Middlesex last year? What is it with fact-checkers over at the Guardian?

I had no idea

I didn't realize the old Baroda Presidency was back (if there ever was such a thing). For, according to Amit Varma's headline in this Guardian piece, England have been playing the Baroda President's XI. Ah, a return to the good old days, when England could travel all over the country playing local rulers' XIs.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Selection gripes

Why does the Indian Board always insist on picking these gigantic 15-player squads for home tests? This is a situation bordering on the ridiculous, and confirms what I've always thought of one aspect of Indian selection strategies. That rather than being concrete announcements of faith in a player's abilities, they are signals to the player that he has been noticed (not the same - the former would mean some definite place for the player in the team's strategy). Look at the Indian team for the first test: I question the need for the 14th and 15th players. Is the Nagpur pitch so mysterious, the team health situation so unsettled, the team strategy so fluid that they need 15 players to be able to pick the final 11 from? No, obviously not. Instead, Chawla and VRV Singh have been dragged in merely as a way of letting them (and perhaps their zonal reps) know that they have been noticed by the selectors. Perhaps its a way for them to get used to the dressing room? Who knows. No other board of selectors treats team selections as a form of patronage in this fashion. Its entirely possible that the two will be mysteriously rotated out for some other two players for the second test, and then not show up again for a year. We've been through this before - doesn't look like its going to end any time soon.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

BPXI Blues

So, England's first day of serious cricket was only moderately encouraging for them, but brought mucho good news to Indian followers. First a decent bowling workout puts England out for 238 (though its not clear from reports just how comfortable England's batsmen ever were), and then a neat little opening partnership at the end (Jaffer must be kicking himself for having gotten out as he has left his main competitor for the opening slot still at the crease). I have never seen Munaf Patel bowl, and don't know when I will (perhaps in the one-day internationals?) but I'm very keen to hear from other folks on what he is like, what his strengths are and so on.

The one thing that stands out so far on the English tour is their steadily increasing injury/illness count. Pietersen's dodgy back and Vaughan's even-more-dodgy knee are concerns that are far more pressing than the little stomach niggles that have affected their bowling attacks, but even those can be draining and England's fast bowlers are not going to be looking forward to bowling long spells while feeling that the bottom could drop out of their guts any instant. But back to the real injuries. Sports medicine works wonders these days, so I won't be surprised to see Vaughan back for the first test, but given the chronic nature of his injury it must be worrying for England. And the Pietersen injury is also interesting - does he have an old back problem? Does batting in these conditions create cramps in the back (is that possible? spasms of some sort?) Either way, keep a close eye on these two vital cogs in England's cricketing machine.

Of course, the most important piece of news all day was the Indian team selection and it didn't disappoint. More on that later.

Dislikes, prejudice and overuse

The flap over at Cricinfo about Dileep Premchandran's article titled, rather cutely, Anyone but Little England, is a bit stunning. When I read Premchandran's piece, I was a little surprised by its content and tone. A little more humor would have helped, given his position at Wisden Cricinfo. After all, he wanted to go on a little rant about how English teams over the years have turned him off, for reasons ranging from the political to the cricketing (not much in between though). This needed to be artfully cloaked in the kind of satirical wit that is necessary to deflect charges of prejudice. Which he is, but everyone has theirs, and his came through as totally benign. But the response to it, accusing him of racism, is way over the top, and Premchandran's response is adequate (though he is backpedalling when he does the "Some of my best friend's are..." defense).

The problem is that Premchandran wanted to make a large point, one that needs careful argument, and lots of careful pulling apart of strands like, why Indians dislike English teams, and love Australian ones, and what the reports from England, of prejudice against Indians living there, have done over the years to influence Indian opinions about England (not to mention the way the English press has treated Indian cricket over the years). But Premchandran is part of the establishment now; Cricinfo is very establishment indeed, and he should have known that a careless riff like this was going to get him into trouble. As a letter from a fan, it would have meant nothing. As a Wisden editor, brother!

My main problem with Premchandran is literary as can be seen above. Furthermore, why does he continue to overuse the word "coruscating"? Some judicious googling will show you just what I mean. Give it a rest already.

Same or Alter?

Is Jamie Alter, Tom Alter's son? I'm not sure, but he doesn't come across as 100% English in this little Roving Reporter type peice (and the little line at the end, which shows that he understands Hindi, seems like a little bit of showing off).

What do I mean by 100% English? Well, he isn't completely blown away by the surroundings; he doesn't bring in gratuitous comparisons to colonial-era climes; he doesn't comment excessively on the quaintness of it all (like a press photographer who couldn't resist taking photos of Harmison next to an idol of Krishna; when Indians go to England or Australia, do photographers rush to take photographs of them next to cathedrals?) In short, I'm guessing Tom Alter's son, because he's lived long enough in India to not find everything mysterious, bizarre or exotic.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Twenty20 WC?

Tim de Lisle joins the chorus for a Twenty20 World championship:

"Aside from the Laws, cricket also has its rules of thumb. Rule 1(a) states that if the International Cricket Council thinks an idea is good, there's a fair chance it will be bad. But this rule is in danger of being superseded by a new one: if the Indian board thinks an idea is bad, you can be fairly sure it's good."

May I suggest a corollary: if the BCCI -this new uppity entity that just happens to hold the future of world cricket in its hand - offers an opinion on any topic, some testy journalist will take it to task, unable to reconcile himself to the idea that he's not in Kansas (or Lord's) anymore. (The BCCI's ideas on favoring the Indian cricket team with more time at home during their domestic season is obviously a bad one, as is their suggestion that more cricket be played between quality teams as opposed to meaningless games between no-hopers, watched by few and appreciated by none). Lisle's dismissal of the BCCI counter-argument is a bad one (I don't even think he gets the point being made, or worse, gets it but doesn't want to acknowledge it). And he continues the sniping at the BCCI throughout (without offering new arguments for why the Twenty20 WC is a better way to spend the ICC's time and money rather than improving Test and ODI cricket, not to mention domestic cricket or arranging 'A' tours).

That Lisle is gunning for something is given away by his gratuitous remark about "maidans" in the last section of the piece (and I could talk about how playing cricket in the Indian summer is impossible but why should I? Why would I want to come across as as ignorant as Lisle?).

Read the whole thing for yourself.

Who started the fire?

So, who really likes to see all the pre-tour sniping and flame wars? Well, one answer would be provided by looking at the opening line of this piece on Andre Nel's take on Glenn McGrath's absence from the South African tour.

"IT BEGINS. Firing the first shot of a tour expected to provide plenty of tension and heat, South Africa's enigmatic paceman Andre Nel has insisted the Australian attack will struggle in the absence of Glenn McGrath."

What begins? Not the cricket according to this piece, but the sledging. But read the article, and its clear that all Nel is doing is pointing out that the Australian bowling attack will miss the Pidge. And they won't? If the Aussies wrap up the series, will there not be a single piece in the Australian press about how well they did inspite of McGrath's absence? Nel's comments on the fans and what the Aussies will experience in Australia are fairly run-of-the-mill, and he does not even claim to have noticed any bad blood between the players. So why is his piece being called an opening shot in the sledging wars? Dunno.

And in all of this, it occurred to me that the headline for this piece could just as easily have been "Fast bowlers express solidarity in family trouble" and started with a line about how all the tension surrounding RSA-Australian cricket didn't stop Nel from talking about how McGrath was doing the right thing by staying with his wife.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Anticipating the English

So, as India's tour of Pakistan comes to an end, and as we turn our eyes towards the English tour (kicking off in style with a thrashing handed out to an unsuspecting CCI XI), its time too, to expect relief on one front: sports writing. Reportage of the tour of Pakistan, by the local journalists, has been remarkably poor, with not one writer worth looking forward to. With England touring however, one can at least forward to the pages of the Independent, the Times, and the Guardian. While the occasional reactionary will still make an appearance, most of the writing should be reasonably witty, and well worth the time.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Wow, so I got moderated/censored/edited on Cricinfo's blog when I attempted to post my comment on the Miller article blogged about below. I wrote (as an approximation):

"This would be the same Pakistani crowd that didn't stand during the Indian national anthem (when the Indian soccer team toured last year)? Perhaps the crowds at the soccer are different than at the cricket? We've heard a great deal about fans wearing the colours of both teams. Are any of these fans Pakistani? I'm genuinely curious"

This is a very close approximation of what I wrote - I did not save a copy of my comment (Cricinfo has the original, perhaps they can show us what they deemed too inflammatory?). But this didn't make it to the comments page. Gee, I had no idea that Cricinfo was so touchy. And I still am genuinely curious - about both my questions above. Can anyone help?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I'll pat my own back, thanks

Over on Cricinfo, Andrew Miller's little piece on Pakistani fan behavior during England's tour, has sparked a virtual orgy of self-congratulation as one Pakistani fan after another writes in (and so does a rather odd Indian woman suffering from an identity crisis). The profuse thanks doled out to Miller are indicative how desperate things are in that part of the world, after years and years of bad press. Of course, the Pakistani crowds being referred to, I'm sure, are not the same ones who didn't stand during the Indian national anthem when the Indian soccer team toured last year. Or are they?

Kiss and make up

One little moment in the last one-day international that went unnoticed (not by television though), was the bump-fest between Yuvraj and Umar Gul. Gul finished his delivery, went through on his follow-through, and got pretty close to Yuvraj, stares and all. Yuvraj stepped forward, letting Gul have a bit of the 'ol shoulder in the chest. Gul responded with a 'ol chest pushed back trick. Standard shoving, just not seen on a cricket field all that often. Dean Jones was loving it in the commentators box, and even I found it quite amusing. A few minutes later, things got funnier. Inzi must have noticed the incident, and with a little grin on his face, stepped over to make the young'uns shake hands and make up. It was a classic schoolyard moment. Gul's sheepish grin was revelatory - he looked embarassed by the whole thing, and rather wished he hadn't been called on by his captain. Yuvraj's expression wasn't visible, but his reaction, after Inzi started to walk away, was. He called out to Gul again, who again beamed, and stuck out his hand. Gul accepted again, and more shaking ensued. A cheery moment, compared to the glowering, sulking and pouting that Akhtar and Sami put us through.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

"tour diary"?

Siddarth Vaidyanathan weighs in again on his road experiences (he's done bus trips and cabbies a few times on this tour diary). Frankly, I'm a little disappointed by the tour diary. It could have been more edgy, and rather than these superficial little vignettes, which don't really make Pakistan sound different on the surface from India (oooh! edgy interaction in the practice area; contrast in small towns and cities; did I mention bus rides?; ex-cricketers - groan), he could have paid more attention to his personal interactions, his conversations with his peers, and tried deciphering them for the messages that would invariably flow in his direction. Thats where the true Pakistani-Indian differences lie, and if the attempt in the tour diary is to communicate to us what that country is like, he'd be better served by reporting those kinds of interactions (not these ones where he is invariably cast in the role of consumer, which as any anthropologist can tell you, is a very limited view).

Monday, February 13, 2006

Have mercy

Timezone differences make for brutal demands on the body when trying to keep up with cricket in the subcontinent (I know, I've complained about this before). But last night's one-day international (a day-night game being played at Lahore) was especially problematic. It started at 1 AM and went on till 845AM. I stayed awake till one, caught most of the Pakistani innings, dropped off to sleep at 4 or so (shortly before Pakistan's innings ended), and then awoke, bleary-eyed, to try and struggle through India's chase. Tendulkar's partnership with Yuvraj woke me up, the mini-collapse jolted me wide-awake, and then Dhoni eased me into a more relaxed state, before Pakistan's Prez-in-Chief had us in stitches after the awards. That man knows how to extract propaganda value out of everything - who'da thunk he was going to show up at Gaddafi Stadium for the awards ceremony, and corner the microphone afterwards to give Dhoni advice on hairstyles?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Partial redemption

I'm not a fan of Osman Samiuddin, but he has partially redeemed himself with this piece that takes Inzimam and Moin Khan to task for their comments on the Inzi dismissal. I am a little tired of the whole "gentle giant" mythology around Inzi - his article came across as a little spiteful (I hope its just bad ghost writing). To check out the whole incident, watch the video. Inzi could have been fined for dissent!

And I'm just plain tired of Moin.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Peanut Galleries Worldwide

Rahul Bhattacharya weighs in with some sensible thoughts on racism in crowds as a world-wide phenomenon. Having heard comments directed at African medical students in India, I'm left in no doubt that many of the remarks directed at West Indian and South African players would be unprintable, and deserving of the same kind of condemnation directed at Australian yobs. Furthermore, Indian crowds can often just be plain abusive when it comes to their own players. Some of the foulest language I heard was at the Ferozeshah Kotla in Delhi, and all of it was directed at Indian fielders. [Er, I think I might have yelled out a bit meself]. There was no alcohol being consumed that day, BTW.

I do not think things are any better in English crowds - given the large amounts of beer being consumed in the stands, or what happened after the 1983 World Cup semi-final between India and England, I don't doubt for a second that there is a lot of offensive language and behavior in the stands. And lastly, one little memory from the West Indies. When in Kingston in 1997 to watch the India-West Indies test, I strolled on down to the hotel bar in the evening for a drink. An elderly black gentleman was holding forth on how he didn't enjoy watching cricket played by "coolies".

Australian crowds are just one example of a certain intolerance found in no short measure all over the world.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Punter and John the Bore

Joining the ranks of the excessively sanctimonious, and dare I say it, precious, is Ricky Ponting, who found much to complain about in Phil Tuffnell's little jibes at Aussie performances during the Ashes. That things have gotten really bad for the Punter should be evident from the fact that he has been provided with some very dubious company on that lonely pedestal: John Howard, quite possibly the most colorless, boring, whiny politician of all time. Proof that Ponting is utterly humorless is now in court; the decision can only go one way.


I am frequently bemused in these posts, and this latest occasion is cause for ample bemusement. After Inzimam's dismissal for Obstructing the Field, in the Peshawar one-day international, one commentator after another (Woolmer, Holding, and now Inzi himself) feels that the appeal was unsporting (in Holding's case: "probably not in the spirit of the game", in Woolmer's case, a tightlipped "I'm not going to comment", and now Inzi's little lament in the papers). I find Inzi's outburst most surprising. Not because I don't think he has a case for being given not out (he did after all, put his bat up in front of his body as Raina's thrown came in, and hence could possibly have been construed as taking evasive action). No, I find it suprising because of his invocation of the spirit of game:

"Certainly, there are several modes in which a batsman can be declared out, but many of them are not in the spirit of the game. I am particularly referring to obstructing the field, handling the ball and hit-the-ball twice dismissals; also about the illegal practice of underarm bowling and running out a batsman while backing up."

Inzi wants to have a go at all these modes of dismissal? You've got to be kidding me. He thinks Mankading is problematic, that appealing for handling the ball is not sporting (is he only thinking of Sarfraz-Hilditch style incidents)? Inzimam clearly hasn't thought through this very clearly. But even more troublingly, is Inzi's further claim:

"I would not have imagined that Rahul Dravid and his team would do such a thing. I am not bothered about my dismissal but an appeal made in an unsportsmanlike manner by the visiting team can have an adverse affect on the relations between the two opponents. I have surely asserted on my boys not to make much of the Peshawar incident. However, in my personal opinion the appeal was not made in a sporting manner. Instead, it just might have left a bad taste in the mouth."

Excuse me, this moral tirade is coming from a man who has been letting Afridi and Akhtar carry on like fools with all their sledging, taunting and general carrying-on in the tests? None of that was likely to leave "bad taste" anywhere?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Peshawar, here we come

I'm looking forward to the first one-day international tonight; despite my general apathy about that form of the game, this is India-Pakistan, and the game will be played in Peshawar. I've never seen anything broadcast live from that city, and a game of cricket sounds like the way to start things. I hope there'll be plenty of panned shots around the ground, and that things will start with a Pakistani pace attack going full-tilt at two Indian openers in front of a noisy, boisterous crowd. Peshawar provides the right amount of novelty for this new set of matches - a little touch of the out-there, sufficiently off the beaten path to tempt us all into feeling like pseudo-pioneers, even if in my case, it only means settling down on a cold winter's night in New York, clicking on links to bring alive a small video window.

Friday, February 03, 2006

If only Lee were Pakistani

Trevor Marshallsea and Alex Brown, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, note with some astonishment:

"BRETT Lee must wish he was Pakistani. Last week, Shoaib Akhtar bowled a beamer at India's Mahendra Dhoni in the second Test in Faisalabad. Not a chest-high full toss, the type of ball for which Lee has been so scorned, but a ball directed at the throat of the batsman. There was no raised hand in apology, no insistence the ball was accidental, as has happened with Lee. Shoaib's ball came after a long spell in the field during a turgid draw on a road-like pitch....Bob Woolmer said: "There is a lot of pent-up frustration around among the bowlers. The beamer was a sign of that frustration." Umpire Simon Taufel seemed to warn Shoaib as the paceman snatched his hat after the beamer which ended an over....Shoaib - who felled England's Ian Bell in December with a beamer said to be accidental - was chastised by former India paceman Javagal Srinath in a newspaper column, and that was about the extent of the reaction from all quarters. Bizarre."

To his credit, Waqar Younis had a strong word or two for Shoaib on the telly. And there it ended.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A mystery

One mystery about Indian pace bowling, or the lack thereof, is how Indian 'quicks' lose pace very quickly after their international debut. And how some, just vanish. Take Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan. During the Nairobi cup in 2000, Zaheer regularly bowled at 145 kmph. Now, he'll be lucky to get to 135. He has filled out in all the wrong ways: gained weight, become injured, and lost all nip off the wicket. Two years ago, Irfan Pathan regularly bowled in the mid to high 130s. Now, he's lucky to crack the 130s. As for Nehra and Balaji, they've vanished into the injury tube. RP Singh is here, and bowling in the 130s but god knows where he's headed. Watch out for Sreesanth - soon to play in the ODIs. He'll crack 140 every once in a while. But not for long.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Peanut Gallery -II

Watching the furore over "racist" crowd behavior in Australia is a bit bemusing. A few years ago, we rocked up to watch Australia play South Africa in Adelaide. As the day wore on, things got steadily worse in the stands. South African fans were yelled at and abused (no 'good-humoured banter' here); girls were hooted and hollered at initially, and then later, had beer dumped on them; fights broke out; very few on the hill were watching the cricket. Later that day, as we walked home, I wondered why Cricket Australia didn't do something about it, even as I realized that it would simply mean over-zealous policing at grounds.

Two years later, when India toured Australia, there were plenty of articles in the Australian press about fan behavior in the stands. Some of the interactions were the usual chants about taxi-drivers and curry. ("usual"? Yes). And some were silly costumes (Gandhi, GungaDin, Swamis) - relatively harmelss but speaking of a comprehensive case of the yobbos.

But for me, the most dispiriting day of all came on the last day of the Sydney test. I sat in the Doug Walters Stand, and watched a small group of Indian students try and get behind the Indian team. They got cracked down on hard. There was a constant stream of abuse directed at them, the odd beer cup was thrown over the seats, and worst, perhaps symbolic of it all, loud cheers broke out all over when the police confiscated a drum (or at least told them to shut down). The drumming had provided some sparkle on that grey Sydney day. At this stage, a gentleman sitting next to me yelled out, "yeah, throw them out of here". Another commented on how drums was far as Indians could get. It was a sad, ugly day and I discussed it with many of my Aussie friends, in each case struggling to explain just what a letdown it was; India failed to win that day, but that disappointment was nothing compared to what I felt in the stands, watching my home for two years become tainted by the emotions that I saw on display.

All the policing in the stands is not going to help till folks in the stands start telling the yobs to shut up, sit down, and watch the cricket.

What a fall

And conversely, only India could pull this off: your opening bowler takes a hat-trick in the first over of the test, and you proceed to slump to your heaviest defeat ever. Back to the drawing board. Or, back to India to wait for England.

Gee whiz

Sometimes I wish I wasn't so good at predictions. I staggered out of bed at 5 in the morning to settle down for my morning telly-spectating session, checked the scores, and saw the ghastly scoreboard: three of India's top five bowled (and pretty spectacularly too, when I checked out the photos on Cricinfo).

This would have been a great day to be a Pakistani fan. Your team is 600 up and your young fast bowler knocks over Sehwag, Tendulkar and Laxman?