Friday, March 31, 2006

Cops gone wild

A disturbing little sidestory to the second one-day international, reported in the Guardian including this excerpt:

"Chaos reigned on the periphery too. A seven-year-old girl was reported to have been taken to hospital after falling foul of police wielding lathis (6ft-plus bamboo sticks) outside the stadium before the start of play. The Board of Control for Cricket in India perhaps should check the local methods of imposing law and order before staging games outside major cities."

and on Rediff, which included this note:

"Outside the stadium things were even worse. Spectators had a harrowing time winding their way through a sea of baton-wielding security personnel, who swung left, right and center, causing grievous injuries to at least a dozen youngsters. A badly-bruised boy, shirt soaked in blood, was refused help by a patrolling police van even as people begged to rush him to a nearby hospital."

And Prithviraj Hegde angrily blogs about it. Read this from his follow-up: "The young kid I spoke of in my last post is Vidhi Jain. She lies in the ICU of a Faridabad hospital. Her mother is also in hospital with a broken collar bone. They were caught in the middle of brutality that the Haryana police unleashed on people who paid huge amounts to watch a cricket match. I say let's not go to matches any more. Let the cops watch with the officials and the VIPs who manage get into air-conditioned boxes without problems or security checks. DON'T PAY TO GET CANED! IT'S ON TV ANYWAY".

Tell you what, maybe the BCCI should start spending some of those billions of dollars that they plan to get from television rights, t-shirt sales, licensing fees, DVD rights, and whatever other monetization scheme they come up with, on ensuring easy access to the grounds chosen for international games. Sigh, they make me weep. All these millions of dollars, and its not clear to me that too much of it is being spent on infrastructure.

The Raina reign

I find it hard to report on one-day internationals. They seem insubstantial to me (compared to test cricket), and I can't quite shake the feeling that I'm over-analyzing when I delve into the details of one. And given that I'm still smarting from losses in tests to both Pakistan and England, its even harder to get worked up about India having taken a 2-0 lead in this series. But some digging around is useful. For instance, armed with the news that Sachin Tendulkar is going to miss the West Indian tour, that Laxman has been dropped from the test team, and that Ganguly is gone, one could take a closer look at the Indian middle-order to see who makes a mark, and gets into the race for the middle-order spots that seem destined to open up in the near future. Raina's cool and collected innings will have done much to place him front and center of these contenders. Whats more, he presents an attractive mixture of defense and stylish aggression. In many ways, he is an archetypal modern batsman: he bats very straight, uses a heavy bat (or appears to) and hits the ball with little follow-through. But the icing on the cake is that the Dravid-Chappell combine view him as a test prospect as well despite his starting off as a one-day specialist.

PS: And I wonder if Dhoni's new-found cautious style is in response to the Mumbai meltdown?

Thursday, March 30, 2006


My early exposure to Faridabad (and there hasn't been much since) was to its industrial side. It was an industrial development area, just outside Delhi, and its numbering scheme for its "sectors" marked it permanently as a strange space, parceled out into neat blocks. I knew my uncle's textile mill was in Sector 15, my Dad's new manufacturing unit was in some other sector XX, and the house that he was building for our family was in yet another. Faridabad's landscape was marked by empty plots, construction sites, and the odd factory shed showing signs of useful production. Faridabad boasted a few markets, rudimentary shopping centers, and some beer shops and picnic venues. But by and large, Faridabad was industrial. Our house didn't remain ours for too long (Dad sold it for a net loss), our factory closed down, and my uncles moved their unit elsewhere. The boom that came to Faridabad came later. Now, real estate prices soar (industrial and domestic), sports stadiums exist, and shopping centers are numerous, perhaps ubiquitous. Some things apparently haven't changed, like poor infrastructure. In my childhood, it used to be the electricity supply as desperate factory owners begged, borrowed and stole. Now it seems to be traffic.

But not all memories associated with Faridabad are industrial. Some have to do with cricket - albeit in industrial settings. For instance, my uncles kept a television set in their office, and we watched live telecasts there (but somehow my most vivid memory from those days is that of a Davis Cup tennis match between Shashi Menon and John Alexander!). And we played cricket in their backyard, in a narrow space bounded on one end by the detritus from their factory: waste thread, rusted looms, empty spindles and the like, and on the other, by brick walls. My elder uncle bowled left-arm and batted right; he was by far the most serious of all. My younger uncle, clowned around a bit more; and hence was my favorite. Batting and bowling in that narrow space in the winter sunshine, with lunch waiting in the little garden out front, while noisy textile looms clanked away in the cavernous sheds behind us, is definitely a cricketing memory associated with Faridabad. Its a long haul from that to what will transpire tonight when India takes on England but I'll be connected: my uncles back home will be watching, and I know what they'll be thinking, "Gee, never thought they'd be be playing international cricket in Faridabad!".

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

That relationship once again

Continuing on the theme of Indian cricket players and the pressure placed on them by fans (the fickleness of Indian fans is another dimension to this but one that I will not consider now), brings us to the nature of the demand placed on players by fans. For instance, it is stuff like the posturing at fashion shows, and the all the endorsements that a moderately successful players finds himself making, that typically tend to get Indian fans most worked up when the team does badly ("how can you concentrate on cricket with all these distractions" is the most polite of these questions) and which players defend most resolutely ("the two are different and one does not have any effect on the other"). As with any sufficiently complicated topic, there is a germ of truth in both positions. One can't imagine that all the constant attention, (the endless hero-worshipping, and the constant adulation at times), is not a distraction in some way, and can make the whole business of playing a game slightly unreal. If all your adulation constantly comes in contexts far from the original achievement, this is bound to happen (of course, Indian cricket players constantly get feted on grounds but a great deal happens on India's humongous, buzzing, bubbling media scene). But at the same time, there is something a little off-puttingly insistent that the player engage in Spartan activities when off the field, all in the name of keeping his fans happy. Their hard work brought them to a point where within the context of the society they live in, they can indulge in that which was previously denied them (its not hard to imagine that being in the limelight can be pleasurable for some folks). Why deny them this pleasure? Its not their commitment to us that we as fans should be questioning, but their commitment to themselves, their personal goals. If what they wanted was a little spot in the limelight, some brief moments of fame, and are not bothered by the need to transcend personal limitations, then why be worked up about it? Thats how they want to live their lives; what is lacking in ours that we make someone else's personal decisions the focus of our wrath? [Yes, yes, I know we stay up late to watch them play but there is something else going on - I'm not going to act like a shrink just yet but will try that explanation a little later]

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Two juggenauts

Unless there are some day-night games scheduled on this England tour, these matches are going to leave a wierd cognitive imprint: the feeling that two matches are being talked about everytime I wake up in the mornings to read match reports on Cricinfo. For there is the game that I saw, and the one that Cricinfo covered. Last night, I merely witnessed a procession of Indian batsmen come in, respond to the two-faced wicket with a series of strokes that spoke of hope rather than planning, and then, make the walk back to the pavilion. When I woke this morning, it was to read about a game in which English batsmen continued that procession, in which Harbhajan took almost as many wickets in one innings as he seems to have taken in all the tests against England, in which Pathan continued his habit of taking wickets in the first over, and one in which the so-called "Indian juggernaut" couldn't be stopped.

The real juggernaut, I think, is far away in South Africa. Where, Australia, once more, are dealing with putative challenges to their test hegemony with a fly-swatting display that must put them in the right mood for the Ashes later this year. South Africa have threatened, and dared, but they can't quite get enough attack together to knock this Aussie team off its perch.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The grand tour

India and England kick off the one-day international series tonight, and while the series will begin at a major metropolitan center, my own Delhi, it then proceeds to Faridabad (a small industrial area just outside Delhi), Goa (the Barmy Army will likely suffer several arrests here; two possible charges are public intoxication and possessing contraband), Cochin (its not just an elegant computer font, its a lovely beachside city in Kerala), and then on to Guwahati and Jamshedpur in the North-East (watch for the Dhoni cheering-squads in the latter town), before rolling on to the center, in Indore. Crowds at these venues get small slices of international cricket in a year, and tamasha cricket in its most naked version is what they'll come to watch and loudly cheer on. This, in many ways, is the main event for a large population nationwide, and all the angst over the drawn test series will soon be forgotten if India start to do well in these games. England should, hopefully, just sit back and enjoy the experience of playing seven games of cricket in packed houses, while playing the best cricket they can. It should make for a cracking series.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Recurring and misplaced concern

Over at Different Strokes on Cricinfo, one issue of perennial concern to Indian fans makes an appearance again: Waiting for GOTOT ("Grand Outstanding Tendulkar-Owned Test". ). I agree - there hasn't been a GOTOT, and it hasn't all been his fault. I'll explain later (sorry, a promissory note is all I can dish out at the moment). But I don't agree with the sentiments expressed in this article. I wish commentators would stick to describing the action, and offering some analysis, and not indulge in too much nostalgia mongering.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Strong language

If non-Indian readers want to get a sampling of the kind of over-the-top response that can sometimes greet Indian cricketing failures, check this out. And then, read this response, which rightly takes it to task.

I personally get wierded out when people start bringing in the language of shame, humiliation, black days, mourning, and so on into cricket journalism. I wish Cricinfo would drop that sort of language from its headlines but they persist (mainly, they like to use "humble" and "humiliate"). And it seems like its endemic the world over (I wonder if I've used it in my blog - I sure as hell hope not, for I remember commenting on how Pakistani journalists seemed to overuse it!). Cricket is not just a game, agreed, but, I hope folks can get some perspective on things.

Silver bullets

There is a good point being made in the comments below by anonymous. Its best not to confuse the proclamations made by the media - largely infused with wishful thinking - with the self-assessments of a bunch of professionals. Certainly, Dravid or Chappell never promised anyone the world, and have been very measured in their assessments of the team's progress (there is a great deal in their interviews about the team's rebuilding being a long process). Its very easy to imagine, as one surveys the gap between the Indian team's performances and the breathless announcements of their imminent rise to the top made by the media the moment they win a match, that the players aren't keeping up. All they aren't keeping up with is the inflated sense of expectation. One should be wary of the impatience that underwrites most of these writings. This is evident in the urge to find a silver bullet the moment the latest disaster to come along strikes Indian cricket. Whatever the full story behind Ganguly's dropping from the Indian team, the sharp rise in the insistence that he be dropped (Dileep Premchandran over at Cricinfo being a good example) led me to think that these folks imagined that Ganguly was responsible for all that was wrong with Indian cricket: the catching problems, the last-day collapses (such as the one at Bangalore last year, which was blamed almost exclusively on Ganguly), the failure to finish off matches, and so on. Well, a year on, the problems still exist. If we are to praise the Dravid-Chappell combine for the introduction of youngsters and the new fighting spirit, lets not forget that Ganguly was famous for precisely those things, and whats more, the most famous wins both home and abroad came on his watch: Kolkata 2001, Headingley 2002, Adelaide 2003, Kandy 2001, or getting to the final of the World Cup in 2003. Ganguly was on his way out, but lets not imagine that he took all that was problematic with him.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Four or five?

This, if I may so, Harsha, is nonsense:

"India have drawn matches in the past through a reluctance to play more than four bowlers. Now they have lost one after playing five. You can go wrong being cautious and you can go wrong being adventurous."

India have not drawn matches because they didn't play more than four bowlers. They drew matches because those four bowlers were not good enough to take 20 wickets between them. They didn't lose this match because they played five bowlers. They lost because the five batsmen that were picked didn't pull their weight. I find this obsession with the number of the bowlers idiotic, when its the quality of the batting that should be under scrutiny. You could play 10 bowlers if you wanted, and if all them were trundlers, you still wouldn't get 10 wickets in an innings. Two of the greatest sides in recent test history, the West Indies of the 1980s and Australia from 1995 on, frequently played with four bowlers. A quick look at their bowling line-ups will tell you why they won. The weakness in Indian line-ups has been a lack of quality bowling. Now that we have the makings of a decent bowling attack, our batsmen have gone on furlough. The not-so-subtle message in quote above, that India lost because they were adventurous is off the mark; India lost because they made the wrong decisions given the conditions, and because they batted badly.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Comebacks and False Dawns

First, credit where its due: this England team did magnificiently, and while it will be a long time before my admiration of English cricket returns to those heady days when I worshippped Gower and Botham, Flintoff is pushing me there. They fought hard in every dimension, ensuring that their efforts kept the pressure on a team that might believe the hype of the incessant commercials and television specials focusing on them. (If English players thought that the post-Ashes hype was a bit too much, spare a thought for the Indian team, they get that most of the time). England's batting, notably the fourth day at Nagpur, and the first day at Mumbai, did the hard yards and created enough breathing space for their bowlers. Not that their bowlers needed too much: Flintoff and Hoggard were magnificient throughout, using pace and swing to constantly unsettle the Indians and never letting any dominating partnerships develop; Anderson stepped up when needed; and the spinners took vital wickets at the right times (Udal spun England to victory yesterday, yet another off-spinner to have done damage to India's batting line-ups, following his illustrious predecessors Pat Pocock and John Bracewell!).

As for India, it'll be easy to sink into the depths of despair for younger fans. But some historical perspective should help. Indian cricket is full of false dawns. Great wins by the Indian team are always regarded as harbingers of dramatic change, of a turning of the tide. But starting from Madras 1952, to Bombay 1964, and going on to Port-of-Spain 1976, and more recently Kolkata 2001 and Adelaide 2004, this has been shown up to be merely wishful thinking. What is puzzling about the recent surge of hope in the Indian setting was that no such dramatic win had happened. Surely two wins against Sri Lanka and some facile wins in one-day internationals should not have bred such hope? Surely, not after the Pakistan tour when the batting failed just when it was needed? Cricinfo's staff even convened a little roundtable to discuss India's new dawn after the Sri Lanka series; the drawn series against RSA didn't seem to show them that much had changed. Whence the optimism then?


And in two overs after lunch, England have gone ahead and knocked India right out of the game, and now, must be fancying a historic win at Mumbai. Dravid gone caught behind, and Tendulkar caught bat-pad (nice catch by Bell by the way!). Sehwag in with a runner, which means he will be even more immobile than usual. (Crikey, he padded up to the first one - that makes me nervous; and runners always leave me convinced that the partnership won't last long). Ah, well, England have been pushing all series long, and this win won't be an undeserved one if it comes through for them.

Lunchtime and OBOs

I dare say that the pre-lunch session has ended with England still slightly in front, just because its the last day and three wickets are down, but India must be feeling better as well. Tendulkar is looking a whole lot better, and Dravid has been quietly blocking one end. Flintoff's morning spell was a beauty (truly worrying for an Indian fan to watch) and Hoggard was spot on as well. This is truly test cricket at its best, and the post-lunch session will nicely set up things for what promises to be a very tense last session.

I've been watching the over-by-over commentary at the Guardian and at the Times, and the contrast is striking. Theres lots of larking about at the Guardian, with invitations to write in (and diversions into complaining about television coverage of the Commonwealth Games) while the Times is pretty deadpan restricting itself to describing the fashion. I wonder what that is reflective of? English obsession with Australia (and vice-versa) or ADD? Incidentally four years ago, I had spent an hour or so doing a bit of larking around with Booth as well while Dravid scored a double ton on the 2002 tour of England. (Back then, I was esconced in Harlem).

Bye Monty

Tendulkar has just knocked Panesar out of the attack. Or at least, thats what I take Flintoff's little slap on the bum for Panesar to mean - as he finished his over to Tendulkar, that ended 4,2,4. Full-toss hit away through midwicket, then a ball drifting down left flicked away, and then a wide one smashed through the covers. I'm still not sure what this means for Tendulkar's return to form but it must be encouraging for him.

The old guard

Well, Dravid and Tendulkar together now. Tendulkar's first few balls showed a couple of worrying things. For one, he is still behaving like a cat on a hot tin roof when it comes to being desperate for scoring opportunities, and secondly, he is not moving out of his crease. The first means that he is going to be susceptible to flailing around a bit, and the second leaves him vulnerable to getting trapped in front by the swinging ball. Sigh, his shoulder must be bugging him; the poor run of form will not have helped, and it is the final day of the series. Well, he's got 132 tests experience to draw upon and reservoirs of talent to draw upon. As I said before, I hope he plays a few shots and looks for singles; nothing like those to get the legs moving and the confidence rising. (And he's edged one through slips for four!)

Out of the blocks

England and Simon Taufel off to a good start. Hoggard knocked over Kumble after having had a confident appeal turned down; replays showed Taufel right on both occasions; and then, Flintoff having a loud shout against Jaffer turned down; the replays showed Taufel to have done well again. Normally, replays are used to castigate umpires; I'm glad to see them highlighting an umpire's quality as well. Its nice to know he is going to be doing one end today on what will be a tight day's cricket (I'm not such a huge fan of Hair; I sense, about him, an attitude that isn't entirely pleasant).

Crowd noise is at pretty high levels, all of which makes for a great atmosphere on the fifth day's play of the final test of a tight series (I sense there might be some chanting competitions up in the stands between English and Indian fans).

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A classic in the making

India and England go into the last day of a test series that has turned out to be much closer than expected. India need 295 runs; England need nine wickets. Given the run/time/wickets equation, both teams will know that defensive moves might place them in a losing position, and that attacking moves (but not foolishly so) are the best way to go about either winning or saving this match. Both teams have created some doubt in the mind of the other: England, well, just by the way they've played in the entire series; India by their late charge in Nagpur, and in some measure, by the reputation of their batting line-up. England will know that Sehwag and Dhoni still lurk down the order, that Tendulkar will be keen for redemption (how about that 40 minute session in the nets while the rest of the team worked out?), and that Dravid is not in the middle yet. India will know that England have triggered collapses thanks to their mastery of swing, and that Flintoff will be nothing if not inspired tomorrow. I doubt India will attack right off the bat (no pun intended) tomorrow morning, and neither will England start with overly-aggressive fields. Expect some sussing out - and then hang on for the tension that will build all day. English fans might have expected some relief after the Ashes, but none will be forthcoming tomorrow. (yeah, I know, bold prediction). Hopefully Mumbai fans can keep a lid on inane behavior, like the booing of Tendulkar or the boundary-line abuse of English fielders. (I'll blog later on the tamasha mentality that has been an affliction of Indian crowds for a long time, and its exacerbation by the one-day era).

Test cricket takes a long time to get it right, but when it does, there is, quite simply, nothing in the world like it. We have a classic on our hands, gentlemen. Don't miss it. I won't, battling grimly with time-zones all the way. The least I can do is work as hard as those guys in the middle.

Not so fast

Uh-oh, serves me right for trying to be optimstic about India's make-shift opener strategy. Pathan gone, incredibly enough, managing to play a full-toss on to his stumps. And Kumble is now walking out, as nightwatchman. This wreck is getting painful to watch. India could be down two wickets tonight, with the match slipping away. I think this protection of Dravid has gone too far - India have overreacted to their perceived over-reliance on Dravid. Ah, well, I'm going back to being pessimistic. If a wicket falls now, will Dravid walk out or will a third nightwatchman be sent out?

Nice twist

I'm back, awake now. Its freezing outside in Brooklyn, but its nice and hot in Mumbai and the test is cooking nicely. I stumbled out, sleep-deprived, just in time to see the last two English wickets go down. I had experienced the shakes on seeing that a) India was trying the "give a single to the bat, bowl at the tailender" tactic, b) that Flintoff had already been missed by Dhoni (bringing back bad memories of Patel's missed stumpings in the bad old days) and c) Yuvraj put down Anderson (thus, would India just 'drop' this match?). Thankfully, all that has come to an end and India are now chasing 313. This has turned into an absolute cracker, closer than I had expected, and the twists and turns of what remains in this game will take some unraveling.

Interestingly, I think Pathan coming out to open (thanks to Sehwag's enforced absence) works out well for India. Whatever he does, he will not push or prod ultra-defensively (the worst possible strategy on this pitch against England's attack), might make some runs, could compensate for Sehwag's loss of form (and the pressure that has been caused all series long by the early loss of his wicket!) Perhaps when Sehwag comes in at the fall of the fifth wicket, India will be looking for a blast or two, and he could help then.

If India lose a wicket today, they will and truly be on the defensive. If they survive today, and enter the last day needing some 290 odd runs to win, they will be fools to not try for a win. Any other strategy is asking for trouble. And yes, the stage has been perfectly set for Tendulkar.

The squeeze (on Sri?)

The game has tightened up a bit now, with Udal falling to Pathan, and Pathan bowling a good line to Shah. If nothing else its slowed down England, and put a little more pressure on them to accelerate if they want to press ahead for a win. Kumble against Pietersen promises to be a very nice tussle; I'm looking forward to it. (Gee, Kumble's gone ahead and caught a sharp one off his own bowling to dismiss Pietersen, banging up his knee in the process!)

I just wish I could get Srinath to shut up somehow. Maybe I should shut up about how utterly inane, repetitive, and pointless I find his commentary (after all, I've said words to this effect plenty of times before on this blog). I still fail to understand how he got hired and how he has retained his position. By far the most painful sessions have been his day-end wrap-ups where he seems incapable of sringing together coherent sentences, or answering the question put to him, and is frequently cut-off by Gower.

Bearing the flag overseas

One good thing about having so many English fans at the Wankhede is the effect it has on the crowd ambience. There is plenty of applause for English boundaries, and the overall noise levels remain higher, thus adding to the general buzz. If I'm not mistaken, Mohali is the only ground in India that serves beer, and so, things are back to normal here at Mumbai for English fans i.e., simply baking in the sun (in the uncovered stands) with shirt off. I must confess, I'm puzzled by the lack of concern for things like sunburn, heat stroke, skin cancer or dehydration. No hats, no shirts? I can see sunscreen (or so I think), and I hope like hell they all have water bottles.

Jockeying for position

Pretty ragged spell by Patel and Sreesanth thus far (with Patel getting taken off now for Kumble). Both were slightly off-line, and only in Sreesanth's last over did he settle into the right line against Shah. It promises to be a difficult day for India, and it doesn't look like the right field has been set for Udal either (no one in the deep for what Nasser claims is his favorite shot: the slog sweep). While much has been made of how open the game is, I suspect India will not stay in the game for too long if there isn't a steady stream of wickets. Pietersen and Flintoff are both waiting back in the dressing room, and if this irritating nightwatchman and perky debutant can hang in a little longer, the stage will have been set for a push towards a very akward declaration. I do not think the ghosts of Nagpur (if any) will bother England. Their outcricket has worked well thus far, and I think they will back themselves to win if the target is above 325.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Coach or comm?

Arun Lal on Sreesanth: "C'mon, youngster, bowl it on the off-stump!" I suppose its easy to forget that you are supposed to be a commentator not a cheerleader/coach. Tony Grieg used to be the most egregious example of this kind of blurring, but Lal sometimes comes close to it.

Whats 'e on about?

I supposed I should explain to those readers that might be bemused by my blogging as if everyone else in the world is watching the same telecast as me (or has access to television coverage at all, so that they know what I'm talking about). For so long in the US, I've lived without any live coverage at all, and have developed a sense that the whole world is watching, and I'm not. Now that I can watch the games, its easy for me to slip into the sense that I've just joined a party that everyone has been indulging in for a while. If I'm watching the pre-lunch sessions of tests played in India, I blog on my laptop next to my desktop (the laptop runs Suse Linux 9.0 while on my desktop I'm forced to use the IE/WM combo on Windows required by the stream telecast) and will post several times before I fall asleep. Then I'm off to work in the mornings with no time to blog on the post-tea session, and might only get a chance to blog much later in the day. Given the lack of time, I find it hard to blog on much else besides the India tests currently underway, but hope to diversify a bit when things calm down a bit (yeah, I know, I got opinions on everything).

A bit of a change

Three wickets fell on the first day of the Wankhede test; ten on the second day; nine on the third day. Now that England are batting again, will service be restored be restored to normal proportions? And if its not been blindingly obvious already, this run of play emphasizes just how vital their batting on the first day, and especially in the first two sessions, has been in establishing the contours of this test match. India batted with a total of 400 staring at them from the scoreboard and a batting lineup that has not done well since Karachi, obligingly failed again. India's pace attack could still do enough damage tomorrow to make a real contest out of this game, but for that, many things (such as catches, top-order bats) have to get into sync. And my pessimism about that happening is justifiably persistent.

The mighty and the fallen

Two greats (former?) are the subject of worried examinations this week. Tony Cozier looks at what might be going wrong with Brian Lara's horror run in New Zealand, while Sambit Bal ponders the unthinkable w.r.t Tendulkar. I'm not an test-class batsman (not even a C-grade batsman really), and I have no advice to offer these greats. May I humbly suggest however, that Tendulkar at least, eschew the prodding defensiveness that has characterized his test batting of late. The fifth day's play is rapidly being set up as a dramatic stage for him: India will be chasing a target, quite possibly one out of reach for them, he will be on his home ground, the batting line-up will look to him for inspiration (Dravid will certainly look to him for succour), and England will be coming at him harder than ever before. He really has nothing to lose; dropping Tendulkar still is not an option for the Indian team; but glory, and redemption with his former followers awaits. (And may I just say, that the decision of Mumbaikars to boo Tendulkar certainly makes a hash of my description of them as knowledgeable).

Sinkin' n' holdin' on

Despite the heat and humidity (or perhaps, because of) this first session has been slightly frenetic. Early wicket (Yuvraj falling to Flintoff), bonked heads (Dhoni off Flintoff; Freddie courteously inquiring if all was well); hooked defiance (Dhoni off Flintoff again); dropped catches (two in three balls off Anderson), and then finally, a spectacular catch down the legside to dismiss Dravid (by that iron-glover Geraint Jones, no less!). India, dare I say it, deep in the smelly stuff, and fighting hard to keep the nose-plugs on.

Nass draped in the Three Lions

I must say, you've got to hand it to Nasser Hussain. No matter what, he is capable of finding something in a match situation that works for England. Have England ever, ever, had a captain, or a cricketer for that matter, who so completely wrapped himself up in the Three Lions? In the first test at Nagpur, when his fellow commentator on television pointed out the reverse swing that Indian bowlers were obtaining, Nasser's response was that that would be encouraging for English bowlers. And then today, when Anderson sent a overthrow flying past the bowlers end, allowing Dravid to take an extra run, Nasser's response was, wait for it, that: "thats good, that'll make him run a bit, thats what you want him to do, run a bit more". Wow, Nasser. Maybe he'll run all day. Maybe he'll make England run all day. And then?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Google Video for cricket

Slowly, a veritable treasure-trove of cricketing videos is becoming available at Google Video. Go to this link to see what I mean - 29 pages of video clips, small and large, poor and high quality, short and long. Unsurprisingly, like any Internet fora where Indian and Pakistani cricket fans meet, there seems to be some trash talking going on in the descriptions of some of the videos. There are famous catches, match highlights, bloopers, the odd, the quirky, the mundane, the self-glorifying, its all there. As I said, the quality is not uniform (some are simply unwatchable) but slowly the archive is growing. One can only hope that more material is uploaded, and that the mighty masters of cricketing boards and television companies, keen as ever to monetize all digital content associated with the game step back and let cricket fans indulge in a bit of harmless trading. There is no revenue loss going on - and the ICC and all other cricket boards simply benefit. I'm looking forward to going back for another rummage very soon. If you have a video you'd like to share, please do so. I'll see what I can do myself (fer'instance I think the 2002 England-India ODI epic belongs in there - you know which one I'm talking about).

Not in sync

One problem, central to Indian cricketing mediocrity over the years, has been the failure for its players to effectively gell as a team. When Indian batting has appeared strong, it has been rendered toothless by the lack of an effective bowling attack; when the bowling has done well, the batsmen have not stood up to be counted; when one batsman has attained the status of world-beater, the rest of the line-up has simply refused to collaborate. I dare say the career records of greats like Gavaskar, Tendulkar and now, Dravid, will be blighted because they played on teams where their stellar contributions simply vanished or were dimmed by the lack of an adequate supporting act. This current test, underway at the Wankhede, provides adequate illustration of this claim: after their morning horrors on the second day, India fought back wonderfully thanks to their bowlers, and then watched their batsmen simply hand back the intiative. Sehwag has clearly been sorted out by the English, and Tendulkar's worrying decision, in tests at least, to scratch around like a diffident turtle that loses its head the moment it pokes it out from underneath its defensive carpace, ensures that the youngsters down the order are having to pull off one rescue act after another.

No matter what the result of this test, England have shown up plenty of weaknesses in this lineup; the euphoria generated by facile ODI wins on flat subcontinental tracks will hopefully have evaporated in time to ensure corrective action for the test tours that lie ahead.

A little trivia

A quick trivia question: when Sreesanth came on to bowl his spell before lunch (the one that saw him start the three-wickets-slide that puts India back into the game), the score was 326-3; what is the significance of that score w.r.t India's test cricket history (in the 21st century)?

Poor Patel

OK, time for a giggle. Two dropped catches in two balls? And Flintoff both times? The wheels are coming off spectacularly. In the first case, Sehwag could probably have left the catch for Dravid and in the second, Kumble dropped a very straightforward chance. This hot, humid, still day at the Wankhede has started badly, and this bizarre implosion by the Indian side is going to cook nicely in the heat. In terms of responses to a match situation, this ranks right up there amongst the worst (I write this as Pathan 'catches' Flintoff off Patel, and walks right back over the bounday ropes, handing Flintoff his third six, and inducing something close to an emotional meltdown from Patel; poor chap, he's been taken off now).

Saturday, March 18, 2006

When it rains...

Arun Lal is going berko in the comms box, and rightly so, for India have not even appealed for what might have been a close LBW call against Collingwood (a Pathan special straightened and hit him in front of middle). And a couple of balls later, Flintoff has gone ahead and deposited Pathan into the stands. India started this game by contriving to lose the plot, and by the look of things today, still haven't found it.

Not such a good start

Its just the second over of the day for Munaf Patel and he is already struggling: plenty of grimacing, a slow walk-back to the beginning of his run-up, and very little aggression being projected. At the other end, Kumble is not looking great either (better body language though). Flintoff and Collingwood look good so far, and India might be a little worried. (I'm going to not say the t-word today).

Speaking of starts, how the West Indies must be wishing that Lara would get a decent one in their series against New Zealand!

A tale of two tests

Two test matches around the globe offering contrasting tales. In one, a pretender to the throne shows it is not ready for the big-time, and in another, a champion whose decline has been eagerly talked up by hopefuls, shows its not ready to go just yet. India, with a 1-0 lead, and a won toss, handed the advantage back to England, and Australia, coming off a shock defeat in one-day cricket that was supposed to traumatize them, handed out a seven-wicket thumping to South Africa.

I'm still a little stunned by India's decision to have bowled first, and its not clear I'm going to be able to say anything coherent in this post. But let me try. First, I'd have thought the team would have been waiting for an opportunity to win the toss and bat first in this series so that a) runs could be put on the board to put England's batting under some real pressure and b) the weakness against Kumble, shown up well in Mohali, could be exploited again in the fourth innings (yes, I know Patel took seven but I'd rather back the experience of Kumble in this setting). Anyway, enough muttering about tosses. Lets hand out some praise to the men who took advantage of batting first: Strauss and Shah. I only saw the pre-lunch session, whatever I saw convinced me that India was in trouble. Both looked solid; check out Strauss's wagon wheel to see his strengths square of the wicket; and Shah's confidence suggested a man playing in his 20th test, not his first. Had it not been for the late pickup of two wickets in the last session, India could have been flogged even worse (Shah's retirement helped as well).

I fear for India tomorrow. I suspect that the moment India's bowlers have been dreading all series long is finally here: the Freddie Flintoff Blastoff Special. The stands at the Wankhede might take a beating, the folks in the cheap seats will have fun throwing the ball back to the fielders, and whatever happens after that, it will not be India going for a win. Prove me wrong, please.

Just a bit puzzled

I'd just like to go on the record real quick: why is India bowling after having won the toss on this pitch? Is the pitch that conducive to seam and pace? Given that India have picked three 'quicks', why is Kumble bowling shortly after the first hour's play ended? Think about it; you put someone in with three seamers/pacers and an hour later your spinner is bowling? There is something slightly absurd about this situation: whether its a 'dustbowl' or a 'greentop' or whether India goes in with five bowlers or not, the team has only one plan of attack: the seamers come on for a bit - no matter how many of them there are - and then the spinners come on. And why is Kaif fielding? I can't even figure out who he is subsituting for; its only the first half-hour for crying out loud!. Sigh; I'm confused; hopefully, it'll become a bit clearer in the next hour or so. Or perhaps not; too much about Indian cricket is all about getting to the penultimate step and then faltering. They were 1-0 up; was that too exciting to sustain? For the life of me, I don't get why India is not batting right now. There is something a little too clever about this decision to put England in to bat. As always, I'm happy (and hoping) to be proven wrong. (but, honestly, I think this is a stupendously wrong decision)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Wankhede Wonders

This is, supposedly, the pitch report:

"Sudhir Naik, the curator, has promised a firm strip, with pace and bounce early on and then assistance for the spinners. That's what most curators say about most pitches before most Tests, but this one might live up to that promise - on the eve of the match, there is still a sprinkling of grass, and the high red-clay content here ensures reasonable bounce too."

Well, if all of that is true, then we're in for good cricket, though I'm not sure that the grass will survive. In any case, I'm pretty sure that we will not have a repeat of the last Mumbai test, which rather disappointingly, was over in less than three days. The Wankhede brings something else to the picture: a lively, knowledgeable crowd. As a Delhi-ite, I'm loath to say anything positive about Mumbai when it comes to cricket, but you've got to hand this one to Mumbaikars. They know their cricket, they don't doze off during tight sessions, and can pump up some serious noise when India bats. The archetypal Indian cricketing moments of dashing, wristy batsmen flogging visiting bowling attacks or spinners working late into the evening gloom, inducing edges snapped up by eager close-in men, are framed well at the Wankhede. Its a stadium with a rich history, and one of my cricketing ambitions (the non-playing ones) is to watch a test there someday. My travels to India haven't allowed for such a trip yet. But I'm optimistic, and I won't be shy to tell the Mumbaikars around me that I much, much prefer their ground to Delhi's Ferozeshah Kotla.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Waiting for cricket

In the good old days, a long, long time ago, it used to be customary to have nine-day gaps between test matches in England. Tests began on Thursday, took a rest day on Sunday, and then concluded on Tuesday. The next test would begin on the Thursday of the week after (hence the nine-day gap). I haven't gone and checked Cricinfo archives for this, but perhaps some English reader can tell me if this jogs their memories. Then this changed. Rest days went away, for which fact I'm truly thankful, as I always hated that benighted gap in the middle of an ongoing drama; there are good cricketing reasons as well for not breaking up a developing situation. Then cricketing calendars got busier, and while test cricket in England still retains a decent gap between test matches (this past Ashes featured gaps of 10, 2, 10, 10 days between tests thanks to tour matches inserted between games), calendars elsewhere seem to have shrunk. This years England-India series shows gaps of 3,4 days, and Australia's justly famous Boxing Day (MCG)-New Years (SCG) combo features a gap of 2 days. Some of this again, is not unwelcome. I don't like waiting too much for test cricket at the best of times. But it has its worrying aspects: injuries to players and a greater chance of burnout and staleness on part of players and fans alike. But perhaps the most insidious and perhaps the hardest to communicate (or get sympathy for): as one becomes an adult, time speeds up and I watch the days go at ever increasing rates (even tests go quicker - the two hours of a session go rapidly, as compared to the luxurious pace at which they seemed to move in my childhood). Test cricket could be a refuge from the speeded-up clock, but this diminishing gap, this time-table compression, means that even that refuge is now denied us.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Poor pop psychology

This is the second time in as many weeks that Paul Coupar has placed the English team on the couch, and thus, the time is ripe to have a bit of a giggle. In a nutshell, here is the analysis: due to the guilt felt by England - and its cricketers - for its colonial past (this first variant, appeared in this article on why Pietersen was able to stick the boot into cricketers from former colonial possessions - because he didn't have a colonial past in his country of origin!), England's cricketers are too keen to get prizes for good behavior, and hence are not reverting to the snarling, jousting, foul-mouthed, "chuck-a-ball-at-the-Aussie opener", "hit-the-captain-don't-act-concerned", "bend-the-rules-on-subs" mentality that won the Ashes last year. So, if England would increase the number of sledges per over, stop trying to outdo Dravid in niceness (I must admit Flintoff has been charming in his post-match interviews, despite trying to up the nastiness quotient by giving Pathan a send-off), they would do much better.

Phew. What a mess. I'm not sure where to begin. First, lets get the contrast with Kevin Pietersen out of the way. I don't know if Coupar knows this, but Pietersen is from South Africa, which has a pretty blighted history of its own that holds up well in the wickedness competition with colonialism. Theres no reason to imagine that he'd be any less afflicted by the subconscious guilt that Coupar speaks of. If anything, the issue should appear even more prominently on Pietersen's radar given that he left RSA unable to deal with the complexities of its new post-apartheid reality.

Secondly, the idea that England's cricketers are being nice to Indian cricketers because of post-colonial guilt is:

a) Offensive, inasmuch as it implies that if all the trenchant critique of colonialism and over-reaction to boorish behavior (whether by English media or poor travellers) would go away, then English folks would be more capable of being true to themselves and would not be restrained by the petty niceties associated with trying to assuage guilt (stop complaining so much, it makes our cricketers play badly)

b) A poor explanation for English cricket performance, given the other plausible competitors (such as inexperience in batting, spin bowling and captaincy!). The failure to attain the sledging levels of last year is easily explained by the fact that England went into the series expecting the Nasty Australian and decided to go on the offensive first. India does not have such a reputation yet, and England see no reason to try and match them on that account.

Give it a rest, Paul. Stay off the pop psychology. Responses to critiques of colonialism is a complex subject, and casual off-the-cuff invocations in an attempt to explain sporting performance are non-starters.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

This beautiful game

So, some good news for all of us inclined to wax philosophical on the beautiful game. I'm happy to report that an edited collection of essays (including one by yours truly!) on the philosophy of cricket, titled, At the Boundaries of Cricket: Philosophical Reflections on the Noble Game, has been accepted for publication. It will appear both as a special issue of the journal, Sport in Society and as a book in the series, Sport in the Global Society, both published by Taylor and Francis on behalf of IRCSSS (International Research Centre for Sport, Socialization, Society) at De Montfort University. Some minor issues need to be cleared, such as some copyright permissions. But otherwise, all systems are go. I'm happy to see that two of my good friends, David Coady and John Sutton, both make an appearance (one as a co-author!). Please spread the word if you find this interesting.

Here is the table of contents: (I will post a link to the chapter abstracts very soon including, obviously, one to the Chopra and Coady essay!).

1. Introduction. At the boundaries of cricket (Jeremy McKenna)

2. Not Cricket (Samir Chopra & David Coady)

3. Rorty, Cricket and Unfamiliar Movements. History of metaphors in a sporting practice (Terry Roberts)

4. Cricket and the Liberalist World View (Sampie Terreblanche)

5. Batting, Habit and Memory. The embodied mind and the nature of skill (John Sutton)

6. Cricket and the Karmayoga. A comparative study of peak performance (Simon Brodbeck)

7. Cricket and Moral Commendation (Jonathan Evans)

8. Cricket and Representivity. The case of race quotas in team selection (Douglas Farland & Ian Jennings)

9. All Equal Under the Sun. A normative analysis of the Duckworth-Lewis rule (Kurt Devooght)

10. The Art of Cricket and Cricket as Art (C.L.R. James)

Monday, March 13, 2006

"Quite ridiculous!"

That was the subject-line of an email sent me yesterday by my South African friend, the body of which email read: "Sat up till 3 in the morning to watch the most amazing ODI ever!". I agree. Whatever your opinion of one-day international cricket, and I have many problems with it, you have to respond to this news somehow, perhaps with an acknowledgement unaffected by relative assessments of test and one-day cricket, or the balance of power between bat and ball: that South Africa's feat, more than representing a great batting feat, represents a twist in the limitations placed on possible schoolboy fantasies (the last such moment I can remember was Kolkata 2001, and then before that Headingley 1981). Kids growing up playing backyard games all over the world are just going to have to fantasize a bit harder, and work a bit more on constructing outrageous twists of fortunes in their day-dreams.

Unexpected resolutions

I'll be honest. I did not expect India to win this match, and especially not in the way they did. I did not think the Indian cricket team would regain the advantage the way it did on the fourth day, by scraping out a small lead thanks to a feisty fightback by the lower order, and then striking quick blows to eviscerate England's second innings response. And then, I did not expect them to clean up the tail quickly, (and half-expected, just to make my conspiratorial take on things complete, that India would bat slowly till the rains came, thus putting in the final twist of the knife into expectant fans' hopes - memories of Melbourne 1985-86 take a long time to fade away). But India did all of that, and after what seems like an eternity, India siezed and then drove home the advantage in a test. I tend to think that the Indian cricket team wins when things go its way; that it wins by being a frontrunner in the race, not an outsider clawing its way back in. In this test, India manufactured a win out of very little: they restricted England in the first innings; they transcended their own wobbles in their own first innings; they continued to exert and sustain pressure on the English second innings; and finally, when chasing, they displayed the right mixture of aggression and caution. And underwriting all of this was that most fundamental of cricketing principles: bowlers win matches (one old-timer, one newcomer, did the trick for India).

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Not that bad

Some severe pessimism on display by Coupar in this piece on England's peformance on the fourth day. To his reckoning that England need sticky innings by Flintoff and Jones to save the match, I'd add the following list of possibilities: bad light and rain could cut the day short, India could simply revert to their usual inability to dismiss the tail (especially with Flintoff there, whose batting could very easily discombulate them), India could plan their chase badly and lastly, Hoggard/Flintoff/Harmison could pull off another collapse at the top of the order.

Missed it all

Stop me if you've heard this before, but I missed most of the fourth day's play largely because my body couldn't keep up with it all. It would have made for the best viewing thus far in this series, and I'm still slightly upset by it all. Things got off to a bad start when I tried sharing my enthusiasm for the game with my dinner guests. Good friends that they are, they hung in there while I tried explaining the game, but I think it was a lost cause. Shortly after, I fell asleep on the couch (pretty rude, don'tcha think?). When I awoke it was lunch, and my friend was casting quzzical glances in my direction. We said goodnight, and I tried watching a bit of the game again. (By this time I had missed the Dhoni, Dravid and Pathan dismissals). Dimly, through a haze, I saw Chawla fall to Hoggard, and then fell asleep again. Waking at 6, I struggled to make sense of England's score, saw the Collingwood fall, and then fell asleep again, woken by the sounds of the closing 'credits' on the screen. All in all, a frustrating day, and the sense of loss at having missed out on a full day's worth of see-saw action is still keenly felt.

I'm hoping I can pull through for the fifth day's play, which promises to be a cracker. I predict Flintoff will blast off sometime before lunch in an attempt to put the match beyond India's reach. And I'm hoping (not expecting) India can do better with the tail, and plan any chase that results a bit better.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Blast from the past

Kapil Dev and Ian Botham together again. In the commentators box, that is. That does bring back a flood of memories (especially of some of their epic encounters), and to make things even better, the two obviously get along well. A nice little interlude with Kapil providing some decent analysis in his idiosyncratic English, and the two not averse to showing their respect for each other (and some chat about their respective golf games!).

We'll take it, thanks

And in fact, England have gone ahead and taken the initiative by dismissing both Jaffer and Tendulkar. Given that India have only five specialist batsmen (curiously, two of India's spin trio bowled 21 overs compared to Kumble's 29), the pressure is well and truly on them now. Well, well.

My problem with exclusively defensive partnerships, like the one that Jaffer-Dravid put on, is that the opposition never goes out of the equation (or game or whatever your favorite cliche is). If a wicket falls, things are back to square one, and your team is still on the defensive.

Handing it back

England have had an easy way in this series to keep India out of the game: just take Sehwag's wicket. For after that, whatever Jaffer and Dravid do, they certainly will not take the intiative. Shortly after tea on the third day of an already-shortened game, India are 82/1 off 29 or so overs, with the Jaffer-Dravid partnership making 64 runs off 155 deliveries. Given that India had done wonderfully well to dismiss England for 300, I would have thought that India's best chances to put England under any pressure whatsoever lay in scoring quickly to make England bat again on the last day while facing a sizeable lead. But the way these two are going, thats not going to happen. Slowly, but surely, India's innings is heading towards the kind of inconclusive shape that ensures draws. While this match was already hit hard by the rain, India's late burst of wickets put some life into it. This partnership is ensuring that Kumble's late burst of wickets is not going to do any more work in this test.

Oh, yes, I know, the two are rebuilding the innings. And in a short while, they'll be trying to ensure that they don't lose a wicket till stumps, right? When do they go about trying to put the squeeze on England? Any time for that?

The roar overhead

Overseas viewers of the Mohali test will have noticed the sound of aircraft over the ground. Thats because Mohali is located close to the Chandigarh Indian Air Force (IAF) base. So, expect to hear An-32s, IL-76s (transport aircraft), Mi-26s (one of the heaviest and most powerful helicopters in the world)and MiG-21 Bisons (an upgraded version of the venerable MiG-21) taking off and landing. Its an awe-inspiring sight and sound, a bit noisy at times, but a good experience for plane-spotters.

Friday, March 10, 2006

C'mon skip!

A pretty piss-poor effort by Dravid, dropping Flintoff off Patel in the very first over of the day. That was a catch, albeit a difficult one, but not beyond the capacity of one of the world's best slippers. And then, failing to stop one from going through the slips, on another edge from Flintoff that went for four. Thats going to make the young quick feel really good. He can't curse, he can't throw his hands up, he can't have a little tantrum a la Kumble on the field. Its a grim day out there, gloomy as hell, and the skipper needs to show the way through the murk.

Go away

This cricket season has been unbelievably frustrating when it comes to interrupted tests. This is the third test out of eight that India have featured in that has been ruined by rain: Chennai; Lahore, and now Mohali. When you consider that keeping track of these interruptions means destruction of my circadian rhythms, the sense of despair mounts. Years and years ago, in the old, in a burst of frustration, I suggested covered stadiums and artificial turf to guard against rain interruptions. I know, utterly impractical, and anathema to the spirit of cricket, but its indicative of the depths that I had plumbed at the time (and seem to be mucking around in right about now).

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A swollen head

Gee, Kevin Pietersen is a little full of himself, isn't he?:

"I don't let spinners bowl to me," Pietersen said bluntly. "I feel a little bit sorry for the little kid who bowled today but that's just how I play spinners."

Hey, Kev, hate to break the news to you but Chawla went for 20 runs in 5, which is not exactly crash-bang-wallop-hammer in this day and age. What a patronizing git; wonder how he gets his cricket hat on his head in the mornings. Don't feel sorry for Chawla, he actually happens to play for his country of birth, and didn't need to get another nation's passport in order to play test cricket.

The BCCI goes nuts

Thats it. I've lost it for the BCCI. Read this excerpt from a news report about India-Pakistan matches being played in Dubai:

"Lalit Modi, the BCCI vice-president, also added that the board had served notices to various mobile phone operators who were offering scores on SMS, demanding a share of revenues. "A case is pending in the Madras High Court. If the mobile providers are charging their customers, we rightfully deserve a share from them since it's essentially our property."

Your property? Cricket scores of matches played by the Indian team are your property? Gawd, I hope you lose this case so badly it hurts. I've had my worries about this new BCCI for a while but this just confirms it (I've offered some defenses of them in this blog, against what I thought were petty snipes, but it seems like I've been defending the wrong folks).

Hey, tell you what, Lalit. I'm going to offer the Indian team's cricket scores on my blog. Sue me. Bring it on. Watch me give the scores away.

Promise and gloom

One of those frustrating stop-start days that can occur while playing cricket in North India has just ended. India's procurement of four wickets, including the vital one of Pietersen, will make them feel that they have done well. Which they have. I awoke to see Flintoff walking in, and a few seconds later, realized I had missed seeing Patel take his first test wicket. Good for him, and hopefully, the start of a fruitful career. Patel can hit the 140s (I'd been wondering about this earlier), bowls a decent yorker, and can swing the ball. Whats more, he looks pretty calm and composed out on the field. (Is it just me, or does it seem like the recent crop of tyros coming into the Indian side don't seem to have the nerves that we normally associate with debutants?). I didn't see much of Chawla other than that first over before lunch so I'll reserve judgment (or just my two cents) till I've seen him bowl a longer spell.

Sadly, it looks like rain and poor light will be a factor in this test. Which is all very fine for all the folks watching this in favorable time-zones, with comfy couches to take quick naps in. For those of stuck in sleep-deprivation zones, watching this on 19-inch flat panels (that puts me into the luxury stands, I guess), while sitting on office chairs, this is bad news.

Thommo digs it in

The Cricket Blog reports on Jeff Thomson's blast at Shane Watson. Typically colorful Thommo - it comes easy to him. Back in 2002, at our Northern Suburbs (Sydney) Cricket Awards night, we had Thommo come in to hand out the prizes and make a little speech. I dare say it was the most entertaining awards-night stand I've seen. Sledge/quip/joke followed each other in quick session, with most of it hilariously outrageous. In trying to conjure up visions of his Pommie-hating days, Thommo quipped thusly in response to a question about the 74-75 series, "Mate, they'd ask me if I hate the Poms. Let me tell you, I'd get up early in the morning just so I could hate them a couple of hours more".

Disappointment, peaches, debuts

My first reaction, on hearing Arun Lal come on in the comms box, was one of wild, desperate hope: could it be that Srinath had been fired? Alas, no. Still, even he couldn't take away the lingering pleasure of having seen an absolute peach of a delivery from Pathan to knock back Cook. I normally dread Darell Hair, but on that occasion, I felt strangely calm: there was no way Cook was going to be not out. It was the LBW equivalent of having had your middle-stump sent cartwheeling.

Sadly, the Mohali pitch looks like its quite flat, with not much in it for the bowlers by way of pace or bounce, and England have, after all, won the toss. Its going to need many more deliveries like that one from Pathan for India to force a decision.

I'm hoping Chawla, the new leggie, comes on before lunch. New legspinners, like new pacemen, are an event, and worth staying up late for, but these bones are not going to make it past 1:30 AM. Speaking of new pacemen, Patel looks like a big unit; surely, he should be able to bend his back, and hit the 140s? (and here comes Chawla, last over before lunch - maiden! Good stuff, on line and length). I'm off to bed.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Hodge gets the chop

Shane Warne and the Vics are stunned by the decision to drop Brad Hodge from the test team against South Africa. Some of my best friends are Victorian (no seriously, they are!), and I've heard plenty about the conspiracy theories against Victoria over the years (nothing quite gets them going as the treatment dished out to Deano in his last few years of international cricket - or rather, the ones that were denied him). This particular selection move goes into the evidence box for that claim. Gee, what more do you have to do to get selected?

Bad guys and running scared

A day ago, Tim De Lisle described Dravid as the 'bad guy' in the drama of the second test. While this might have sparked adverse reaction from some fans, its worth taking a closer look to examine the power dynamic in this series. Lisle accuses Dravid of being utterly uninspiring in his batting, unimaginative in captaincy, and lacking in initiative in sum. To back this up, he points to Dravids unenterprising batting in both innings, largely concentrating on the delayed charge in the second innings. Fair enough. While lots of folks were happy about the late fireworks, its worth pointing out that the charge could have been done in more staged fashion, starting an hour after lunch. After all, with 45 or so overs to go, and 9 wickets in hand, a steady increase in run-rate could have been mounted, using just the regulars (oh, I dunno, the world's top one-day batsman?) and using Pathan/Dhoni say an hour or so after tea. So, why did India delay this charge so much?

Well, there is the small matter of the Hoggard-induced collapse in the first innings. My suspicion is that the memory of that collapse played on the minds of the team management. Had that collapse not happened (say, India had made it to 322 without such drama), I suspect tactics might have been different (and in each innings, India's primary pacemaker, Sehwag, was gone early). Which is another reason why I find Anand Vasu's comment that "India had England running scared" nonsensical. Vasu is trading on a common confusion: just because you scramble to respond to a crisis doesn't mean you are panicking (take a military analogy: the shells come raining down on your position. You, as platoon leader, run around, yelling at your men to take cover, and call on the radio for back-up. Are you panicking? Or responding to the situation at hand?) If England had intense team discussions, made rapid bowling and fielding changes to keep up with the changing dynamic, were they panicking?

Back to Dravid. Note India's batting on the second day, when they made 136 off 48 overs (at one end, India had a man trying to make his comeback into test cricket). Given that England had almost 393 on the board, this had made India's task of trying to win the match that much harder. A perverse logic dictated that first rebuilding must be done (how long?) and then of course, well, wickets had to be kept safe till stumps. So, gee, when do you attack?

Things could swing India's way if Sehwag gets going (the steady stream of boundaries issuing from his bat is enough to drive most captains nuts). If not, the Indian batting will struggle. Dravid will help keep the line-up together but inspiration will have to be drawn from somewhere else. Perhaps a Tendulkar keen to make a point, brinksmanship from Laxman or the brash Yurvraj/Pathan/Dhoni trio.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Barmy is right

Paul Coupar reports on an idiot who got two innocent waiters into trouble in Nagpur. I know its really easy to imagine that all the natives are after your dosh, but gee, you need to think a bit before you accuse innocent folks of committing crimes. Sheesh. I hope he apologized. And bought them dinner. While waiting on them.

And I'm surprised by the utter lack of any outrage expressed by Coupar in his piece; did he think it was just a bit of a lark?

Two selection predictions

Two quick selection predictions before Mohali: one Punjabi goes out (Harbhajan), another comes in (Yuvraj) - you've got to take care of the home state; Patel comes in and Kaif gets dropped. Mohali's traditional seamer-friendliness means that two spinners are a luxury, especially when they don't seem like getting wickets. Harbhajan will be upset and will probably fly into a rage when he hears the news, but I don't see him playing. And given India's urge to blood youngsters, Patel's selection , especially given his 10-fer in the tour game, seems like a no-brainer.

I could be wrong, but hey, I never said I was omniscient.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Two predictions

I'm not crowing or anything, but I'd like to point out that two predictions of mine came through. I didn't think the Indian XV made any sense, and predicted one of the new lads (Chawla or VRV Singh) would be shuffled out (sho 'nuff, VRV Singh has gone back to domestic cricket), and that the first test would end in a draw (the tail-end of the game's trajectory was a bit unexpected but overall it matched quite closely how I thought the game would go). Nostradamus I ain't but some patterns aren't hard to detect and call in advance.

Dubya eats crickets

I suppose I should say something about GWB's sudden interest in cricket. A few days ago, my South African buddy let me know of Dubya's interest in cricket. The subject line of the email read, "Are you voting Republican now?". I read the email and wrote back, "This might be a good reason to stop watching cricket". And he wrote, "well, thats another way to think about it". Yes indeed. All said and done, I wish Imran Khan hadn't been placed under house arrest, that he had been given a cricket ball, and been allowed come in off a full run and let Dubya have a perfume ball (hopefully, the Secret Service would have hauled the Khan away at the point, which would have made it a nice two-fer). That that man gets into cricket pages is galling; that he got away without a crack or two on his noggin makes me cry about missed opportunities.

A little twist

My first reaction on staggering out this morning and bringing the desktop to screen to life, was alarm: Pathan was heading back to the pavilion. Were India already down to their tail? A closer look at the score revealed otherwise. I didn't expect this late charge by India obviously, and neither did the English (well, perhaps they did; they're cricketers, and I'm just a fan). For the past couple of overs, I'd have said the Indian strategy was to let Dhoni blast away while Tendulkar nudged away for singles. Of course, Tendulkar's assault on Blackwell seemed to set that strategy on its head before Dhoni holed out at long-on. My guess is that the game is back to heading for a draw (even though ostensibly Harbhajan has been sent out to continue to blast away). Here we go - as Singh is bowled. Thats it, I reckon. The last 10 overs will now be a grim session of blocking away as India will have to hold on.

What India needed was for one of these two men, Pathan or Dhoni to have stayed. But tests are very different from one-days in all sorts of ways. And with the offering of the light, thats it.

A Jaffer

This is the first time I've seen Wasim Jaffer bat, and thus far, I'm extremely impressed by him. I'd expected a stodgy Bombay opener, and while he is very solid in his technique, he is also very elegant in his strokeplay. He hits the ball crisply, elbows high, nice drives with a very straight bat and full follow-through, looks calm and composed, and all in all gives hints of being the full package. Dravid and him are hanging in there at the moment as lunch creeps up 20 minutes away. And pleasingly, he uses a bat that has a real brand sticker rather than the ludicrous tyre or bread brands that other Indian batsmen like to show off (sorry, Dravid, your bat looks pretty darn ugly).

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The start of the fifth

So India start their fifth day chase/save effort. I'm settled down with a cold Guiness, and some pasta waiting to be consumed when the munchies strike. I doubt I'm going to be able to make it past the lunch break (1:30 AM here on the East Coast), its been a freezing cold day, and I've put in a full days work already (yeah, yeah, I know, its the weekend, but I had to hit the library). As noted before, the worst mistake India could make would be to try and block all day. The two crucial performers are going to be Sehwag and Dravid, for different reasons. The first can score quickly enough to push the field back and create doubt in the mind of the opposing captain. The second? Well, he can bat all day. The real fun starts after 20 overs or so when the ball will start to swing. This will be a very good day of test cricket, and I'm looking forward to it. Flintoff, Hoggard and Panesar will make for a handful (and as I write this, Sehwag has been bowled!)

A correction

In the post below, I stated that I'd never seen India chase 300 on the last day of a test match (as in, make an effort to get them). That, of course, is not true, for India did chase 347 on the last day of the tied test at Chennai.

Declaration timings

England are battling on towards a declaration, and this has led to that dreaded situation: the opposing-nation pair of commentators waffling on about when the declaration should happen. This endless game of guessing, daring, disguised sledging is always painful, and its been made worse by the fact that quite possibly the worst commentator in the local sector of the Milky Way, Javagal Srinath, is in the box (thankfully, the session has just ended). Who hired this inarticulate bumbler is not clear but a pink slip is in order for both guilty parties.

England will do well to ignore all the nonsense about setting a target that would tempt India, who in all my years of watching cricket have never, ever attempted any 300 run chase on the last day of a test. Instead, the best thing to do is to set them a target out of reach. This will guarantee endless blocking and prodding, feet rooted to the crease, as they attempt to play out time. And that, against an attack of three bowlers that can reverse swing, and a left-arm spinner who will benefit from the extra runs on the board, is the best thing that England can hope for.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Monty got a good deal

Its been a long time since we've seen a days play in test cricket that produced less than 200 runs. That it would happen in India, with India batting, might have been unexpected, and even more unexpectedly, a young English spinner - Monty Panesar - making his debut did himself proud, both with containment and with some attacking deliveries. Two of those deliveries netted him the huge wickets of Tendulkar and Kaif. (Both of them came bowling round the wicket, a lesson for Panesar and for those who would captain him in the future). The one to dismiss Kaif was quite possibly the ball of the day, pitching on off and middle, breaking away to knock back of the off-stump. A classic left-armers dismissal, 40 overs for some 60 odd runs and 2 wickets, and some tight bowling that ensured India are still 71 runs behind at the end of the third day. Not quite the cannon fodder that he was made out to be. There'll be some humble pie on the menu tonight.

Stemming the rot

After a very long time, Kumble is playing the kind of innings I thought he'd play more frequently after his 88 at Eden Gardens against South Africa during the 1996/97 series. India might still be bowled out tonight, but this score of 289-7, observed upon waking up bleary-eyed this morning ("waking-up" might still be an exaggeration), is a pleasant change from the situation at lunch. And at the other end, busy resurrecting his test career with another innings of character, is Kaif.

This situation might be frustrating for those Indian fans that had expected to watch a day of leather-lashing handed out by the hyped Indian batting line-up, but it represents a very good fightback from the terrible situation they had found themselves in before lunch. Even on pitches like this, an attack of three bowlers capable of reverse swing was always going to be tough. If nothing else, this will have been a very good learning experience for them, regardless of the final outcome of this game.

Twist in the tale

Dhoni gone. England will be batting today, and by the looks of it, are trying their best to knock my prediction back. Good stuff from them. I'm off to bed, just before lunch. It'll be interesting to see how close India get before being bowled out.

Mind you..

Tendulkar's dimissal, a very good decision from Dar, though, puts India deeper into the smelly stuff. A good wicket for Panesar, and India sinking fast. Though 149-4 warranted some digging in, India had scratched around a bit too long, and not really taken any pressure off themselves. England on top and they deserve to be there (I wonder if the Indians started believing all the press before the game?)

A bit for the pitches

Perhaps one can hope that the BCCI, with the billion dollars (oh, sorry, some hundred million dollars) that they will make off the Indian team, will spend some of that on improving pitches and the equipment used to prepare and maintain them. Watching this test match, its diet of balls not coming on to the bat, its dusty looking pitch (and primitive mowers), makes one wonder what is done with all that money.

PS: I'm going to go ahead and make a prediction: this match will end in a draw. I hope I will be proven wrong but I'm feeling increasingly less optimistic. Rain is forecast over the next day or two, the pitch is getting slower, India have surrendered any initiative they might have had, England will be loath to press too hard in their second innings, and India will not blow away the English batting either. Lots could go differently - but thats my call.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Triple strike

Well, well, well. Three wickets gone in the first 30 minutes to an awesome spell from Hoggard this morning. All that talk about batting till India were 200 runs ahead, exploiting the turn in the pitch and so on, gee, a bit premature, wasn't it, Sivaramakrishnan? Did folks think an attack of Hoggard, Flintoff and Harmison was just going to roll over and play dead? Indian pitches might be slow, but the reverse swing was noticeable on the first day itself. Now its Tendulkar and Kaif at the crease, and forget about winning the match, they're going to need and buckle down and save this first. (Like I said yesterday, once that score of 393 was on the board, it wasn't going to be the walk in the park that some folks might have liked it to be).

PS: The Dravid LBW might have been a bit rough on the skipper - sliding down legside, I reckon.
PPS: Crucial, crucial moment for Kaif's test career here.

Pretty clever

Over at Cricinfo, you know they've got English majors running the show when you see a headline like "The Enigma of Jaffer's Arrival". Nice, clever, literary allusion (check out the original; I didn't find it such a riveting read myself but thats largely because I prefer Naipaul's non-fiction). Disappointingly, when you turn to the article itself, you see the rather prosaic "A case for specialists".

Pick one, c'mon

While waffling on nostalgically about his old friend, Ian Blackwell, Paul Coupar makes the following good point (in his tour diary, which has been unremarkable thus far):

"Some people think cricket can be enjoyed purely as an art form. Asked who they support, they say “I’m a supporter of cricket.” But if you don’t care who wins, then something important is surely lost, reducing the game to a series of moves, like non-contact martial arts or ballet."

Indeed, why bother watching otherwise? I've often been termed a 'neutral' supporter by my friends and family but all this means is that I follow games that don't involve India. But even in those games, I have favorites. The pecking order would take some time explaining (and it often swings wildly depending on whether someone has pushed my buttons) but its there, don't you worry.

Change of fortunes

Well, I don't like to crow about predictions, but England's late-order fightback today was almost a case of "I told you so". This sort of one-top-order-bat plus one-stubborn-tailender combo has held up India so many times in the past, that I would have been very surprised if they had blown through the tail. (I sensed a touch of arrogance in most Indian reports on the first day, as if taking seven wickets had ensured that India would win the match; to be fair some English reports were a bit gloomy too, and my English friend wrote to me with a subject line "oh, dear oh dear"). In any case, those stands in the morning, and then India's need to hold the fort after Sehwag's dismissal, have for the first time, introduced, dare I say it, the possibilities that England will a) give India a decent workout in this test and b) draw the match at least.

While Jaffer and Dravid have batted solidly enough to take India to their comfortable -looking score, India is still 257 runs behind, the pitch is a bit slow, and not too conducive to rapid scoring. Lots could happen tomorrow, including an early wicket or two that once again pushes India on the defensive. (Idiotic commentary portion of the day: Sivaramakrishnan waffling on about India's 200 run lead; mercifully Atherton reminded him that that was a long way away).

India could still win; but they'll have to play awfully well, and England will not gift them the game (I'm not all that sure that predictions of raging minefields being created by the fourth day are all that accurate, and Kumble and Harbhajan never seem to take wickets on anything else but turners).

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Same ol'

And as another Indian series commences, Cricinfo's servers creak and groan, unable to keep up with the traffic. What is up with those folks? Surely, all that ad revenue should be able to pay for a bank of crankin' Linux machines running Apache?

In control, almost

I usually stagger out in the mornings to catch the last 30 minutes or so of test matches played in the subcontinent (during the Pakistan tour, I was able to watch a bit more at times). There is the initial moment of trepidation as I move the mouse, and the screensaver goes away to reveal the game in progress, for who knows what the score might be? And then, there is the hope that I'll be able to catch some significant action in this last little session, rather than just batsmen blocking for stumps.

Well, today, the score was 225-5 on waking up, a slightly better situation for India than had looked possible in the morning. Two more wickets followed to make it even better. England will feel like they squandered a splendid start, got done in by one decision, and India will have partially gotten over the disadvantage of having lost the toss. But it will be the performance of the seamers with the old ball that will be talking point: they stuck to their guns and worked on getting the ball to swing.

England aren't out of it yet though. India will probably take the new ball early tomorrow, and if Collingwood gets some easy offerings while Hoggard blocks away, they could still prove to be a gigantic pain-in-the-neck. English fans might be a bit worried, but the morning session could still bring them some cheer.

A bad pick

Crikey, Srinath really is a dork: very poor analysis, an idiotic sense of humor and all-in-all a complete stuff-up as a commentator. This last half-hour has been painful to sit through. I'm off to bed pretty soon, hoping I won't be dreaming about his nightmarishly bad commentary. Its pretty late already, and an early rising awaits. Sigh, why do we need so much sleep every night? And why couldn't someone have shown more taste in their choice of commentators for this series?