Saturday, May 27, 2006

Cerrado por vaccaciones

Blogging will recommence on June 9th (yes, I will miss the first test!). If I do manage to get net access, I'll try and blog but no guarantees. Do leave a comment to let me know things went in Antigua...

Friday, May 26, 2006

'mazin stuff all around

Man, in the pointless-innings comp, its going to be hard to beat Agarkar's entry for this one-day international at Trinidad. Amazing stuff - and that includes Bravo's magic slow ball.

Et tu Dhoni?

India are finding the going hard at the Queens Park Oval in Trinidad. A worrying trend: Dhoni seems to be taking the business of becoming a 'more responsible' batsman a bit too seriously, and seems to have gone off into a strangely ultra-defensive mode at times.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Very very special

This is a fairly articulate interview by cricketing standards (by Indian standards, its extraordinarily articulate). Back in the bad-old-days (before Kolkata 2001, and even before Sydney 2000), I spent a lot of time arguing for VVS Laxman on fora like IRC's #cricket. VVS couldn't somehow make the huge, killer ton, though he had already played several innings like the Barbados one he talks about in this interview, or his stand at Durban in 1996-97 or even his gritty fifty on debut at Ahmedabad in 1996. He finally came good, went on to establish a consistent standard, but somehow has never managed to convince folks that he still belongs. In full flow, he remains one of the world's most elegant batsmen (I remember Aussie fans at Sydney 2003-2004 telling me that they had never seen more stylish, powerful batting for a very long time - in fact, they found it hard to come up with a comparative performace). He handles pace better than most, is an excellent slip fielder (along with Dravid he provides India with a world-class slip cordon), and does not strike me as anything other than a loyal team-players. With Tendulkar gone, India will need him in the Windies - and his attitude sounds right. He comes across as intelligent, thoughtful, and with a keen cricketing brain ticking away. More power to you, VVS!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Some old stuff

India look quite scattered in this one-day series, and frankly, they do not seem like a new outfit, but one imbued with all the problems of Indian teams of old, inconsistency being the worst. Yesterday's comments by Dravid on the gradual adjustment of the batsmen to the "slow pitches" of the Caribbean were interesting. Now the Indian batsmen need time to adjust to slow pitches? I thought it used to be bouncy pitches that we had trouble with. For all their improvement over the past season (something some cricket journalists have hyped excessively), its worth reminding ourselves that this team is still a work in progress, still prone to taking two steps backward after taking one forward, and still prone to becoming unraveled. India won a scratchy win in the first ODI, failed to assert control in the second, and after derailing in the yesterday's batting stint, failed to drive home control. Pathan has this odd habit of taking every other match off, or so it seems; Sreesanth needs to become a tighter bowler. Till these two spearheads of the Indian attack settle down, this tour remain problematic for the Indian team (no, I haven't forgotten about the batting, but its collapse-loving tendencies have been talked about aplenty).

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Lost in the middle

India have lost their way in this one-day international since the dimissal of Sehwag. Two run-outs (Dhoni's silly, casual shamble towards the non-strikers end cost him his wicket, and now Kaif's non-grounded bat has sent him back) have now made it seem that India after threatening to score 300 (they had 180 off 30 overs), will be looking instead to get to 275. If that. (And with Pathan now handing a soft caught-n-bowled to the bowler, India have stumbled comprehensively)

Data points

Brief data points from today's ODI still in progress:

Sehwag commences a return to form [he would have preferred than ton, but its better than nothing; I fear though that he needs to do much more work before he will be a success in the tests, what with his persistent problems with the ball directed at his head]; Kaif continues his return [though, worryingly, he still shows an episodic bility to rack up dot balls]; Dravid takes a day off [saying, "you guys do some work, I'm back in the pavilion"]; Jeremy Coney proves himself to be fairly pompous commentator [in fact, almost insufferably so]; Tony Cozier seethes quietly as Dean Jones hypes the Indian batting, hoping he can prick this particular balloon, and restore some West India pride in the face of this latest upstart.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The end of a streak

India's loss on Saturday was interesting to watch. The conventional wisdom that the West Indies had to win this match by bowling out India was confirmed in slightly unexpected fashion: by the bowling out of India with one ball and one run to spare. You would have expected the team doing the bowling out in such a situation to have done so well before things got down to the wire (and the one being bowled out to have suitably co-operated). But it was a different sort of the game from tbe beginning. Both Sehwag and Kaif showed that they are not back in form - yet. And there were some silly shots on display as well - most notably Raina's head-rush towards the end. The Windies always looked in control, and the only reason India ever stayed in the game was because the run-rate never seemed to mount, except right towards the end when it suddenly required Yuvraj to throw his bat - which he did, and was bowled for his troubles. India have let the Windies back into this series, and questions of the series momentum are bound to be raised now. One streak is over - time to concentrate on breaking another one: the one that has India always losing in the Windies.

Friday, May 19, 2006

A mixed affair

Some things aren't meant to be. The one-day international that shouldn't have been, did get to be - albeit a slightly truncated affair; and much as I thought I would have no time to watch the game, I did, but the Internet Gods didn't co-operate. No stream for me. But at the end it was sweet relief - especially if you were a Kaif fan, which I am, and remain. An unbeaten 66 to clinch a win off the penultimate ball in an opening international game is a fine way to start a return to form (Yes, only "start" for now). India's opening statement was of mixed value: Captain Courageous still held the innings together; the opening bowlers went for plenty (that man Gayle can have that effect on you); but its much vaunted young brigade did pull its weight in a few different ways. The Windies, on the other hand, look like they need to spend more time doing fielding drills.

Heres hoping I have more luck with the Net, and that the weather stays fine for tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Bad timing, getting friendly, and anticipation

The way things are looking for my schedule tomorrow, I'll be lucky if I manage to check scores a few times during the day: work with a colleague, meetings with students and departmental colleagues, commuting. Sigh. Much as I complained about time-zone problems during test matches in India, this cricket series in the West Indies is going to be tougher in one very important sense: most of the action will take place during work-hours. Yes, yes, I know academics have the summer 'off', but not really.

But on to the cricket. The first one-day international starts tomorrow, and I'm hoping that India's youngsters make some friends amongst the crowd at Kingston. They can be generous if you get on their good side, and one good way to start is to be friendly during the practice sessions when there is tons of advice flowing from the early-risers. Another is to hit hard and lustily. Which Dhoni seems to be doing and, unsurprisingly, is making friends for doing so. I quite like this little snippet from Vaidyanathan's preview (yes, I know it includes the inevitable "maan"):

"But the real excitement surrounds Dhoni, especially because of his instinct to dominate, his audacity to invent new strokes, and his attacking methods even when put under pressure. "This boy born in the West Indies maan," said one spectator when Dhoni spanked a six outside Jarrett Park in Montego Bay. "You stole him away from us."

The last part is nice. Back in 1997, during the first test at Kingston, a West Indian batsman edged to slip, where Azhar apparently held on to a catch. But no. He indicated it was on the half-volley. At this, a middle-aged gentleman, intently listening to the radio commentary, suddenly yelled out: "Sportsmanship, MAAN!" See? Even I fall for it. Have fun watching the game. I'll be busy writing, talking, (and sneaking trips to the closest terminal).

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Great escape indeed

It must have been terrible for English fans to have watched their team "drop" this last test match, but Sri Lankan fans would have been ecstatic at the fightback that their team put up on the 4th and 5th days. I didn't think that a century partnership for the 9th wicket would figure anywhere, but it did, and it must have driven the crowd nuts. Much of the analysis that has followed the game has focused on Flintoff's admittedly half-arsed captaincy, and English catching, which is fair enough. Nine drops are ridiculous, and underbowling Panesar to the extent that Flintoff did, was also silly. Sri Lanka still need to get English wickets though in order to really test the English. "Great escapes" save matches; they rarely win them. Vaas needs to find that elusive English form, and Murali needs to rediscover the magic he has shown in English summers past. But thats still only two bowlers. Anyone else willing to put their hand up?

Monday, May 15, 2006

A "great escape"?

Sri Lanka seem close to turning this Lords test match into either a great escape (which still looks unlikely) or into their own version of Headingley 1967 (yes, 1967, not 1981). Go look it up. What they really need to survive from here are all of the following: a long innings from Vaas; an irritating blast of 30-40 runs in true Murali style; some rain; a couple of early wickets; and lastly, some Murali magic. The odds of all of those occuring together make their great escape unlikely, but at the very least they have shown some very serious backbone and can be proud of their fightback. [Like Headingley 1967, the press wrote them off early, predicting early finishes, while not going light on the disparagement of the cricketing abilities]

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Faux optimism

There goes the ICC, clutching at straws again, expressing optimism about developing cricket in North America. In response to the plans being hatched by the West Indian and Indian boards to play one-day internationals in Canada and the US. Nothing of that sort will happen; yes, thousands of expats will come to watch the match; local newspapers will comment on the curious goings-on at whichever stadium is chosen as the venue; perhaps radio hosts will have a chuckle or two; and that will be the end of it. Oh, and of course, the two boards will make lots of money. If some of the money will help the WICB fund its development programmes in the Caribbean, then the exercise will have been worth it. But, please, can we drop the charade about this doing anything for the game in the US? The US is hard, stony, ground for the cricketing seed in every respect. Give it up already.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Touch down in the Windies

Gawd, I can't stand it. If I read one more report from the West Indies where some local is quoted as saying "Maaan", I'm going to lose it. But anyway, here we go. The Indians are in Kingston, and Vaidyanathan starts his tour diary by committing that cardinal sin. I suppose, in some ways, it can't be helped, but it really does grate on me.

I wish the Indians all the best in trying to entertain themselves in Kingston. I didn't find it a particularly attractive place, what with the constant warnings about crime from the locals (which started on the flight from Miami to Kingston), and the menacing neighborhoods that are scattered all over the place. Sabina Park is not a particularly distinguished ground but the views of the Blue Mountains are spectacular, and the crowd inside is boisterous, raucous, friendly, and well-engaged in the cricket. Up in the George Headley Stand West, a little smoking section puffs away on giant joints, while the cops stay 20 rows below. The pitch looks glassy (or so it did back in 1997), and the food and drink are excellent (lots of great curry is sold right inside the stands, and ice-cold Guiness, Heineken and Red Stripes can be had right at your seat). I had a great time with a bunch of very friendly Trinis (I think the 12-year-old rum being passed around had something to do with it).

Despite being the venue of some of India's greatest away wins, the West Indies have not been happy hunting grounds for the Indians. This new-look team has a chance to set it right, and they'll be desperately hoping that a) their batsmen discover some backbone against the Windies bowlers and b) their spinners exploit the supposed traditional weakness of the Windies' batsmen against that form of bowling. I'll miss the first test entirely due to being away on travels but the rest of the games will be watched very eagerly by yours truly.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Murali Magic

Angus Fraser pens a nice tribute to Murali in the Independent. I've enjoyed watching Murali over the years, and still count myself lucky to have seen him bowl some of the longest, most patient, penetrating spells in test cricket - during a remarkable win at the Oval in the summer of 1998 (back in the bad old days, Sri Lanka only got a one-off test). I was visiting India then, during a brutally humid monsoon month, and spent most of the afternoons safely esconced at home, watching Murali twirl away. But the entire match had been memorable.

England had taken 158 overs to make 445 in their first innings. It was a good score, but perhaps, just perhaps, not good enough on a perfect batting pitch. Sri Lanka blasted their way to 79 off 20 overs by the end of the second day. That should have made England nervous. By the end of the third day, Sri Lanka had a one run lead with seven wickets in hand. They had rattled along at the same scoring rate with Jaya scoring 213 off 278 balls. Aravinda De Silva stood one-third of the way down the pitch - an amazing sight to see. The late Ben Hollioake did dismiss him, but it was all too late. Sri Lanka, in the same number of overs as England, scored 146 runs more. Murali had taken seven in the first; he then proceeded to take nine in the second innings, starting his marathon bowling spell on the fourth day, and pinning down a excessively cautious English side (overall, the test was a good lesson in how lack of aggression can make you lose matches, even ones in which you score 445 in the first innings). The dismissal of Butcher was a beauty; the ball drifting away from the left-hander as he came down the pitch, desperately trying to get Murali away, and being stranded for his troubles. Sri Lanka finished off England late on the fifth day, romping home by 10 wickets. England had been dismissed for 181 off 129 overs; Murali had taken 9-65 off 54 overs. Amazing stuff. Get a tape if you can.

When all the carping about Murali is done, perhaps too late for this man to enjoy his career in peace, we might realize what a genius strode the cricketing stage. And in gentlemanly fashion to boot.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Two takes - one whip

The world of cricket is full of sensitive and insensitive folks alike; sometimes these facets reveal themselves in the same person. Consider, for instance, the BCCI's crackdown on Sehwag who said that Ganguly was, sometimes missed in the dressing room. Crack! Down comes the BCCI whip. No talking to the press; no talking about the past (hey, don't ever bring up that 309 again!); no possession of a personality period. We're too sensitive for that sort of thing. That same whip comes down when the issue of rest is mentioned. The BCCI thinks thats nonsense; they have a business to run; rival nation's boards to be bailed out of financial trouble; Gulf potentates or businessmen to be made happy. So, no rest for you. We're insensitive to those concerns. Manichean chaps, these BCCI types. (But the whip remains the same).

Monday, May 08, 2006

Rapid response interesting interaction with the folks over at Cricinfo. A few days ago, I saw this photo in their linked galleries. The original caption read "Javagal Srinath watches a Kashmiri Muslim boy bowl prior to selection for the MRF Pace Foundation, Srinagar, May 2, 2006". I was genuinely puzzled: why mention the kid's religion? Was the caption trying to make the point that Indian cricketers interacted with Muslims in Kashmir? (thats its some kind of bridge-building?). But those kinds of claims, unless made in some explicit political context, come off as glib, and unnecessarily inject division into a moment that could just have been about all Kashmiris - no matter what their religion (there are plenty of Kashmiris that aren't Muslim, believe it or not). So, I wrote to Cricinfo (perhaps a little too archly?):

"Is there any particular reason why the caption for this photo mentions the young lad's religion? Do you ever publish photos with captions like "Brett Lee watches a Queenslander Episcopalian bowl in the nets"? Or say, "Flintoff gives a Yorkshire Protestant batting tips"?

Amazingly, someone wrote back:

Dear Sir,
Thank you for pointing that out. It has been rectified now. We fully appreciate any feedback/suggestions from you. We look forward to your continued support.

Best Regards,
Cricinfo Helpdesk

And, the caption indeed had been changed. Gee, that was quick. Somehow, I sense my correspondent was Indian. Please write in with your guesses on why I think thats the case.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Being England-centric

There was a time when I accused Cricinfo of being England-centric. (I even accused their Surfer blog of being England-centric). Sometimes, I think I was over-reacting, but, here is the latest "The Week that Was". Apparently, theres only been one week in the world, and it took place in England. I know the county cricket season is on in England but surely, the world of cricket hasn't moved to England as well?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Tickets and optimization

World Cup tickets go on sale. There are something like a total of 800,000 on sale, and I'm curious to see how the games featuring the lesser lights go. I expect Indians from the US to swamp the online ticket counters early on- once the initial fumbling over calculations on how best to solve the complicated multivariate equation that presents itself as an optimization problem have been taken care of. For, here is the puzzle:

Devise a ticket buying strategy that minimizes total dollars spent (and inter-island travel) while maximizing the following:

1. Number of days spent in an attractive Caribbean island (which does not suffer excessively from problems with crime that might make say, Kingston, unattractive)

2. Number of games involving India (subject to the further constraint that the games also involve matches against decent opposition, as opposed to say, the Netherlands)

This being the World Cup, I expect no easy solutions, and furthermore, this being the cricket World Cup, there will be far too many matches featuring huge gaps in ability between the opponents. But, I'm getting in line, (optimization theory textbook in hand).

Monday, May 01, 2006

Can't wait

So Asia gets the 2011 World Cup. Given that the BCCI will be the key player in this deal (with all due apologies to the PCB and the Sri Lankan board), this promises to be to World Cup cricket what the 1996 Atlanta Olympics were to the Olympics: the most crassly commercialized of them all. Looking forward to how ridiculous things can get in five years; expect sponsorship disputes, court battles between the BCCI and supposed trademark-violators, player-board fights, television rights disasters, and last, but not the least, the most over-the-top opening, award and closing ceremonies of all time. Yee-haw!