Friday, June 30, 2006

Diggin' a hole

A rather dismal day for India finally wound to a close when Taylor dismissed Patel with a snorter of a ball. Yet another one of those performances by an Indian batting line-up that seems to happen overseas with depressing regularity, especially on pitches like this one, that show some early bounce. The number of times India have lost five wickets before 100 runs were on the scoreboard doesn't bear thinking out. One thing has remained constant through these performances: some sort of spirited fightback by the lower border. Today, that was provided by Kumble who hung in for a gritty stand with Dravid (whose innings was yet another indicator of why this man might be the hardest working batsman in the world today, and possibly the only one to rival and surpass, Gavaskar for his sheer impeccability of technique). But Kumble's dismissal, once again, depressingly to a sloppy defensive technique that has seen him play on three times in this series, saw a rather shabby performance by the rest of the tail that folded quickly (Dravid had been suckered into edging one from Colleymore by that time).

Make no mistake about it; India are in a hole, and its one they've dug for themselves. They'll be ruing all those missed opportunities earlier in the series, and wondering how they can get out of this jam. The pitch has already eased up, as the Dravid-Kumble stand showed, and we could very well be looking at another failed Caribbean adventure, a four-day special, if you will.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Just like the old times

This series in the West Indies has one test match left in it to try and avoid becoming that rarity in modern-day test cricket: the all-draws affair. Sadly, I can remember three other all-draw series, and all involved India and Pakistan (yeah, please, lay that "oh, what a great, riveting rivalry" line on someone else): 1989-90, 1984-85 (fine, one test was cancelled after Mrs. Gandhi's assassination), and 1983-84. Does anyone start to get a hint now of why some Indian fans are frustrated by draws, and the lack of enterprise shown by its test teams (and its excessively cautious captains? Like a certain Mr. Dravid who took refuge in history when explaining his decision to not go for a chase, thus committing himself to the genetic fallacy, and also to a certain blindness with respect to the match situation).

Monday, June 26, 2006

Sheesh, not again

Another test, another draw, another day of cricket that could have had a great deal more to offer, but which ended up offering little, largely due to some unenterprising cricket. The record will show that India scored almost 300 runs on the last day while chasing 392, and that will suggest that the pitch was still amenable to run scoring and still offered security to the batsmen. But India probably never believed that they were going to do something dramatic, which frankly, they need to do if they want to win a test series overseas. Sehwag and Jaffer had gotten them off to a good start; they had 100 runs before lunch; 200 runs before tea, and Dhoni had rightfully been promoted up the order on the fall of Laxman's wicket. Most encouragingly, before Laxman's dismissal, Dravid and he had shown what could be achieved by a pair of high-class batsman when confronted with a difficult chase. They had worked the ball around, and set up the chase nicely. Three good one-day batsmen were still to emerge from the pavilion (Dhoni, Yuvraj and Kaif), and Dravid was still there on the fall of Laxman's wicket. The small number of overs left meant that India would not have had to defend too long to save the match even if a wicket or two had fallen. Yet, mysteriously, the great chase vanished soon after Dhoni hit his first six. He went into a shell, woke up, hit a six, and then got out. Immediately after, India shut shop right away. Dravid was motoring along, Yuvraj didn't have to do anything more other than rotate strike, and Kaif was still in the wings. It was an inexplicable decision, and my sense of despair, at watching the Indian test team play yet another day of unenterprising, cautious cricket, ran deep.

The teams go to Sabina Park, and if India fail to win (whether by losing or drawing), this series should rightly be considered a failure. Its hard to know whether progress has been made on any front, other than perhaps, that of having found, hopefully, a long-term partner for Sehwag.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


India have moved into a position from where they could be in trouble, and even the West Indies decision to bat again doesn't change that. Barring some more slow batting, the West Indies should declare overnight, and let India try and bat out a whole day, a task with which they have had trouble in the past.

Jerling the Knowledgeable

Brian Jerling has suddenly woken up and realized that there is a LBW law in cricket. For the first three days of this test, he had forgotten there was one. Then, seized by this new knowledge, he has been trigger-happy all day today. Not a very impressive umpire, I'm afraid.

Good start

An excellent start to the fourth day's proceedings as Taylor knocks over three, and three big ones at that: Dravid, Yuvraj and Kaif. Game on! Dhoni and Laxman at the crease, and this could be a good combo to watch as they try to claw back into the game.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Take this cricket, please

More uninspiring cricket from the Windies today; the pre-lunch session's lethargy was inexplicable, and I, for one, simply stopped watching at some point. This test match has turned into a crashing bore, and this series, with its dead pitches, non-existent crowds, rain, and now, strange captaincy decisions, has been a big turn-off. Is this what cricket in the West Indies needs? What a sight to see Wayne Daniel at the lunch break - a reminder of days when West Indian cricket was associated with stylish excitement and power. I'll be watching England and Ecuador do battle tomorrow; yes, the feed will still be on, for VVS is batting, and thats always a treat (even though, sadly, he decided to be more cautious than enterprising in his stint today).

Friday, June 23, 2006


I must confess I'm not enjoying this series very much; the pitches are slow, and dismayingly, there seems to be little interest in test cricket in the West Indies. The grounds have been populated rather sparsely, lending a very desultory air to the proceedings. Even St. Kitts, which was seeing its first ever test match being played yesterday, couldn't rouse itself to send in a decent crowd to the game. Much of the game in the middle has an air of disinterest hanging over it, and I'm not surprised that the games have ended in draws (as this one looks likely to be, what with the loss of time yesterday and the promise of more to come). Much was made about how exciting the last day's play in the first test was (fair enough); but the second test was not such a ripper, and this one is headed downhill. But its the lack of crowds that irks one the most; cricket needs the right kind of stage to sparkle, and thats just not to be seen in this series.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Take this comeback back

Poor Harbhajan, he must be wishing Irfan Pathan had played instead of him. Six overs into his spell, (which isn't a bad one), he has already gone for 40 odd, with Gayle taking a particular liking to him. The Windies are off to a good start, and India are in very real danger of getting into a situation from where they can only catchup. Early days yet, I know, but a good opening partnership normally means trouble for the bowling side.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Four or five?

Michael Holding holds forth on the five-bowler theory. Much as I respect Holding as an all-time great fast bowler, I think he is wrong in this particular diagnosis. India's problem is not that they do not have five bowlers. Its that they do not have even four bowlers who can take 20 wickets between them. Descending into cliche for a second, its not the quantity but the quality. But to be fair to the four-man attack (Patel, Pathan, Singh and Kumble) that took the field for India in the second test (I'm discounting Sehwag deliberately for now), the problem also lies in the management of bowlers that Indian captains indulge in. Frankly, India's bowling is held hostage to the same problem that has often afflicted the batting - the over-reliance on one person.

Cast your mind back to Sydney 2004. Look at the scorecard. Australia chasing 443 on the last day (plus 3 overs on the previous day), finished at 357 off 94 overs. A certain Mr. Kumble bowled 42 of those. That is, other than for five overs, Kumble pretty much bowled straight through the innings. A certain Irfan Pathan only bowled 8 overs. This was a colossal failure on India's part - they failed to exert pressure most of the day and simply did not exert much pressure by making interesting bowling changes, giving Kumble enough rest, or with field placings. But most of all, India's strategy simply underutilized what it had at its disposal. In the second test at St. Lucia, India did the same. Out of a total of 119 overs, Sehwag (not picked as a bowler), bowled 30 overs, and Kumble bowled 42. I suppose Holding thinks that Powar should have been picked and he should have bowled those 30 overs? But whats the point of picking three quicks for extended duties in just one innings. Why not place trust in who you pick? Why not give them attacking fields (which bizarrely, we saw very little of in the second innings!)? Dravid seems hostage to the same old Indian affliction when confronted with stubborn partnerships: static field settings, going through the motions, giving up singles to established bats paired with lower-order batsmen, and desperately hoping that some superstar will come to the rescue. Give it up. Five isn't the answer - better usage of the four at hand will do. How tremendously dispiriting must it be to be a young bowler in India - you just don't get trusted.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Tony and the skip

Tony Cozier has, over the years, become the voice of West Indian cricket. I've known about him for a very long time starting with my reading of his history of West Indian cricket (Fifty Years in Test Cricket - an amazingly good read for a book that is essentially a condensed history of one series after another). As he's become the Grand Old Man of West Indian cricket journalism, he has become more cranky as well, a natural enough reaction to the decline of the West Indies as a cricketing power (I shudder to think what he thought of the 5-0 blankings by the Australians and South Africans). As part of this crankiness, he dislikes all pretenders to the throne, and has maintained a stony silence when other commentators have gone on the usual hyping of the Indian team on this series. But it has also meant that he has started to get under the skin of the Indian captain - in his needling of the Indian captain after the fourth one-day international, and now, in his suggestions that India were failing to put away games (partial truths yes, but slightly out-of-wack with the domination that India have now shown for seven straight days). Dravid has looked noticeably irritated, and his replies have become edgy. Whats needed for the Indian captain is a win - he'll then get a chance to put one over Tony. Till then, Tony has the edge.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

False alarms

While Lara has just gotten out to a dodgy decision (struck outside the off-stump while playing a stroke), things still look drifting to a draw at St. Lucia. This skepticism about the possibility of a result is matched by my renewed skepticism about pitch reports by commentators. Over the years, I've noticed commentators carry on, roughly around the 2nd or 3rd day's play, about "the pitch breaking-up". Usually, this tends to be accompanied by dramatic slow-motion replays that show a puff of dust, or a scrap of grass, flying off, or perhaps the odd ball that stays slightly low. I've yet to see, the sort of dramatic collapse that these dire prognostications seem to predict. This test has been no exception. Plenty of talk about how the pitch was breaking apart, its odd-bounce and carry and so on. Well, its the fifth day, its late in the tea session, and I don't see any signs of mine-field. The spinners can turn the ball, yes, but thats because Sehwag is giving it a real tweak. The pacers had true, slow, bounce. It played true, it played consistently, and it gave the batsmen plenty of time. Pitch break-up reports make for good drama, but thats about it.

Strong motivation

And India, worryingly, are now doing the same-old silly business of trying to give up a single to an established batsman (Lara), so that they can get at a new/tailend/ batsman (Bravo). Has this tactic ever, ever worked for India? No, it hasn't. Must mean that the desire to draw this match is strong. The new ball is just due around the corner, and that, I fear is the final roll of the dice for the lads.

Bad balls, good wickets

Gee - what a way to get a wicket like Chanderpaul's. A huge looping full-toss from Kumble, a smash by Chanders that goes high up in the air (thanks to getting the ball on the outside edge), and a nervous catch by Pathan. Too early to tell whether this will be a significant wicket or not. But its certainly broken up the session a bit.

More of the same

I'm notj convinced that Yuvraj makes a good close-in fielder. I'm basing this on a small sample size (his efforts at Rawalpindi, 2004 and now today), but he seems to not have the instinct for the small chances that occur very close in. Perhaps he is better suited for the slips/gully/point regions where his kind of athleticism seems to flourish.

India meanwhile, are staring at a frustrating result - Lara and Chanderpaul are now well and truly stuck in, and with hints of a strong breeze that could push in more clouds, this could get wiped out as a final little twist. Sehwag is on now, but no luck, no breakthrough. After a little while more of this, I fear the going-through-the-motions vibe will start to get stronger.

Standing firm

I don't like playing the pessmist all the time, but I'm getting a bad feeling that this match is heading for a draw. Lara has had too much luck (Kumble could have been allowed a scream of frustration after the third inside-edge missed the stumps), Chanderpaul looks too solid, and the Indian bowling/fielding is starting to take on that look so familiar to Indian fans: running in, going through the paces. The proverbial wicket after lunch is much required. Or, we could just see this ending with the Windies only six down by close.

A good day in the offing

A tight, engrossing day of test cricket developing at St. Lucia. While India might be tempted to concentrate on Lara as the crucial wicket (which, undoubtedly, it is), it would be a mistake to forget about that limpet at the other end: Chanderpaul. The fall of wickets is not inevitable with these two at the crease. Unfortunately, I think India will have to deal with a lot of frustration re: LBWs, as neither of these umpires look inclined to give batsmen out for padding up. Kumble will have to keep his cool, and just hope that he can crash a few into the stumps instead. (the googly to get rid of Ganga was an absolute ripper; I'm glad I got a chance to see it live; Taufel's grin as he answered an appeal that resulted was another classic)

Redemption and body talk

I was going to start this post by complaining about India starting the day by using Sehwag with Kumble (I think using a non-regular spinner to start the day's proceedings when you need nine wickets with three full-time pace bowlers is terrible discouragement for the trio), but Dravid has gone ahead, taken him off, and even picked up Sarwan in the process. Now, if only Patel could do something about his loopy body language. He shambles, shuffles, looking hang-dog in the process, pretty much uses the first over of any spell just to warm-up, and looks disgruntled at having to run in and bowl. A hearty slap on the back, or perhaps frequent yelling at, from the coach and captain might help. Or then again, it might not, as Patel looks to this manner born.

Silly boy - no lollie

Well, thats settled it it then. According to the ICC, that paragon of fair-play and efficient world-wide administration, Lara did not cross the line. Phew, for a moment I was worried. I thought carrying like on like a silly, spoilt little prince throwing a tantrum in public was crossing the line, but the ICC reassures me that I'm safe. Wait till I get a ticket from a cop; I'm going to hold my breath (something Lara is missing from his bag of tricks).

Monday, June 12, 2006

Double treats

The test cricket is having a hard time competing with the soccer today. But. A keen contest is developing at St. Lucia as well, as Bravo and Ramdin battle away against a mixture of seam and fastish leg/off/spin. Kumble on now, for what should be a fascinating afternoon's cricket. Ah, the good life. Test cricket and World Cup Soccer - on at the same time.

Close, yet so far

Horrendously bad luck today with the video stream - lots of freezing images, and hence, much frustration. I think I'm going to give up for a while and just watch soccer instead, as the US takes on the Czechs. Could have been a double-delight, test cricket on the monitor, while World Cup Soccer plays on the living-room telly, but, I guess it wasn't meant to be - perfection is not so easily gained.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Fumbling away

India continues to frustrate: after Dravid and Kaif stepped on it this morning, playing purposeful cricket, much stumbling has taken place. Dravid got out to a bizarre shot; Dhoni played a wierd, exaggerated innings, which included walking off for bad light with 500 runs on the board, and then got out to a bad shot. Its been all a bit much to watch, as India seem unwilling to sieze the initiative comprehensively and get on with it. Irfan is in now, one can still hope with Kaif and him at the crease, livewires both.

Relax, will ya?

If I may say so, I'm starting to notice Dhoni settling into a disturbing trend: lots of silly, pointless, blocking to balls that don't deserve that much respect. I don't know if this is part of his attempt to become responsible, but he looks just silly. Botham, Kapil, great hitters all, frequently screwed up with their hard-hitting ways, but I don't think they bothered so much with pointless defense with 500 runs on the board. Dhoni is trying hard, which is admirable, but I wish he would relax a bit.

Incidentally, I think its a safe bet to say that never again, in the history of tests, will such a good batsman (such as Dravid), play such a horrible shot (as played by him), to such a bad ball (as bowled by Sarwan), for such an easy catch (as taken by Lara). Sheesh, just having that image on my PC screen has stunk up my living room.

Close misses for Viru

Watching Sehwag score 99 runs before lunch induced some mixed emotions. I'm always happy to see him bat in his usual, run-a-minute style, but the way he fell short of a ton was grimace-inducing. He went off the boil in the second hour, slowed down 'a bit', woke up to the fact that a ton could be had, and then missed it again with the silliness of not tracking the ball or his partner off the last ball before lunch. Over the years Sehwag has flirted with lots of scoring records (after scoring 228 on the first day at Multan, he was set for a world-record mark, but ended at 309; he could have had a double-century on Boxing Day, which could have made him the only man to have scored 200 runs on the first day of a test match twice since the war; he could have had the world-record opening partnership at Lahore but fell short by three runs; and now, he missed out on becoming only the fifth man to score a century before lunch on the first day of a test). But the fact that he is back to flirting with records is the most important thing for the team that he plays for.