Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Some win

Its hard to accurately describe the value of this win in Johannesburg. A win abroad has been a rarity in Indian cricket. That hoodoo was broken a while ago in Ganguly's reign as India won at Adelaide, Headingley, Kandy, Multan, and Rawalpindi. We even managed to win at Kingston. But a win in South Africa somehow seemed even more elusive. After all, India had won at Adelaide, not the quickest of Australian wickets, against an attack that lacked both McGrath and Warne. Headingley, was, well, against England (the version that was playing in 2002). And Kingston, gee, that was only the West Indies. But this win against South Africa, while against a team that was definitely weaker than the Australian batting lineup at Adelaide, was stronger in the bowling on paper (Ntini, Nel and Pollock), and was achieved by a team that should have been in the doldrums, what with a disastrous one-day showing behind them, and the possible troublesome return of Sourav Ganguly.

Instead, India's batsmen, bowlers, and fielders all came to the party, and ensured a memorable win. The only thing missing in their win was a crowd as the Wanderers stayed disappointingly empty (just like Rawalpindi was on that final day when India wrapped up the series against Pakistan two years ago). But there was no mistaking the elation in the Indian team's celebrations - and those of their fans.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Wow, did that really happen?

So, I didn't pick Sreesanth (or at least, didn't think the tour selectors would pick him ahead of Pathan). I did pick the Dravid-Tendulkar partnership on the first day as crucial. Other than that, I got everything else wrong. I didn't think India would do what they did at the Wanderers, and whats more, do it with a performance built around gritty batting, hard-working bowling and an inspired fielding performance. Phew. Much more later, but for now, a quick acknowledgement of an amazing comeback by the Indians.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Can you hang in there for a bit?

India are in desperate trouble over at the Wanderers. The openers have gone again. Poor Jaffer, he must be wondering what he has to do in order to stay in for more than a few deliveries each time. The less said about Sehwag the better. But at the crease now are Dravid and Tendulkar and if any pair of batsmen can do something to blunt this South African attack, its this pair. And even if not wholly blunt, if they can just put a few overs on the ball before Laxman, Ganguly and Dhoni have to face the quicks, they'll have done their bit. Its not every day that you think about a pair like Dravid and Tendulkar just "putting a few overs on the ball" but given this tour, Dravid's injury and Tendulkar's latest struggles, its not entirely misplaced. The two are masters of the defensive technique, and need to show it all.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Home for the holidays

I've accused Cricinfo of being England-centric in the past. Dear reader, read this piece on gifts for the holidays, and tell me if you agree.

Monday, December 11, 2006

G'bye Marto

Damien Martyn was a very elegant batsman with a mixed career, and its only fitting that the bunch of memories he leaves behind for me are a suitably mixed lot. The first time I saw him was in the 1994/95 season as Australia and Austrlia 'A' clashed in the second finalof the wierd triangular (or was it a quadrangular series) that season. England and Zimbabwe made up the other two teams. At one stage, Australia 'A' were 111-1 in something like 20 or so overs (as Blewett and Martyn lashed the Australian seniors) before Martyn fell for 58 off 63 balls, and they subsided to 226 all out. Martyn's strokeplay was brilliant, the mark of a brilliant young talent, and I was suitably impressed. Years and years later, I remember the mature Martyn, frustrating India at Chennai, and then the Martyn of last year, at sea against Harmison, Jones and Flintoff. Its a strange retirement what with the stories of his rush from Australian shores making the rounds (unanswered text messages and all that) and its had a suitably wierd fallout: the precious remarks by Justin Langer on how he dare not retire just now.

Might as well

Ah, what the heck, I'll have a go. Here is my Indian XI for the first test:Jaffer, Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Ganguly, Dhoni, Pathan, Kumble, Zaheer and VRV Singh.

Dodgy points: why no space for Sreesanth? Why not Harbhajan? For the first, Singh gets the nod for his better control, and also because sadly, the weak Indian batting requires us to play Pathan. Besides two lefties and a rightie are a reasonable mix for the pace/seam attack. Kumble gets in ahead of Harbhajan if one spinner is to be played. I still do feel for Sreesanth though. Do write in though; I'm willing to be convinced otherwise. As for the batting order, Dravid if fit makes the most sense at 3, SRT obviously at 4, and Laxman at 5. Ganguly will obviously play and having a lefty at 6 is always good if he needs to stay with the lower order and move the strike over and around.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Back up the talk?

An interesting little nugget at the end of this report on the Indian win over the Rest of South Africa:

[Rudolph] wasn't quite so kind though when asked about the various on-field incidents, which had seen parts of the game played in a heated atmosphere not usually found at tour matches.

"Sometimes it's a bit of stupidity," he said. "The inexperience of Sreesanth showed at times. Hopefully, he can back it up in the Test matches with the ball in hand, and not necessarily his mouth."

In general, Indians getting into the sledging act seems to throw off opposing teams more than say, the Aussies or the South Africans themselves (witness, for instance, the furore over Indian chatter and Ganguly's behavior during the 2001 home series against Australia). Further it seems to me that Indian cricketers when they sledge, go immediately from first gear to fifth gear i.e., I think they genuinely lose their temper out there, and aren't just getting a bit feisty for the heck of it. The most famous incidents I can remember, Harbhajan (in general) but most notably his run in with Ricky Ponting a few years ago, Zaheer Khan in the 2003 World Cup final, Gautam Gambhir v. Andre Nel last year, and perhaps most famously Tendulkar telling McGrath to "fuck off" during the 2000 Nairobi Cup were all quite ill-tempered incidents. This seems to suggest that the finely calibrated art of sledging still remains to be mastered by the Indian lads. Practice makes perfect, I suppose.

Rudolph's advice is worth taking seriously. For all the chat, its the wickets that will count the most for Sreesanth (if he plays, that is). And if Rudolph plays in the tests as well, he can check it out for himself.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The beat of a different drum

In the midst of the opprobrium being heaped on England's head, let me strike a slightly different note (not discordant, just different). Australia deserve to be 2-0 up, but they are vulnerable. They deserve to be 2-0 up because they have played better than England. In the first test, they simply blew England away (other than that fourth-day flicker of hope), and in the second test, when England presented them with an opportunity, they grabbed it (fine, England insisted they take it, but take it they did). But still. They are making one mistake from 2005 all over again. They are persisting with some selections that could still bite them in the proverbial backside. Hayden still looks dodgy; Martyn looks not so crash hot either. And their bowling is weaker than they'd like to admit. McGrath's first test figures were flattering and he followed up his first innings at Brisbane with three largely ineffectual innings. Its telling Ponting didn't go to him for the fifth-day push. McGrath will make it through this series but Australia could do worse than to start thinking of ways to bring in some of those new quicks they have waiting in the wings.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Two results

Two results. One inevitable, one surprising. The PCB lifts its ban on Shoaib and Asif (come on, did you really think the ban was going to last? This blogger was skeptical about it lasting and it didn't). And England lose the second test to Australia after a spectacular collapse on the last day. Thats surprising. But both of these results had one thing in common. A failure of nerve. The PCB (yes, I know it was a "tribunal" appointed to investigate the ban that did the lifting, but again, lets get real) was suddenly confronted with the possibility that they might do something right for a change. That was too much for them to handle. And England, somehow, found a way to lose after scoring 551/6 in the first innings. Their astonishingly feeble batting on the last day (70 runs in 64 overs) must have been a sight to behold (or slept through). In a way, they might have sunk this series. If they can pull off a comeback from here, this Ashes will be even better than the 2005 version. But I'm not holding my breath. And neither am I expecting Pakistani cricket to ever, ever, get it right.