Monday, March 26, 2007

Go for it

Bangladesh will have a hard time in the Super Eights. But they will emerge a better team for it. And check out these words to mark the significance of their win over Bermuda, which propelled them into that stage:
When the rain had drizzled down in the afternoon, Shuvro had wondered if this was destiny. "The 25th of March is the darkest day in our history, when the Pakistan Army invaded in 1971. I felt maybe it is nature's way of saying this great day should not fall on March 25, it should fall on the next day, which is our Independence Day." Victory did come on March 25 - Caribbean time. A dozen time zones ahead in Bangladesh the clock had long since ticked, and dawn was about to break on the country's Independence Day.

(From the article by Rahul Bhattacharya)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

With friends like these..

Shashi Tharoor gets a chance to write an op-ed, in the New York Times, about cricket. He then goes ahead and ruins it all by throwing in gratuitous reductive analyses about the US, its cultural inclinations, and to make things really bad, indulges in some pointless baseball bashing. He then gets taken to task in the letters section. As my co-blogger on Decoding Liberation, Scott Dexter, put it, "It's a pity, because i think there probably is something to be said about cricket and the general speedup of contemporary life". Well, not by Tharoor. Gee, why do I have to do everything myself?

Friday, March 23, 2007

An uncomfortable thought

Sachin Tendulkar out for a duck. This is almost certainly his last World Cup, and so, if India depart after this game, it could mean that the great man's last World Cup innings is a duck. He'll be hoping it isn't. But India are definitely floundering now.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Perceptions and cultural divides

Many thanks for all the excellent comments on the previous post. Picking up on some the threads spun out by Raj and Bryan, one thing that struck me about Wright's book was his noting the difficulties faced by Indian players in their attempts to make it to the top, the almost-insane glare of the media that would then confront them, and the resultant fraying of their work ethic. None of this suggests a pampered superstar; it merely suggests someone that has had to his growing up in the public eye, often away from the influences that had served to calm him in his formative years. Lets not forget too, that these players are well aware of the fickleness of fans and media, and of the board. Should we really castigate them excessively for wanting to make the most out of their possibly-limited sporting lives? To that end, I thought Wright's analysis was sympathetic and insightful (to describe it a la Craddock as merely as noting the excesses of superstars is idiotic in the extreme). Which brings me to my next pet peeve.

Frankly, the idea that any Aussie can describe Indian players as spoiled while going on about the blue-collar ethic of their own players (I'm not sure if this exact language has ever been used but you get the picture) is a bit rich. In cricketing terms, Australian players grow up surrounded by unimaginable wealth: good grounds, ready access to good equipment, coaching etc. I used to laugh when I used to read newspapers comparing the working-class Bankstown boys, the Waugh brothers, to the Maharajah of Calcutta, Saurav Ganguly. I wonder what Dada's cricket facilities were like when growing up - what grounds did he play on, what bats did he use, what kinds of pads, did he have nets at his disposal?

Plenty more to be said on this and related topics but I'll stop for now.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sounds rough but familiar

I came across this article by Robert Craddock (who always likes to have a bit of a go at all and sundry) a bit late, and couldn't help but notice the following gems:
India is still a team of pampered stars and the most overrated side in the world. To see India's team of cruising millionaires harassed and gang-tackled to the ground by the bustling little Bangladesh side with an average age of 23 will remain one of the joys of the cup....India, by contrast, remains the great underachiever. Every time it has a major tournament it trots out its list of big names -- Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag among them -- and gets beaten. The side looks stale, emotionless and soft.
OK, so it sounds rough, but come on, Indian fans say this, and more, all the time. (I don't get what Bangladesh's average age has to do with anything though, and Craddock is a bit of a pompous twit in general, but still). Read the piece, and the bit where Craddock looks forward to Greg Chappell's memoirs on his time in India. Sure, but what is Chappell going to tell us that John Wright's excellent book already hasn't told us? Oh, sorry, I forgot, we'll get the true gen on the Dada spat. Right.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Yes, but..

Yup, a world-record vs. Bermuda, but plenty more thats still disturbing for Indian fans: Ganguly still can't take singles (Leverock runs harder than him between wickets); he still can't hustle adequately in the field (Agarkar's dagger looks after Dada failed to get after a miscued shot from Hemp was priceless); India still finds it hard to blow away sides after having them down and out; Sehwag's 'return to form' comes against a very weak bowling attack; and finally, as India look for the last two wickets against Bermuda, there must be the sinking feeling that all these runs they are giving away could come back to haunt them later.

Dada, get a move on

Ganguly's scores thus far in the World Cup have not laid this fact bare, but I think he is batting pretty poorly. Against Bermuda, he is 80 off 110 balls or so, and frankly, against a very ordinary attack, he does not look fluent at all. To make things worse, he is up to his usual bad tricks when it comes to taking singles. Sigh.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

RIP - Bob Woolmer

Terrible news from Jamaica; and a reminder, just in case anyone needed it, that cricket is just a game.

The Tamim Iqbal fan club

I'm a big fan of Tamim Iqbal. While it happened at India's expense, the sight of him going after the fast bowler that bonked him one on the head was a thrilling sight, the stuff of real drama, and showed just what attitude he has (as Homer over at Two Cents noted). And then of course, in the next over came that six (as described in slightly purplish prose by the Cricinfo commentator: 10.5 Khan to Tamim Iqbal, SIX, Murder! Simply imperious! Charges down the track like a invading marauder and pulls a short-of-length delivery over long-on. What a fiesty player!). Iqbal slashes a fair amount so he's going to give bowlers a chance but if he can tighten up that aspect of his game and retain his spirit, he is going to provide plenty of entertainment in the years to come. Heres looking at you kiddo.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Bravo Bangladesh

Joi Bangla indeed. Bangladesh were brilliant today; they bowled well, fielded well, and generally outplayed and out-thought India. India made plenty of mistakes, some of them forced, some of them unforced (like opening with Sehwag). But by and large, Bangladesh won on their own steam; they've definitely improved and could be a handful for most teams now. I like the look of Mortaza their paceman, and thought some of the strokeplay of their young bats was simply brilliant. At the end of it all, watching those fresh-faced boys run off the field, smiling ear to ear, was almost enough to make the disappointment of India's loss (which might knock them out of the World Cup) bearable.

And spare a thought for Pakistan, close to being knocked out of the World Cup as they wait for the weather to improve - or else, they're going home.

Get a grip, Cricinfo

And some other things don't change. Cricinfo, as usual, can't keep up when a game involving India is on. The mind boggles; its the worlds biggest single-sport website; it makes huge amounts of money from advertising; Wisden, one of the biggest names in cricket is a player; and yet, they can't do something as simple as keep up with the traffic. And its not like they don't know about this; it happens every single time India play in a major tournament. For crying out loud, folks, buy some new servers. Please. This should be embarrassing for you.

Pretty ordinary, I reckon

India have put on many shambolic batting performances over the years. This one, at the Queens Park Oval, wasn't the worst (theres a lot of ground to cover before it catches up to some of the classics) but it tried mighty hard. If those 32 runs hadn't been put on Zaheer and Munaf, it would have been a true contender for the title. But credit where its due: Bangladesh bowled very well, and their fielding was superb. 192 will still take some chasing, but one good partnership (and one long innings), and the game is up for India, who as usual, have started yet another World Cup in horrible fashion. Here we go again.

Oh, gee, four down?

India have gotten into a spectacular spot of bother at Port-of-Spain, and its going to need something special to bail out of this. All the obvious things are going to need to happen: Ganguly to bat right through, and Yuvraj and Dhoni to have big partnerships with him. Anything less, and Bangladesh won't have too much to chase. And, Pakistan are stumbling around against the Irish as well. The first big upset(s) of the Cup?

Off to a flyer

This is a very impressive start by the Bangladesh opening attack. I've never seen Mortaza bowl before (at least, I don't think so) and frankly, if he gets his act together with respect to wides and no-balls, I think he'll be a handful on helpful wickets. He has already taken care of both Sehwag and Uthappa - both to bad shots, with Sehwag's being particularly horrendous. I'm not sure what lies ahead for Viru but really, time is running out for him. With Ganguly and Tendulkar scratching around on a wicket with a bit of grass, bounce and carry, this could be a very interesting match. And to think India won the toss and elected to bat; still a good decision but the batting strategy is going to need to be a little different.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Not so sunny days

Sunil Gavaskar is no mellower or wiser with his mouth all these years after he wrote Sunny Days, his autobiography. For those that haven't read it, I urge you, try it. A more intemperate book it'd be harder to find. It says something about the status of the man that he managed to retain any friends in the Indian cricketing scene after penning that book. So, this latest spat over the business of player behavior is not surprising. What is surprising is Gavaskar deciding to bring up something thats been talked about before with predictable results: Australian player behavior. The Aussies are right to feel a bit aggrieved that its only their on-field behavior that is ever brought up, and Ponting's immediate jumping to his team's defense wasn't surprising. But then the incompetence continued; Ponting decided to attack India's results (what that has to do with their behavior on the ground or with the content of what Gavaskar said is beyond me), and then Gavaskar decided to get well and truly silly with his mentioning David Hookes. That was well and truly below the belt, and there was no need for it. Besides, its completely irrelevant. Hookes' death had nothing to do with cricket, sledging or Aussies. It had everything to do with alcohol-related violence, and there is plenty of that in India in well. Should someone now bring up gang violence in Mumbai? Or Sidhu's conviction for manslaughter? Or something else entirely?

This was a pretty idiotic episode from start to finish (I hope its finished) and Gavaskar hasn't made any friends, and made it harder for his friends to defend him.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The great Aussie-Scot rivalry

I suspect kenelmdigby will be praying Scotland acquit themselves well today. Steve Bucknor certainly has thus far: two confident appeals for lbw, both upheld, and both looked good afterwards. The Aussies are cruising along comfortably, and while the Scots can consider themselves lucky that the run rate isn't higher than the present five-something (155-2 in 29), who knows how the innings will end. I'm looking forward, really, to see the Aussie bowling attack, and what sort of discipline they display.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Signal to noise ratios

The Pakistani cricket team has been banned from speaking English at news conferences during the World Cup. Well, thats surprising; I didn't realize they were speaking English all this time. Less cattily, and more seriously, though the official reason given is that they are likely to be misinterpreted if they use a language they aren't comfortable with, this move appears likely to simply substitute other, more convenient messages. Or just other misleading messages if the translation isn't up to par.

Back in the 1996-97 Australian season, Pakistan won a one-day international against Australia at the Adelaide Oval; Saqlain Mushtaq was the man of the match for his five-fer. At the awards ceremony, Saqlain showed up with an translator: Wasim Akram. In response to Tony Grieg's banal question on how it felt etc, Saqlain replied "Yeh sab Allah talah ki meherbani hai ki humne match jeeta; Wasim bhai neh bahut achi captani ki". Which Wasim translated as "it was a team effort; everyone played well". Saqlain had in fact said "its all God's grace that we won; Brother Wasim captained us very well". A relatively benign mistranslation (and perhaps Akram couldn't be bothered dealing with a pious teammate) but a mistranslation nonetheless.

There is a plus-side to all of this; the potential humor that lies ahead for those that are bilingual and will fall over laughing when they hear the bizarre renderings that lie ahead.

Bide your time

As Pakistan stumble towards what looks like a defeat against the Windies, Tony Cozier ignores a cardinal rule of commentary (I just made it up): don't suggest rule changes when the action on the ground that prompts this suggestion has gone against your team. In this case, Tony suggests that the rule which forbids any contact by a fielder with the boundary rope while fielding, on pain of being awarded the boundary, be amended so that all that should matter is the ball being kept in play. Whatever the merits of that proposal (and I'm not sure there is all that much), Tony should have waited till some West Indian had benefited from that rule before making that suggestion (he did so after Gayle's fielding off a Malik hit towards long-on was negated). Though, I suppose when it comes to Tony, my suggestion is hopelessly quaint: he can be quite an ornery partisan.

A quiet start

For a kick-off game of a World Cup, this Pakistan-West Indies game is a bit sedate. The stands aren't exactly overflowing (were people scared of ticket prices; did the Pakistani expat community from the US not bother to show up?), and the batting has been kept in check by some decent bowling from Gul and Iftikhar. And, if I may humbly say so, Lara batting at #5 seems at least one or two positions too low to me. 20 overs gone, and he is still sitting back in the pavilion.

God is, indeed, willing

Well, the World Cup has started - or at least, the toss has taken place. Inzimam wins, and gets off to a flying start with five or six "Inshallah"s in his opening comments.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Today's word is "fort"

The Australian cricket team visits a fort before the World Cup begins. This visit prompted the team's captain to remark thus:
"We really used the fort, and what a fort is," Ponting said in the Herald Sun. "The fort is there to keep people in inside, but it's also to keep people outside. "We had a good discussion about that, things we want kept out and things we want kept in among the group. Every player sat down and gave a couple of examples of both."
Whats not reported is what the players offered as their examples. How singularly frustrating. But as luck would have it, a confidential source sent along the following two samples. Apparently, Haydo said he was keen to keep the team's eskie inside and the Pakistani team's pharmaceutical supply outside (seeing as Haydo doesn't need to get any more muscles and could do with some muscular degradation); the Punter himself said he was keen to keep Sunny Gavaskar outside the dressing room (seeing as he's afraid he might wrap Sunny in an embarrassingly unmanly hug).

These are tantalizing; who knows what further gems lurk in the Aussie team's meeting minutes (I hope someone took full notes; but I needn't worry, I'm sure its been recorded on video and broken down frame-by-frame for body language analysis).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Cricket and the consumption of time

A British report indicates loss of productivity during the World Cup. Never was a truer word spoken. I wonder how many Indian graduate students would have finished their degrees much sooner had they not spent endless hours logging into score updates, chatting on IRC, all infected by homesickness and the irrational desire to know what happened on each and every delivery during a big game. I'm a faculty member now, and here is a little secret: the Super Eights fall during my Spring Break. Oh, I assure you, I'll do serious research as well. But once in a while, I'll be checking scores. A little more frequently than warranted.

Incidentally, this won't have any impact on the Indian economy whatsoever, because all the additional wealth that will be generated by the employment of talking heads, advertisement revenues, increased sales of munchies, tea and cigarettes, will more than make up for any productivity losses from workers playing hooky.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Stayin' 'umble

Here is Siddhartha Vaidyanathan again, with his sort-of-endearing wide-eyed take on the countries he visits, as he pens his tour diaries. This time on the West Indies, and on the non-superstar status of West Indian cricketers. Pretty true really; cricketers are not placed on a pedestal in the West Indies, except, perhaps, to a certain extent, when being referred to in the abstract. Vaidyanathan's sharpest observation however, is the conversation between Lloyd and the airport official. That one is spot on. An Indian cricketer would just waltz through any bureaucratic wall. Aha, but wait. Their superstar status doesn't cut any ice at all with the BCCI. None at all. Not even the most powerful of Indian cricketers today could take the BCCI on and win (its another matter that they wouldn't try).

But Vaidyanathan's story reminds me of a long-gone-by incident, when I had thought West Indian cricketers were pretty down-to-earth. Some 23 years or so ago, I went to see the third day's play of the second test of the West Indies' 1983-84 tour. The game was being played at the Ferozeshah Kotla, that benighted venue with the steamrolled pitch in the nation's capital. At lunchtime I strolled out into the surrounding courtyard-like space and looked around for food possibilities. I noticed a chaatwallah sitting next to one of the entrances, and started towards him, and then ground to a halt. Two men, one with absolutely gigantic thighs, in maroon tracksuits, were talking to him, ordering up a plate of the local offering. They were Desmond Haynes and Milton Pydanna. I stood and stared; I hadn't thought it possible for international cricketers to get down with it and mingle thus. (Come to think of it, it was a bit risky, but perhaps their stomachs were pretty hardened). I don't think anyone else could have pulled that off but the West Indians of back then. I don't know if the ones in the current team would do it. I don't know if the Pakistanis would get out and do the same. It was the closest I'd been to international cricketers at that stage in my life, and so, I just gawked away. The memory is still fresh; two international cricketers (one certified superstar), acting like a pair of ordinary, curious, tourists.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Count to ten

Silly me; I shouldn't have reacted the way I did to Foriger's comment on the "Go the sledge" post below. There is something a little flamewar-like in my response when, in retrospect, a far more reasoned (and sensible, and to the point) response could have been made. So lets try again (foriger, if you're reading this, please reply!).

When the "Australian cricketing culture" is invoked, its worth noting that there is no one canonical definition of that cricketing culture. For instance while "playing hard but fair" notion is taken to be an essential part of that which say, includes not walking, it has its own exceptions as in no less a person than Adam Gilchrist, who while perceived as an exception was not ridiculed, or castigated for not understanding the very culture that had produced him. As another example, in Oz, in any cricket game that involves batting teams supplying their own umpires, it is understood that batsmen should walk. If they don't they are a bunch of wankers (they expose their buddy, who is umpiring to ridicule if he gets it wrong, because then he is accused of cheating). Thats part of the culture too. So, its not too perspicuous to invoke an entire culture when there are so many variations within it, and to speak as if there is one monolithic entity out there that is being addressed. My "Three Myths" note was meant to point out how certain myths were being propagated when clearly plenty of Australians didn't believe in those maxims themselves. Thats all. Plenty of Australians have, in the years following the ascendancy of Border's 89-ers, accused their cricketers of not having shown adequate "class or civility". Thats Australians speaking, not me. Plenty of them found the "few jibes" to be lacking in class and civility as well, and wished instead that the real banter, light-hearted, and yet not abusive, take center-stage. Setting up some ordering in which turning up late for a toss is well below calling batsmen names or asking about their personal lives when they come out to bat is simply arbitrary and simply reveals a prior bias.

As for the second point, lets leave that aside, because its irrelevant to the discussion at hand. I never said sledging improved anyone's game out on the field. India won the 2001 series because of VVS Laxman and Harbhajan Singh; Australia won the World Cup because they outplayed India on the day.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Go the sledge!

In a comment on the previous post, Homer from My Two Cents inquired about Aussie cricketing culture. I'm not such an expert; I only played two years in a C-division team in a City Suburbs competition (Northern Sydney Suburbs). But still, some conclusions can be arrived at. Part of what Homer was curious about, I think, is how sledging is perceived in that culture. Well, I wrote something on this a while ago, and just to be lazy, I'm going to post it here without further comment. It had to do with what I perceived as a certain double-standard - amongst Aussies - when it came to sledging, and indeed, that its objectionable forms were not taken too well even by Aussies (that indeed, was the reason why I wrote what I did below). Having said that, I'll still stand by what I wrote in my previous post that sledging isn't all there is to Aussie cricketing culture. Disclaimer: I wrote this post in slightly irate mood, and I think I have a more nuanced take on it now (I think).

So here goes:

Three myths about sledging

A persistent Aussie sporting myth is "what happens on the field stays on the field". Another is "sledging is just a bit of chat". Yet another is "Aussies only dish out sledging because they are fully prepared to handle it". It would help if these were acknowledged.

First things first. Players are human beings and the cricket pitch is just a piece of ground set a certain distance from fences, roads, shops i.e. the rest of the world. There is nothing holy or sacrosanct about a cricket pitch or the rest of the ground such that the emotional impact of words said out there is lessened. If you call someone a f___ing c___t, it will have the same impact as if you said it at the train station. The awareness of potential penalties prevents players from getting into a brawl but that is about it and just because one does not take place it does not mean that the people involved have not been affected. I played Northern Suburbs C-grade cricket for two years in Sydney and there was a clear demarcation in the kinds of relationships we had with opposing teams. Those that sledged a lot were a bunch of c___t's and we would not dream of having a drink after the game with them. So whatever happened to the Aussie ideal of "shake hands, go have a beer?" When you sledge, people remember, and they bear grudges. The mythical healing quality of the handshake after the game is much overrated.

Secondly, sledging is not just a bit of a chat. Very little of what gets said on cricket fields is friendly banter in the way that sledging's apologists imagine. How can it be banter, when most of it consists of snide comments made to your teammates about the opponent? Plenty of the comments are insulting, abusive and downright derogatory. And plenty are simply out of place on a cricket field.

The third is going to be the hardest one for Aussies to handle. But to echo Viv Richards and Ranatunga (whose comments have been reprinted in the Herald yesterday) it is true. The easiest way to rattle the Aussies is to turn up the sledging heat. Read the interview with India's Ramesh last year when he talks about the sledging directed at the Aussies in the epic 2001 series and how it affected them. All the Indian close-in fielders got into the act and the Aussies were visibly rattled. One of the reasons Aussies disliked Ganguly so intensely - an emotion that was dutifully
echoed by sports correspondents covering the tour - was that Ganguly's behavior during the series was simply an extended sledge. His send-off of Steve Waugh in an ODI was much photographed and discussed. If the Aussies were such a hardened bunch, they wouldn't care. But they do - and I suspect the reason they hand out the sledging in such rich measure is that they are fully aware of the effect that it would have if directed against themselves. Waugh's complaints about Ganguly not turning up on time for the toss were particularly precious, coming as they were from a man who tolerates his bowlers abusing opponents.

If Australians want to sledge, then they should do it. But please, don't go around, indulging in newspeak, and calling it "mental disintegration". Steve Waugh's worst contribution to cricket is this silly euphemism that he has invented and his defense of it over the years. One of the reasons the West Indies' reputation was tainted in their years of dominance was their overuse of the bouncer. Similarly I suspect that the Australian's legacy will be tainted by their willingness to abuse their opponents, to spin their doing so, and worse of all, to show little or no ability to be able to handle the same medicine dished out to them. When you consider that Australian cricketing ability diminishes when subjected to sledging the case is even more damning.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Theres gotta be something else

Mukul Kesavan begins his series of pre-tournament takes on the teams in the World Cup, and appropriately, starts with Australia. But this piece disappoints me. There seems to be an excessive concentration in this post on the rough aspects of Australia's cricket, on the sledging, the hard-but-fair mythology, and so on. The gangster comparisons are also slightly out-of-whack. For what its worth, I find it surprising that an Indian journalist and cricket fan finds the Australians rougher out on the field than say, the South Africans or say, the Pakistanis (you know, the ones who let loose with a volley of "bahenc***s" and "madarc***s" at Indian cricketers?). If that was the dimension Kesavan was going to concentrate on, I don't think the Australians are champs. They've got some stiff competition. Secondly, a post about the Australians that doesn't pay enough attention to their superb attacking style doesn't do them justice. The Australians are a very attractive team to watch - their batting is not just workmanlike and utilitarian in the way that Kesavan suggests. Watching Ponting in full flow is quite an experience, as is doing the same for Mark Waugh and Damien Martyn. Their slip catching, grounded in a very old tradition of great slip catchers is a treat as well. The Australians are very far from the grim, efficient outfit Kesavan makes them out to be (and yes, thats despite the loss of Warne and Lee).

Overall, I find it disappointing that Kesavan's take is so one-dimensional. Comments on the blog have already noted how the piece seems incomplete. If nothing else, he should have noted that with respect to the one-day game, the most unconventional, and yet attacking tactics in one-day outcricket were those used by the Australians in the 2001 triangular competition in England, when Steve Waugh's team used test match fields in the opening 15 overs.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A classic anti-eulogy

Shoaib Akhtar has been exposed to many critical journalistic pieces in the years since he burst onto world cricket scene in 1997. Quite often, these pieces were penned by Pakistani journalists, and I dare say, they expressed some of the ambivalence the Pakistani cricket fan felt. One reason why Laxmipathy Balaji was so popular in Pakistan during the 2004 tour was because he had smashed Shoaib for a six, and in the eyes of many, given that 'paindu', that 'akhrot', his comeuppance. I've never had a fond feeling for Shoaib, despite admiring some of his bowling exploits during the 1999 tour of India. Over the years, my thoughts about him hardened into an intense dislike. I won't bother to rattle off my catalog of complaints, becaue, quite simply, they're just repetitions of what everyone of his non-fans has expressed over the years. Now, Peter Roebuck finally decides to go medieval on Shoaib. Its not everyday that a cricketer's career ends on a note like this.