Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Its not there

Venkatesh Prasad tells us what we've known in some shape or form for a long time: Munaf Patel isn't quite all there. Even now. The comments by Prasad suggesting that Patel isn't bowling with the same intensity are pretty damning. Note that he gives Patel a clean chit on fitness. So, what could "intensity" mean? Its pretty indefinable, but fast bowlers are fast bowlers, and carry a certain attitude or zest about them. Patel has none. I've already described his run-up as a bit of a leisurely lope, and his first over is pretty much a warm-up. Its a terrible thing to watch: this man who could have been a match-winner with his reverse swing, reduced to bowling amiable stuff. But there is something else that is interesting, which is the openness with which Prasad has described the poor communication between the selectors and the bowling coach. I'm guessing Prasad will soon receive a phone call telling him to shut up. But the cat is out of the proverbial bag for now.

PS: Some good news: Adam Gilchrist is considering quitting one-day cricket. I'm not saying this because it means other teams will do better, but because a decision like that could probably prolong his test career. And I'd like to see him play test cricket a little longer (and couldn't really care less about his career in one-days).

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Run that by me again

The Aussies are getting serious about Twenty20 cricket, so be scared, very scared. But their captain is saying strange things (and I must confess, these rank as some of the strangest, most peculiar words I've heard come out of an Australian cricketer, right up there with Bill Woodfull asking - right before the 1934 Ashes - English folks to buy more Australian-made products). Here is what the Punter had to say about Twenty20 becoming "official":
One of the best things about the game was it was fun and you play your best cricket when you are getting out there and having fun...Now we're playing a World Cup the players will be worried about stats and that might lose a bit of the beauty about the game.
So, let me get this right: festival cricket, benefit matches and the like produce the best cricket from the Australian team? Test matches don't? One-day internationals don't? So, all this time, when we thought the Australians were taking the game to new levels during the 2006 Ashes, we were only being treated to a sub-par, less beautiful version of the game? I thought the reason Ponting didn't like Twenty20 initially was because it wasn't serious enough (which makes his talking about the "beauty of the game" a bit rich). Anyway, no point trying to make sense of this. Its not like I'm going to be paying any attention to Twenty20 anyway.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Not so easy now, eh?

Those cricketing defects which may be covered up for a while, or compensated for, in test cricket, are very quickly exposed in one-day cricket (this does not mean one-day cricket is the superior form of cricket for there are many weaknesses it too covers, and these weaknesses are more numerous and more fundamental in some ways). So, India, having come off a triumphant 1-0 test series win, are finding things a bit harder in the shortened version of the game. Things like a slightly dodgy fielding performance for instance, simply cannot be hidden in it. And India are paying - they are giving away too many runs, dropping too many catches, and then when it comes to their batting are simply not being able to put away this English attack (they never needed to in the test series; er, OK, except for the Oval). Still, I'd not put it beyond them to make a decent comeback, especially if Dravid realizes that for the time being, he might be better off simply batting first, and trying to generate as much pressure on the English batsmen (and as much wiggle-room as possible for his fielders).

There is tons more to write, especially on the ICL and the BCCI (that feudal entity which deigns to rule over cricket in India). But that demands a slightly more carefully reasoned post, which must wait.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Monopolist, don't rest easy

Some of the language in this article, detailing the legal/economic situation concerning the BCCI and the ICL is a little flowery (and does not serve as a very good advertisement for the legal profession) but it nails the central points, nowhere better demonstrated than in the following gem:
The BCCI’s retort to the ICL is typical of an insecure legacy monopolist – player and service provider bans, limiting access to stadia and revoking financial benefits that players have earned over long and, often, distinguished careers. This reaction stems from self-awareness that the BCCI could have been delivering far more value to its players (present and past) and sponsors.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A scheinprobleme

Apologies for the break in blogging; a mini-vacation intervened to make things like that impossible. Much has happened since then: India wrapped up their series win over England and began what promises to be a grindingly long set of one-day internationals (which, I'm sure you've heard dozens of times by now, should have been shortened, and a test match or two added to the summer's routine). One last note on the following-on, versus not-following on controversy. Its a fake debate; the statistics do not indicate either strategy as being more risky or more adventurous. For the life of me, I simply cannot understand why batting again "puts the game out of reach". It does not; it most emphatically does not. You expose yourself to the same risk as you do when following-on i.e., minimal. They are both safe strategies, because, hello people, you have a lead of over 200 runs. While batting last may be seen as a risk of the follow-on strategy, I suggest that any side that finds itself in trouble after it secured a lead of 200, deserves to be in that position, and probably didn't do enough to win the match in any case. There is only one question in my mind: are your bowlers ready to bowl? are they tired? do the conditions suit them? (OK, fine, thats three, but you catch my drift). Thats all. Those questions were the only ones needed to be asked by Dravid on the fourth day. Ok, I'm done. Thats the end of that. Now, lets get on to wondering about the Pakistan and Australia series. (Incidentally, for a very good example of not following-on when it made the most sense, check out the Oval in 1976 - the West Indies chose not to enforce the follow-on for obvious reasons despite securing a lead of 252: it was a hot summer; England had kept them out in the field for a while (scoring 435 off 129 overs). But when the West Indies openers went out, they went out in the same conditions that had oppressed their bowlers. They promptly put England to the sword, rattling along to 182 in 32 overs. The rest is history. )

Monday, August 13, 2007

Not ready for it

44.4 Kumble to Vaughan, no run, dropped, the legbreak pitches on middle stump and turns sharply across Vaughan who commits himself to a front foot defence, the ball hits the outside edge and flies to Dravid's right at a comfortable height, that was a regulation catch.

Given the events of the fourth day, perhaps it's only fitting that Dravid, one of the best slips in the world, be the one dropping the English skipper, thus denying himself a vital breakthrough before lunch.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

This stinks

I'll be brief: this is wretched cricket by India. Absolutely miserable stuff. At the end of the third day, England were down and out, in cricketing and psychological terms. All India have done today is make their opponents feel better, and their supporters feel worse. They're still the dominant team but they are doing their best to make it all seem a bit hollow. And yes, I know, conditions are more favorable for bowlers than they've ever been. India should have been bowling, and it should've been Khan and Singh bowling.

The snail is back

Dravid is well past his fifty - in terms of balls, that is. In a rather strange effort, the Indian captain, even after having accounted for the dreadful start in the second innings, is futzing around on 3 off 57 balls. Doesn't look like someone that has a lead of 376. Bizarre, bizarre stuff. Its like he has forgotten that there are ways to score runs that don't always involve risks. I thought this part of Dravid was gone, but this effort so far is a reminder of the kinds of innings he used to play in the past. And plenty of times all it got him was a dismissal for very little (like the turtle, as Harsha Bhogle once described it, who stays under the shell, and then sticks its head out, only to promptly lose it).

Eh? Bat again?

I must confess to being puzzled by India's decision to bat again (and not enforce the follow-on in bowler friendly conditions). Panesar had gone early enough in the day that India would not be worried about having had an excessively long bowl in the first innings; the conditions would have suited the swing of Zaheer and RP Singh; England would have been psychologically under the cosh; and so on. Instead, India have chosen to first try and place the match out of England's reach (my guess is that they must have thought of setting England 500 to win in some 120 odd overs). But now, as they stumble around at 15-3, they've handed a nice little boost to England. Advantage still India, but perhaps not in quite the relentless way they'd have preferred (to my mind, this decision speaks of a negative assessment of how the swing bowlers bowled yesterday for large parts of the day).

Saturday, August 11, 2007

You beauty

Sachin you legend, you've gone ahead and gotten Kevin Pietersen out with a huge leg-break. If I wasn't at my in-laws, I'd have yelled twice as loud as I did. Phew, finally, a wicket in a session that was starting to look decidedly slim in the wicket-taking business.

Mixed stuff

India have taken three wickets in the opening session, but frankly, the bowling has been a bit spotty. Zaheer hasn't bowled as much on the stumps as he'd have liked; Sreesanth hasn't picked a consistent line either. With Singh and Kumble the story is a little different: the former has swung the ball consistently, and the latter, wonder of wonders, is actually turning his leg-breaks. I've also been a bit bemused by the excessive use of a leg-slip (yes, I know two catches went down in that position, one by Karthik, who despite his obvious cricketing talent as a fielder, continues to drop dollys), but for bowlers like Sreesanth, whose main talent is outswingers, the use of that position is a bit weird. But all said and done, three wickets, including the vital one of the English captain, was a very good return for the morning.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Having witnessed the second day's play, Andrew Miller is moved to excessive self-pity, and bleats thus:
In truth, England's fortunes never recovered from the loss of a crucial toss on the first morning of the match. There is plenty time yet for them to be drowned under the sheer weight of runs that India have now amassed, but it still seems a shame that a series that had been so close for two matches should now be veering towards a rout on the strength of an incorrect call.
I'm confused, or perhaps I just don't have as good eyesight as Miller does. For when the toss was called yesterday, I didn't see anyone fill out a scorecard that said "India 664 all out, Kumble 110, Tendulkar 82 etc.". As far as I know, that score only went up today, after almost two days of batting (and bowling). Last time I checked, runs weren't put up on scoreboards (and neither were wickets) just because a toss was won. Last time I checked, the game had to be played in order to be won (or lost). There is a fine whine in the air. Its almost music though.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A decent day

316-4 is a very good score for the first day of a test match, especially when the test in question is the third test of a series in which the batting side has taken a 1-0 lead. I suspect India would have preferred a few other things to have gone their way: they'd have liked one of their batsmen to have scored a big ton; they'd not have wanted to have partially subsided from their position at 189-1; and they might be hoping that Ian Howell gets a clue about the rules regulating leg-before decisions. But Tendulkar (grinding, grinding, his way to 48 off 132 deliveries) is still there, and so is VVS Laxman. I am huge fan of VVS Laxman, not just because he played that innings, but because I always remember his test debut against South Africa in 1996 where he played a beautiful innings in the second innings on a very, very dodgy wicket, and helped set up a win (he played other wonderful mini-innings, fighting hard against good bowling attacks before finally coming good with his masterpiece). This is his possibly his last test in England, like Tendulkar, and the best thing they can do now is also the most obvious: score tons to put the match out of England's reach. It might also help if Ian Howell decides he needs to make a quick dash back to South Africa (for whatever reason, I'm not picky).

Silly boy

Ooooh. Dinesh Karthik is going to be very, very upset with himself when he looks at the replays of his dismissal. A lazy shot, a missed hundred, and tactically, a big blunder by letting another wicket fall so soon after the captain's wicket fell. England are back in the game now. For all their efforts of the morning, that makes it the third Indian batsman so far that has gotten off to a start and failed to really, really get on with it. Like this series, this innings refuses to be a straightforward one.

A peach and a stinker

A peach of a delivery from Anderson cleans up Dravid, who falls over as he attempts to play a fullish, late swinging delivery down leg-side. Interestingly, this kind of a dismissal is of a piece with the ways in which Dravid would sometimes fall to offspinners in the past, trying to whip deliveries to the leg, and getting bowled. But Anderson's delivery was higher quality than those offspinning deliveries. And he's gone ahead and spoiled the good impression he made on me by making one of the most ridiculous appeals I've ever seen in my life (against Tendulkar). Get a grip, lad. Batsmen aren't out if the ball hits the side of the body.


Well, according to Cricinfo, "India make hay on a featherbed" as they march on to 180 or so for 1. Really? I thought featherbeds didn't have the kind of bounce this wicket has shown. Its hard, true, and a good batting track, but its not a "featherbed". And India have batted well, and England have not bowled particularly well at times. Its not just about it being a "featherbed". Giving credit where its due and all that.

Off we go

Hmmm...I'm not sure if Wasim Jaffer will ever score 22 runs in the first 30 minutes of a test match ever again, so one might as well savour the moment while it lasts. India have won the toss; rightfully chosen to bat, and have seen off the first change in bowling and commentators. (Incidentally, the pre-match chats included Shastri blathering on about how talk in India was about "rice and beans..this is our staple diet..bring it on". Poor David Gower didn't have the heart to cut in and remind Shastri that it was jelly-beans that was the issue. Not the protein-rich, flatulence inducing (woah, wait a minute) type that Shastri was referring to).

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Not sheepish enough

Pardon me while I enjoy a little chuckle at Mukul Kesavan's brilliant nailing of, shall we say, a small inconsistency in Michael Atherton's attitude towards beamers. As always, check out the comments to see just how much Kesavan has managed to get under some folks' skins. Mos' def' Cricinfo's best blogger.

A new weapon

Besides the Indian left-arm swing bowling, there is a new secret (well, its not so-secret) weapon that England's batsmen must deal with in the third test at the Oval. This is the RPSingh-post-wicket-taking-leap-cum-punch. If you have the time, stroll on over to You Tube, where you'll be able to find approximately 234 video clips showing the wickets that fell during India's second innings. Now, carefully watch both the Pietersen and Prior dismissals. As Singh dismisses Pietersen, he runs towards the South African-in-self-imposed-exile, and leaps, while simultaneously attempting to knock off Pietersen's skull with a clenched fist. Only some dexterous head movements by Pietersen (a skill acquired, no doubt, during his stint in South Africa avoiding punches thrown by Graeme Smith, and more recently while dodging beamers from irate Mallu quicks) saved his bacon. Then later, Singh bowls Prior, and if you look at the replay carefully, you can see Prior forced to stop chattering for a second, and move his head quickly again in order to avoid, yes, you know it, the flying RPSingh-leap-cum-punch.

Despite these lucky escapes, other English batsmen might not be so lucky and thus frenzied preparations have begun in order to combat this deadly combo of Superman-and-Batman-like threats. Current English preparations have taken two forms: active and passive avoidance. In the former strategy, English batsmen anticipating being dismissed by Singh are practicing nifty foot moves and sidesteps with professional boxers (rumor has it that the Anglo-Pakistani boxer, Amir Khan, overcome by the desire to stick it to the old enemy, has offered to help the English team). In the latter strategy, English batsmen will take the longer route to the pavilion, either walking off at wierd angles and then swinging around to the pavilion, or walking in the wrong direction, and then, feigning confusion, turning to go in the right direction (by which time Singh will have descended to earth again).

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A small exchange with Cricinfo

Greetings folks:

Just wanted to point out, that as usual your coverage is embarassingly England-centric - in this case concerning the current England-India test series. Check out the Surfer Blog page - 14 stories linked from English newspapers, 2 from Indian ones. Is there a quality check in play? Doesn't seem to be as every single article from English newspapers is faithfully linked to. Some balance might be appropriate so that the entire world doesn't get the impression that the only things to be written about the current test series are being penned by English journalists.


Andrew Miller then courteously responded:

Dear Samir

There are more recognised England newspapers than Indian ones. That's the only reason for the discrepancy.

And I wrote back:


Thanks for your reply. The Times of India, the Hindustan Times, the Indian Express and the Telegraph are four very prominent, well-established newspapers in India with large distributions in all major metropolitan centers. Most of India's senior cricket journalists, as well as retired cricketers (a la Mike Selvey for the Guardian or Mike Atherton for the Telegraph) write for these. These publications are as well-recognized as the Hindu.


I was dying to ask what the criteria for being "recognized" was, but I figured I'd use the principle of charity and simply direct the CI folks to some Indian newspapers (I have no idea how such a large journalistic organization cannot figure out what the major newspapers in India are). Who knows, we might even see some pieces from the papers named above make it to the Surfer page.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The highlight effect

One quick clarification on the post below: I'm not implying that Atherton isn't entitled to an opinion on how Sreesanth should be censured. He certainly does; my objective was to point out the prominence that certain incidents are given, as a function of what cricketing stage they happen to be performing on. There is a large group of English journalists that write on this series and their writings are amplified by Cricinfo linking to every single one of their pieces. The current Surfer blog links to 14 English pieces and 2 Indian pieces - guess which side's feelings on this matter are fast becoming the accepted wisdom on this matter? My motivation for mentioning the Akhtar incidents was that they simply weren't given that much prominence and there wasn't an incessant drum-roll of articles asking for Akhtar's head. As a result, no one is even aware of this. Bu years from now, people will still be talking about the 'infamous shoulder barge' or the 'infamous beamer' at Trent Bridge in the summer of 2007.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Off with his head

Michael Atherton has examined the evidence and Sreesanth is guilty. There is an interestingly forensic feel to this article as the former England captain (now, in his new incarnation as commentatory and columnist) dismisses any claims that Sreesanth might have not been behaving with malicious intent. Whats interesting for me about this whole incident is the intense spotlight that the English media can immediately bring to bear on a particular incident (which of course is supplemented by Cricinfo's faithful echoing of their pronouncements). Incidents that occur elsewhere in the world simply don't make the cut. Take for instance the business of bowling beamers. During India's tour of Pakistan in the 2005-2006 season, Shoaib Akthar bowled a beamer at MS Dhoni. No apology was offered. Nothing happened. I doubt Atherton or anyone else in the cricketing world (except for a couple of Australian journalists) knows this even happened. On the tour before that Akthar shoved Parthiv Patel out of his way, an incident captured clearly on television. Nothing happened. No fuss again. They've vanished into the mists of time. But this incident will never go away. You can be sure of that.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A hint?

I hate to say this, but I think Sreesanth might be dropped for the Oval as part disciplinary measure, and part cricketing judgment on his bowling. Why do I think this? Well, first, Sreesanth was not picked for the tour game against Sri Lanka A team. If the team management did have confidence in him, they would have given him the match practice of a tour game to enable him to bowl himself back into form. Instead, both Bose and Sharma get a full-blooded chance to impress the selectors. But the clincher for me, is the timing of the declaration by India in the first innings. 238/5 in 68 overs in response to a total of 266 by the Lankans is neither here nor there. Dravid was not out on 67 and Yuvraj on 15. Both those bats could have done with a little more batting out there. Instead, India has declared and its the bowlers who get a chance to do another extended stint out in the middle. For what its worth, I don't think Bose or Sharma are on the same planet as Sreesanth; but I've seen too many instances of bizarre selection by India in the past to have any faith that commonsense will prevail.

Friday, August 03, 2007

An open letter to Sreesanth

Dear Sree,

I live in a part of New York City that is famous for its street-toughness, so I think you'll fit right in, and as such, hope you will consider stopping by sometime to hang with some of the locals sometime. But you might have to tone down some of your act, which brings me to the real subject of this letter. You see, Sree, I'm a big fan of the Indian cricket team, and one thing we've lacked over the years has been an aggressive fast bowler that could stay fit, be menacing and cunning in equal measure, and most importantly help us win matches overseas. Now, when you burst upon the scene, I was inclined to think that you were the package. And you haven't disappointed me. You did help us win a test in South Africa, and you have certainly impressed folks like Alan Donald and Michael Holding, two men who I'd have loved to have had in the Indian side. But you are in danger of falling prey to the same emotions that make you a fast bowler, and that make you such an interesting person. This recent business at Trent Bridge was over the top, as you well know, and I think for the sake of two entities - the Indian team and yourself - that you turn down the volume dial of those voices in your head and concentrate upon the one thing that got you to where you are today, living a life that millions and millions of Indian kids can only dream about: fast bowling in test matches over the world. I'd give my right arm, leg and various other body organs to be able to do that, to have your talent, so it pains me to see you pissing it away. I love the Mallus for their aggressive streak; and I'm a Punjabi, so you know how much it means for me to have to acknowledge anyone other kind of Indian as being remotely as tough as I think Punjabis are (to be honest, this is all Punjabi bluster, I think Marathas can be just as tough). But, but, all aggression needs to be calibrated. And beamers, extravagant no-balls, shoulder-barges don't speak of calibrated aggression, they speak of unhinged immaturity. So tamp it down just a bit, but don't lose the feral streak. Stare if you want. Slip in a little catty comment once in a while. But concentrate on the bowling.

If only you knew a little about the psychology of the batsman. They don't mind being hurt; they don't mind being abused. What they do hate is getting out. That drives them absolutely, totally, bonkers. So try and do that. The satisfaction you will feel will exceed anything you might experience when you snarl at someone that has smacked you for four, or fended off a bouncer. The batsman is still there, and you're still trudging back to the end of your run-up. Why not get him out, send him on his way, and get to high-fiving and hugging your buddies? And making it to highlight films for the right reasons? Right now, people are talking about Trent Bridge, but they are talking smack about you, and not talking about the performance of your team. Is that what you want? That your teammates accomplishments should become obscured by your behavior? I don't think so. So get back to the nets, work on the outswinger, the seam position, and all of the rest. Work on your batting too; you can really tick off the guys in the other team if you hang in there as a Number 11. In fact, that might not be a bad time to mouth off all you want.

Fast bowlers are guaranteed glory if they take wickets and bowl their sides to wins. You're a fast bowler. Its gotten you to where you are. Its the only reason you aren't another face in the crowd. So be one.

And do come to Brooklyn sometime. I heard the old-fashioned street rumble is back in fashion. I'd want you on my side if I got into one.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Turn off the darn mikes

So, its official: Peter Moores, the English coach, would like the stump microphones turned down. Now, I'll be honest, I didn't hear a single word of all the so-called sledging during the first test. Whatever I know, whether its about Matt Prior's Tourette-Syndrome-like behind-the-stump blatherings or about what was said between dispensers of confectioneries and fast bowlers, is all because of it being reported by either television commentators (who insist on talking over all the occasions when you might actually hear something from the players) or print journalists. The rest, which mainly consists of fast bowlers staring, cursing, handing out verbals, shoulder-barging, bowling beamers and all of the rest, comes from having seen, not hearing it all on the television. Perhaps Mr. Moores would like Sky to turn off its television cameras, send Beefy, Nass, Shaz et al. home, and hand over the day's proceedings to the Beeb? Back to radio commentary!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Trent Bridge mash-up

Apologies for not having blogged quickly in response to India's win at Trent Bridge, but events conspired against me able to respond to that speedily enough. And theres so much to think about now that the win has actually been registered. I must admit, that at 287-3, all the unkind thoughts I'd ever thought of Indian teams being unable to close out wins out in the past returned, only to be dispelled when Zaheer trapped Bell in front (the earlier dismissal of Vaughan hadn't quite made me as optimistic). From there on, the killer punches fell in rapid succession, and had it not been for Sidebottom's mini-blast, India could have wrapped up the game on the fourth day itself. The three wickets that India lost on the morning of the fifth day could have still some significance (the ease with which Tendulkar fell to the leg-slip trap was alarming) but overall, India will go into the third test the much-more confident side, knowing that England haven't figured out a way to combat the Khan-Singh pair (now, theres a Indian bowling combination name worth killing for!). If only Sreesanth could get a few therapy sessions under his belt and concentrate on the outswingers that made him a matchwinner in South Africa. (Indeed, if that could be counted on, Indian confidence about a series win could be even greater).

When all is said and done, the Indian bowling has been the revelation for me. English scores of 298, 282, 198 and 355 are ample testimony to their contribution. And to think its Zaheer, an old favorite, doing the damage. Way to go, Zak. Happy to see you back in the game. Next on the list are the openers, whose century opening stand was worth its gold. And then finally, the middle-order, whose partial firing was good enough to ensure a 250-plus lead. (I should be honest and say that the Tendulkar LBW decision didn't upset me so much; I find it hard to get outraged about LBWs where the batsman wasn't playing a shot; and I've had this tendency for close on 25 years now, even when my countrymen were going nuts about Pakistani umpires giving out Indian batsmen who were padding up to Imran Khan).

I suppose I should say something about jelly beans. Always hated them. I can see why someone would lose his cool if confronted with them. And want to take lots of wickets as a result. Other than that, whats there to say? Boys will be boys, I suppose, but what are they doing playing for the men's cricket team then?