Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How it could be done

The only worse thing than getting out to Marshall was that you didn't get out; that just meant you had to face this very dangerous man a little longer. And it wasn't a harrowing experience because he was making faces at you. So, in that spirit, here is a little quote from an interesting article about Malcolm Marshall:
Marshall did not like Chris Broad, and the sight of Rehan Alikhan, the former Sussex and Surrey opener, maddened him. It may have been something to do with the batsman's perceived arrogance at the crease. In one county match Alikhan played and missed four times in succession. The silent assassin, who thought sledging had something to do with snow, finally lost his cool. "Somebody get him a bigger bat," he shouted in exasperation.
Very interesting; no glowering; no spitting or swearing; no cursing, abusing or mother-or-sister invoking; just an exasperated outburst. My guess is Marshall went back to his mark, ran in as quickly as ever, and concentrated on getting the irritation out of his sight expeditiously. A useful lesson to be learned here for all aspiring fast bowlers, surely?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Turn it down, please

Phew. That was tiring. I tried watching IPL highlights and gave up after a while. It's like having someone yell at you, or play music really loud, or type in all-caps. There are just way too many fours and sixes too. Boundaries should be rare in order to be appreciated; they should stand out against the background, as embellishments, as sparks, not as the main course (yes, yes, I know I'm mixing metaphors here but you know what I'm getting at).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

IPL thoughts

I have no access to the IPL. My schedule does not permit me to watch any of the matches. Hence, my take on the IPL will be distinctly second-hand as the days go by. I don't have the doubts about the IPL that many of its skeptics do; I think the games will entertain millions of folks, and generate billions of dollars. I also think that problems of partisanship will disappear given a couple of seasons of aggressive marketing. Fundamentally, cheering for professional franchises is like cheering for Ford vs. Chrysler, but people are ready to be sold a package and the marketing folks oblige. In New York, a man born and bred in Washington Heights is regarded as the enemy at Yankee Stadium just because he plays for Boston. And a Japanese man picks up huge cheers, because he is identified as a New York Yankee. So, I have no doubts that soon McGrath will be regarded as a Dilliwallah, and that other cricketers of various nationalities will be adopted by their cities' youngsters. My concern has always been focused on one thing: will any of this help test cricket? I read in this piece for example, that Warne has taken a young Mumbai leggie under his wing. All I want to know is: any chance this lad will go on to become a spinner in test cricket for the Indian national team? (Sorry, I meant the BCCI India XI?) Perhaps he won't bother; perhaps he enjoys wheeling away for a few overs at a time and making big bucks instead.

I don't have an abstract interest in cricket i.e., the kind that is happy if the game flourishes in any form whatsoever. My love for the game is inseparably bound up with a version of the game that stocked childhood fantasies, and provided plenty of fuel for my imaginative tendencies. Twenty20 will not do that to me; and its too late for me to start constructing a whole new set of dreams based around this version. That said, I wouldn't begrudge the new generation of cricket fans the opportunity to develop an entirely new set of dreams, fantasies and hopes, all centered around a different version of the game. All I can do is hope that test cricket will not be completely annihlated by this form. If it makes tests rarer, and possibly only played between teams of reasonable quality (i.e., we will not be exposed to the Bang-Zim fiascoes any more) then perhaps some good will have come out of all this.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wheres the love?

The next time a nasty flame war breaks out on the Internet between Indian cricket fans and the rest of world, and someone thinks "Man, those Indian cricket fans are really crazy, effigy-burning types, have they come and trolled on your blog yet? Please God save me from them", please take a moment to read this post so you can understand why we get so pissed off. A long time ago, as part of the Indian New Wave in cinema, a movie called Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai (Why does Albert Pinto Get So Angry) made a small splash. APKGKAH was a memorable flick, angry at all the right moments. See it if you can. Here is my attempt to provide a small cricketing version.

You might remember that a test match was played in India and ended in three days. Much was made of this fact, much; mainly having to do with the nature of the surface provided for the game. Another test match had ended in three days a few days before that but that was attributed solely to one team's incompetence. Now, I like test matches that end in five days as well with a result in favor of my team. But I don't always get it that way. I'm used to that. But lets take a look at the set of reactions to this Kanpur result closely in just one regard. Note that the international press' coverage of the Indian cricket team is that they are a bunch of useless, insouciant, spoiled bunch of landed gentry masquerading as sportsmen, and they all ride around in luxury limos (when on land and not on their luxury yachts). They like everything their way, they moan and complain when things don't go their way. So, for instance, after the second test, it was pretty obvious to the world's press that the Indians were complaining like little crybabies about the pitch prepared for the game (I don't actually remember any Indian player making any such remarks, but does it matter?) The South Africans on the other hand are blue-collar, gritty, working-class, supremely fit sportsmen with a brutal work ethic and an uncomprising drive toward excellence. But something strange happened at Kanpur. Apparently, a crap cricketing surface was prepared, one which was not conducive for cricket, for batting, for anything. But the team of spoiled millionaires went out and played and won. They played on the same surface, used the same crap facilities that Mickey Arthur complained about. Unless someone magically changed the pitch everytime South Africa went out to bat, and put away the practice facilities in a secret locker when they came out to practice, its pretty clear that the South Africans were playing in the same conditions as the Indians. But one team handled the conditions better; that it was due to its greater familiarity with the conditions is neither here or there. Professionals are supposed to be able to adjust (as everyone is fond of reminding the Indian Millionaires, sorry, the Indian cricket team, when they tour).

Too much has been written about the uncritical acceptance in the world's cricketing press about the idiotic dichotomy of "fast-bouncy-green-seaming-pitch = good cricket and slow-spinning-cracking-breaking-pitch = bad cricket". Anyone who understands cricket should be able to see this. But we get the same idiotic refrain everytime India wins a match on one of these, that the pitch did not make for great cricket. I actually quite enjoyed watching batsmen having to work for runs against spinners. But thats just me. Yes, we know India has a hard time winning on fast pitches. And, you have a hard time winning on these. Even stevens; nice game, lets play again sometime.

There were many suggestions of cricketing incompetence when India lost in the first test (even I made some). But where are the suggestions of cricketing incompetence now? Why not point a finger (or two) at a team that collapsed from 152-1 to 265 all out, that let a tenth wicket partnership add almost 40 runs and push the lead to 60, or one that collapsed utterly in the second innings because their one sheet-anchor, wasn't? But that wouldn't be possible, because we know that when a professional, working-class team with a true-blue work ethic loses, it must be because they were playing on a crap surface, with bad practice facilities, eating wierd spicy food, and watching Bollywood on the hotel television. That must be it. Those millionaires in the mean time were back at home, gloating about their next big contracts.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Your website ran over my portal

The IPL continues to offend and annoy. This time, over its "discriminatory" treatment of cricket websites like Cricinfo. One shouldn't be surprised by this. A peculiar market logic drives all of the IPL's actions; in its view, the game is a commodity that has to be marketed, one which could be rendered uselessly common and must be kept scarce (but only in marketing, not in actual competition, the market for which will magically expand provided the right sort of marketing is used). CI has used grown to thinking of itself as part of the cricketing establishment because of its long presence in the cricket world, and for its pioneering role in covering the game. But once the Internet became ubiquitous, and so did the technical talent that made the first CI possible, and as the managers of cricket wanted their own site, their own advertising revenue, then CI became less of a promoter of the game than a competitor for the managers. The market logic of the "our portal vs. yours" is inescapable. (One could contest the figures being employed by the IPL but the rhetorical strategy should be familiar to anyone who is used to the way in which talk of eyeballs-unique visitors plays out in these settings). Expect more, as the brave new world-child of the marriage of new media with the new cricket is born. (Do you think the IPL will take kindly to IPL highlights being put up on YouTube?)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Up, up and out

Some thoughtful comments feature below in response to my post on Chanders hitting a six to win a one-day international (it won't ever be done to win a test match, thats for sure.) Anyway, those comments prompted a trip down memory lane for me, when I'd placed in a similar situation, and was only cheated out of a chance at glory by the stupidity of a rule in our park version of the game. The situation was as follows: many, many summers ago, my local street team had managed to position itself for a possible win in one of our evening games in the local park. We needed twelve runs off the final two deliveries. And I was on strike. And I was facing the opposition's leading quick. He was a little bugger, ran in quickly and delivered the red sphere quite quickly. No short-pitched stuff but he just came on rather briskly. We were playing in the corner park - the neighborhood park was made up of four smaller parks, each occupying a corner. The streets ran along two exterior sides of the parks so that each park featured two edges on streets and two on interior park paths. If you hit the ball into the side street (effectively the legside boundary for a righthand bastman in our park) you were out. If you hit the ball straight into the other park (whether you went over long or longoff was immaterial), it was six.

So, back to me. I hit the fifth ball of the over straight back over the bowler's head for six. Six required. I hit the last ball out of the park for a huge.......dismissal. I hadn't hit the ball straight enough; instead, the ball had sailed out of the park on the legside, out onto the street, and indeed, had fallen into the garden of one of the houses that bordered the park. It was the biggest shot I'd played in a very long time; I had connected cleanly with a ball pitched on middle and lifted it over midwicket. But in that park, it was out. I had had a chance at park cricket glory; hit two of my best shots ever, and still holed out and lost.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Up, up and away

Its finally been done. A six off the last ball of a one-day international, with six needed to win. Sorry, Pakistan fans, the Miandad six doesn't count. Four were needed then. And neither does the Mujtaba six. Seven were needed then. The Taylor effort comes the closest, as five were needed, so other than a four being hit off a no-ball, (which would have meant one more ball would have been bowled), a six was most certainly needed. Well done, Chanders. (Check out the full list here for all the references above).

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Team India?

Talk about subversion. I'm watching the ICL India XI get their caps from Kapil Dev as I write this. Very, very interesting. This moment is one of those that philosophers love; it shows that something we took to be a conceptual given, is actually more a matter of convention or arrangement. For as long as we've known cricket in India, it was assumed that there was only one 'Indian' team. And the BCCI was its lord and master. This India XI, for trademark reasons, I'm sure, is called the "ICL India XI" and not just the "India XI", but its an India XI as much as the BCCI's XI is. Team India might be the team we call the "Indian team" but really its just the "BCCI India XI", just like the English team at one time was the MCC XI (before the TCCB and then the ECB took over).

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Five not so good points

Ashok Malik, who appears to be a reasonably thoughtful blogger, feels, as does just about anyone who can see the T20 storm looming, that test cricket is on its way out in India (and in other places). That part of the analysis works; what doesn't seem plausible is his five-point solution. Perhaps the first might be implemented, that suggests no more associate members be granted test status, but why is that an issue now, and how would that help? The second, that Bangladesh and Zimbabwe be derecognised, is a non-starter; the third, that no test series feature less than four tests will be laughed at all day long by the BCCI ; the fourth also does not stand a chance in India, which will only play test matches when it feels like it; the fifth will happen, but not for the reasons that Malik imagines (you know what the real ones are). But Malik is right that this test series between India and South Africa has been sacrificed to the IPL. As will others down the line (at least those featuring India for starters).

Friday, April 04, 2008

Sue, sue, sue your board

About time. Hopefully, this will be the first of many lawsuits, directed at all and any boards that either a) behave like feudal landlords or goose-stepping storm-troopers or b) meekly obey the edicts of those who do. Enough is enough.

Desperate times

Homer, tongue-firmly-in-cheek, wonders if India can save this match. All I can say is: Where is the bloody Shiv Sena when you need them? C'mon guys, the South Africans are outsiders too (they don't speak Marathi, or even know who the great Chhatrapati was), and they aren't Hindus either! In fact, they have a Muslim playing for them. Horrors. Catch that train from Mumbai, bring along your shovels and get to work on the pitch.

Down they go

Blogspot really deserves a spanking. For some bizarre reason the site has been unresponsive, failing to come up at precisely those moments that I've had the time to blog. Its been a week since I've been able to blog. Sheesh.

Anyway, I finally managed to watch highlights of India's Twenty20 score of 76 in the first innings. What a bizarre innings. I don't think I've seen a stranger batting performance by any side in many, many years (except of course, for India's go-slow performances in test matches when they decide to hand the initiative back to the opposition: "here you take it, its too hot for us"). Now, on the second day, South Africa have put themselves into a position where they will, in all probability, hand out a severe beating by an innings to India (perhaps India's worst for a very long time). I'm not quite sure what the effect of this will be on the Indian test team. (There will be some bleating about the pitch at the press-conference perhaps). One could say things like "this will be the kick on the backside they needed" and all that, but I don't think things work like that with our boys. There will be some mumbling about how things all went wrong, and normal service will resume.

Some time ago, I had written a small piece about how I remained eternally pessimistic about India's chances of rising to the top in test cricket. Now that India is headed for a Bangladesh-style thrashing, its worth revisiting that point. India slides back too quickly after gaining some ground on this climb upwards. If Sisyphus helplessly watched the rock slide back down the hill, the Indian team takes some perverse pleasure in pushing it back down themselves, just so they can have all the fun of running back down after it and recommencing the ascent. The injuries I predicted in that post have happened (Zaheer and Ishant are sitting on the sidelines, probably playing with their Xboxes or Nintendos or whatever), the fielding remains the same, and Indian test captains are still a worried, overly-defensive bunch. It would be useful too, to think back on the first test, and to wonder about the chance that India missed to rattle the South Africans. Viru might have scored a triple ton and blasted the Proteas on the third day, but South Africa won all the other four days. They were the ones that went into this game with confidence, not the Indians. And that'll be the pattern for the third test.

I've no doubts the team will recover, and do better in the third test. Heck, they might even win it. And they might even pull off stunning wins in tests later this year. Theres plenty of talent there. But lets not expect the consistency that is needed for getting to the top and staying there. A great deal more needs to be done before that can happen.