Saturday, May 31, 2008

Get back and bowl us out

Reading Paul Reiffel's little piece on Steve Waugh's epic 200 at Kingston during the 1995 Australia-Windies series reminded me that the Waugh-Ambrose confrontation is one of the classic misremembered events. Ask someone when that took place; the odds are that the person will reply that it took place during the 200 itself, at Kingston. But of course, it didn't. The confrontation took place at Trinidad, in the first innings, as Waugh made 63 not out, and the rest of the team collapsed. But most people run the 200 and the starefest together into the same innings because that confirms a more colorful myth: one in which Waugh stared down Ambrose on his way to beating the Windies and winning back the Frank Worrell Trophy. That the confrontation was separated from the 200 by days doesn't seem to quite fill this picture out right.

Monday, May 26, 2008

One upset, one not-so-much

As just about everyone has noted by now, the Manchester and Kingston test matches have been great advertisement for test cricket. But of the two underdogs going for unlikely wins today, New Zealand will have greater cause to rue their failure to seize missed opportunities. The Kiwis had a lead of 179, and at one point, were 264 runs ahead with eight wickets in hand. The collapse that followed effectively handed the match back to England. And given England's efficient start yesterday, and resumption today, the odds are that England will squeak through. Anything is possible of course, but the crucial passage of play was that 7-29 disintegration yesterday. Before that, a gigantic upset was brewing; now it looks distinctly less likely. (England 129-1 as I write).

Meanwhile, the Windies did the opposite: they bowled themselves back into a game in which they had surrendered a first innings lead of 119. Though they let Australia get to 167 after having had them down and out at 5-18, and 6-70, the chances of someone playing a rescue innings were always high (cue Symonds). But Symonds did not make a big ton, he made 79, and there were no huge partnerships. In the end, the Australians have set the Windies a target that is within reach given all the usual caveats about partnerships and playing normal cricket. Needless to say, Chanderpaul will be as important as he was in the first innings.

Final call: England by five, Windies by three.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Into the cauldron

I'd give a great deal to be at Kingston right now, soaking in the atmosphere as the Windies rattle the Aussie top-order. I've witnessed a small collapse at Kingston before, and the atmosphere when the Windies' quicks get on top is incredible, truly one of test match cricket's most intense sensations. The value of a wicket in test cricket is quite unlike that in any other form of the game; when quicks get on top, and the crowd can sense a vital transition of power in the making, tests can provide the most intense drama possible in cricket.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Review of Men in White

My review of Mukul Kesavan's Men in White is up at Comments here or there are welcome. You'll understand Mukul's "776" comment (made below in response to the previous post) when you read it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A classic hopefully revived

In my minds eye, in the old days, there was nothing quite like a West Indies-Australia test series (not even the Ashes came close). The West Indies were, well, the West Indies with all their power, athleticism and cricketing bravado, and the Australians, in their style, came the closest to matching them in all of those departments. Both teams had fast bowlers, aggressive batsmen that loved to hook, great catchers in the slip and gully, and most importantly an attitude to cricket that breathed aggression and style in equal measure. Watching an Australia-West Indies test was to be exposed to a different world of cricket than the one I was used to in India. Those days have long gone of course. The last West Indies-Australia test series that carried some of the flavor of the old-days was the 1999 epic. Since then, Australia have beaten up the West Indies, reveling in handing out the beatings that the West Indies handed out to them in a couple of lop-sided series in the 1980s. (Of course, the real history of West Indies-Australia test cricket has seen quite a few lopsided series and terribly uncompetitive cricket; but no matter, for we are speaking of legends and mythology here, underwritten by some factual content). So, this test series that is fast approaching doesn't quite have the buzz that series of years gone by might have had. But there is hope. The West Indies could perhaps, put together a fast bowling attack in Taylor, Powell and Edwards that has speed, aggression and attitude. And perhaps the tiny chinks that were noticed in the Aussie armour over the last summer by the Indians might be exposed again. If that happens, the series could be competitive, and we might have a great advertisement for test cricket on our hands. One can only hope.

Incidentally, somewhere out there is a great DVD of the 1995 tests between these two, when Australia finally wrested the world's test crown from the Windies. A better display of test cricket would be hard to find; check it out, some of the cricket in there will leave you breathless.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Cricket and the love of wisdom

At various points in the past, I've attempted to link up philosophy and cricket on this blog. Sometimes by shamelessly plugging a paper on the morality of cricketing practices that I co-authored, and on another occasion, by announcing a grand project to collect references to cricket in the philosophical literature. On the latter front, I collected three examples. One was Austin on cricket balls. Another was Austin (again!) on the word 'real'. And then one, which wasn't so much philosophy but a poem by John Forbes which was about cricket and Richard Rorty. I know there at least three philosophers out there that read this blog (Yes, this means you: Atheist, DS Henry and Johnno!). I could use some more help collecting references to cricket in the philosophical literature. So, like, if you have any, please send them in. (If I was looking for references to Aussie Rules, I'd just consult David Lewis).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Quit sitting on your hands

So I went and checked out the highlights for the Akhtar-return game in the IPL. And I was reminded of why I find the Calcutta crowd problematic. Leave aside the silly, asinine, deeply embarrassing riots that terminated the 1996 World Cup semi-final and held up the 1999 Asia Cup test. What I find truly bothersome is the utter failure of the Calcutta crowd to generate even token appreciation for the visiting team. I've always found the deafening silence when an opposition batsman hits a boundary weird. One of the worst things about Aravinda De Silva's masterpiece in the 1996 WC semi-final was the funereal silence that greeted every one of his brilliant shots. This is a general trend all over India (and one I dislike), but in Calcutta its taken to ridiculous extremes. I've heard lots of hype about how great the Calcutta crowd is, how knowledgeable, how sports-loving and on and on. This hype would have a great deal more impact on me if they could show that they do more than just barrack for the home-team. And before I'm accused of anti-Bengali chauvinism, I should say that I'd like this appreciation to be manifest at other Indian grounds as well. It sounds silly to say that the home, the heart, or the temple or mosque, or whatever the heck it is, of cricket is in India if our fans can't show some appreciation for international visitors. And once again, before I get lectures about the IPL, and all the great inter-city rivalry its supposed to generate, let me just say that I'm speaking about international cricket; watching this game just reminded me of an old grouse of mine. The canvas of cricket is marred if one of the participants in its painting, the spectator, simply refuses to participate. Would SRT's or Laxman's tons this past summer have had quite the dramatic impact - on television for instance - if the only applause that had greeted their brilliant shots had been that generated by the Indian contingents on the ground?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The eves in good light

I'm not a huge fan of women's cricket, and honestly, have never paid any attention to it. It has nothing to do with any chauvinism, its just that the kind of physicality that I associate with the game, a kind of fluid body motion that leads to the kind of moment captured in the great cricket photographs, never seems to manifest itself in the women's version. I don't think this has anything do with strength, just a lack of a particular kind of coming together of physical cricket actions with the right blend of cricketing skill and timing. And thus I've never seen photos (and for me, it would stand to reason) of female cricketers in action that stand out in any fashion. Till today. Here are a couple of photographs of Bangladeshi women cricketers that are interestingly dynamic: the women in them are playing powerful cricket shots, and the photos capture an interesting blend of kineticism and cricketing skill. The first one shows Shathira Jakir driving smoothly through the off-side (I imagine the ball has been just played wide of point), and the second one shows Chamely Khatun smashing one through the leg-side (in front of midwicket, I guess). Note too, that the wicketkeeper in both photos is showing precisely the kind of ungainly body behavior that is usually a turn-off for me when it comes to women's cricket. Here is another example of that kind of less-that-pleasing-to-the-eye action.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

He's back

Like a bad penny. Yup, Shoaib Akhtar is back in cricket. I've not quite understood how, but apparently there was some ban on him, and then it was upheld, and then there was some other problem with him playing in the IPL, and that got taken care of, and so on and on and on. And on. And I'm making it worse by blogging about it. So I'll stop. But still, this article reporting on his return, is unintentionally hilarious for no matter who is quoted in it, they all can't help but be infected by the comedy that accompanies Akhtar. Read about Ganguly's delight at this new presence in his team (can the team really accommodate both of them?); read about Akhtar's joy at returning to Eden Gardens (dude, the crowd doesn't like you; they dislike you intensely for 'running out' Tendulkar in that test you mention); and then lastly, theres Buchanan, with the right touch of pompousness to round it off. All three of them, inhabiting different floors of the Cuckoo Tower.