Sunday, August 31, 2008

Up for air

Apologies for the delay in posting. As the summer ended, and the university session drew near, a sense of panic about all the things left undone kicked in, and I found it too difficult to get back online. But here we are. A quick couple of thoughts on events of recent days:

1. I observed the Don Bradman centenary draw near, thought about writing something but then realized that just about everything that could be written on the Don has been been put down on paper. Perhaps the most interesting things about the Don are to speculate on what it would take for someone in the modern cricketing era to be seriously compared to him - and by that I mean someone that would seriously throw any ranking vis-a-vis his contemporaries out of whack. Its hard to imagine what someone would have to do (and how) to pull off such a feat. And of course, whether this cricketer's performances would stand out sufficiently against the backdrop of a much more hectic media scene than there was in the Don's time.

2. The Champion's Trophy cancellation was inevitable, and one can only hope that some sanity is restored to the scheduling of tournaments worldwide. One 50-over World Cup, one T20 World Cup; both held every four years but at two years separation from each other; bilateral one-day or T20 series between countries; an IPL season every year to clean up big bucks; bilateral test series. Shouldn't all this be enough international cricket? As for Pakistan's place in international cricket, this latest development is yet another blow in a catalog of disasters, many of them self-inflicted. It isn't entirely clear to me how they are going to salvage other international tours. And neither is it clear how the very clear bloc-divide in the ICC is to be bridged. We do live in interesting times.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

We don't need no coaches

Welcome the young 'un

India have batted deep in this second one-day and in so doing, have shoved a newbie, S. Badrinath, down to number seven. After watching his team lurch to 75-5, he finally got his chance. Though the required target is not that far away, the tension isn't absent. Its just the tailenders after this and Murali still has six overs to go. All in all, this is a very good chance for Badri to bat till the end (and hopefully, his captain will stay with him). It'll be a nice little baptism by fire, and will make demands of his temperament that will stand him in good stead (perhaps when he makes his test debut later this year).

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How kind of you

MS Dhoni's club has agreed to release him for test cricket. I work for an institution (a university) that specializes in making calendars that conform to tight constraints. Perhaps the ICC could consult us for tips on how to best proceed with their scheduling over the next few years. If the various forms of the game have to survive, the ICC is going to have to do a better job at getting its calendar blues sorted out. In any case, we'll still see a few more headlines like that in the near future.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Could we get this script right?

I notice that a couple of wickets have fallen at the Oval. All done to make sure that Pietersen hits the winning runs.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

All fall apart now

When things go bad for India after a hard day in the field, the following sort of emotional meltdown is depressingly inevitable:

To makes things worse the fielders weren't helped by their bowlers. With six men on the off side, Harbhajan bowled far too many deliveries on the pads. And kicking the ball, only to concede an overthrow, is unacceptable behaviour. Zaheer Khan did the same during a one-day match in England last summer after a catch had gone down off Matt Prior. At mid-off Kumble could only shake his head.
I've written this before on this blog, and I'll say it again. Kumble's constant on-field histrionics, his glaring and yelling at his fielders, sets a very bad example. I don't care how intense a cricketer you are, losing your cool every time someone misfields, or does something not up to your standards is a very bad way to lead a side. It gives the impression of disarray and disunity. And its contagious. Everybody gets it into their head that its OK to curse and glare at fielders, abuse each other on the ground and generally look like a bunch of excitable schoolchildren rather than professional sportsmen. To use a military analogy, an army that senses its general is losing his cool, tends to lose its cool as well. An Indian cricket team, when put under pressure by an opposing batsman, more than any other international side in the world, gives the impression of being psychologically frayed. Frankly speaking, if I was captain, and I saw someone doing what Bhajji and Zaheer are doing, I'd take them aside, and tell them that if they were interested in a career on the stage, that they apply to the National School of Drama for a scholarship. And realize that no one is perfect. What your teammates need is support, not undermining. Its not as if Harbhajan, Zaheer and Kumble are perfect fielders (in fact, all three make their share of gaffes). Its absolutely terrible for team morale to have the captain and senior players throwing tantrums on the ground. For all of Kumble's intensity, this is one area I wish he'd tone down. Watching him is painful; his behavior does not convey authority at all. It conveys a loss of control, a panic almost.

Get angry at yourself if you want, put on your worst scowl, seethe, curse a bit if you want. But don't take it out on your team-mates on television. And don't take it out on the cricket ball either. Mostly, get a backbone and grow up.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

I had no idea

From the Department of The Bleeding Obvious, comes this headline for Sanjay Manjrekar's take on the second day's play at Colombo. Wait for it...
India should restrict lead
This headline is a classic (the one on the article page linked to above says "India should restrict lead to 25 runs") and has prompted thoughts on the role of the coach in the modern era. A post on that is in the works, and I'll either put i up out here, or over on Different Strokes.

A bit ungainly

Ishant Sharma has gone off the ground after suffering an injury which has been long coming i.e., one caused by his distressingly frequent slipping and falling in his follow-through. He did this several times in Australia, and the trend has continued in Sri Lanka. I've always been amazed that he hadn't hurt himself but his luck finally ran out. Its unclear how bad his injury is, but what is definitely clear is that he needs to think a bit about what his body is doing as he finishes his delivery and runs on. Its all very good winding yourself up and giving it your all as you deliver and run through; its no good if that effort takes you into a position that's hard to recover from.

Friday, August 08, 2008

National character at Different Strokes

A slide to the back

I went to bed last night soon after Sehwag fell after his 7-run-an-over opening partnership. When I awoke it was 229-9 (after being 92-1 at one stage), and I was provided further proof of a few propositions that are rapidly becoming established this series: Ajantha Mendis is making a spectacular debut, and in so doing, contributing to the overthrow of the Indian middle-order; Gambhir is finding it hard to score a test ton; and Ishant Sharma is fast turning into a Jason Gillespie-style lower-order bat. 249 on the first day of a decisive test, played on a very good pitch, is a not-very-good score, and for now, India have handed over the advantage. Or, rather, Ajantha has strolled up and picked their pockets. Oh, and barring some second-innings heroics, this is also shaping up to be SRT's worst away series in a while.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The movie you've been waiting for

The top ten bylines/slogans/blurbs for Hansie, the story of Hansie Cronje's life:

10.Hansie: Never say "no" a bookie

9. Hansie: Praise the Lord, for he hath sent me a brown manila envelope

8. Hansie: The most expensive pitch reporter ever

7. Hansie: Whatever the Aussies can do, I can do better

6. Hansie: One step ahead of the Indian Police

5. Hansie: From the green veldt to the green felt, a rags-to-riches story

4. Hansie: Covenants with God are cool, deals with bookies are better

3. Hansie: The story of a man who couldn't keep his hands out of others' pockets

2. Hansie: When a match needed fixing, he was there

1. Hansie: So long, and baie dankie for the fixes

One possible situation

Monday, August 04, 2008

They started it

Well, Andrew Miller did refer to the 1998 test series' English escape as "Dunkirk defiance" (just the latest example of the questionable fondness on the part of sports writers to mix up war and sport; perhaps this habit runs deep in English writing, after all, wasn't it said that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton?) So, playing that game, shall we call this defeat in the test series, which has led to the resignation of an English captain, and his replacement by a South African, the Spion Kop of the summer? Elsewhere, Spion Kop is described as posessing "an appalling notoriety for the incompetence of British leadership". (OK, its not "English", but you catch the drift).

Sunday, August 03, 2008

I've had enough, thanks

Do England's captains do more of this falling-on-the-sword in the middle of a season, series or whatever it is, than their counterparts? I'm genuinely curious. Vaughan's decision to resign and not play in the last test speaks of a complete mental rout in addition to the cricketing one. And I suppose it was only natural that Collingwood resign as well. When the English get depressed after defeat, its contagious.

Finally for Viru

Phew. So India didn't waste Sehwag's classic 201 in the Galle Test (this is only the third time that India have won a test in which Sehwag has scored a ton; a more criminal waste of a cricketer's contributions would be hard to find). It would have been tempting to say something like "Just as one should not have mourned excessively the loss in the first, one should not celebrate excessively the win in the second for this Indian team is capable of anything". Well, I just said it, and its still true for India will have concerns. Their batting has not figured out Mendis, and riding on one man's efforts isn't a recipe for long-term success. On the bowling front, Harbhajan's 10-wicket haul has certainly taken the spotlight off his extended run of ineffectiveness in tests. While he looked better, its not clear to me yet that his mojo is back for good. I'm more heartened by the damage done at the top by Ishant Sharma in the second innings. Other worries, like Karthik's continuing lameness with both kinds of gloves, also persist. But India can take heart from the blossoming of an opening partnership (well, on subcontinental pitches anyway) and from the knowledge that, if the batting line-up is so inclined, they can always try and follow the Viru strategy: don't buy the hype, play your game.

Picture perfect

Graeme Smith’s effort to lead his side to a test and series victory at Edgbaston is a classic example of a cricketer seizing the opportunity to ensure himself a place in cricketing history. Smith is a Test captain; his side has not won a series in England for 43 years; the target is a difficult but not impossible; four wickets have gone before 100, as tempers flare and the word “choke” makes the rounds. The stage, in short, was set for the precisely the kind of English win that has haunted South African quests for victory. To make things even better, their champion all-rounder was the one doing the damage, stirring up the crowd, doing his Hercules imitations. And a South African batsman, their corresponding champion, had collapsed temperamentally, blaming something other than a cricket ball for his dismissal. It was almost as if Smith had worked with a screenwriter to work on the perfect setting for his heroics. I do not know if the myth-makers will work as hard on this innings as they have others in the past; but if they have any sense, they will sharpen their pencils and get to work. I’ve done my bit here.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Only appropriate

Delicious stuff: Kevin Pietersen bowling to Graeme Smith with two runs required for a series victory. And Captain Courageous has just smashed a four. Congratulations, South Africa. A well-deserved win. And a perfect ending.