Friday, October 31, 2008

What are all those fielders for?

I missed out an opportunity to make my early call for this test, which right now looks like going the way I thought it would: toward a draw. Last night, when Australia began batting, I saw that Ishant Sharma, our premier strike bowler, was beginning his bowling spell with a score of 613-7 up on the board, but with a field of two slips and a widish gully. A big yawning gap lay where third or fourth slip might have been. Sharma would have been bowling his favored slanting line to (and across) the left-handed openers. Right there and then, I gave up. If India's captain cannot set attacking fields when he has 600 runs up on the board, then when can he? And then, this morning, when I awoke, Australia were 251-2, and the Indian team seemed to be doing something I'd seen them do many times in the past: drifting as the opposition held off their advances on a good batting pitch. The third wicket has fallen, but the captain still cannot give his spinners sufficient close-in support. Mishra is bowling without a silly-point! A leggie, with 600 runs on the board, with the opposition more than 300 behind, is bowling without a silly-point. I think I'll go back to sleep. (And this with Dhoni captaining!)

But more broadly, criticisms of the captaincy aside, this Australian batting performance is taking them closer to what could be safety. Work remains to be done, but the work required to force a win by India is steadily growing. Unless there is a cluster of wickets tonight.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Liftoff at the Kotla

I had two thoughts running through my head as I waited for the third test to begin at Delhi.

One was that whoever won the first day would not lose the test. And that the first session and the first hour would be important. I expected Australia to come out hard whether they batted or bowled. If India could resist them in that period, they’d have done a great deal of the hard work, and could look to building on from there. (Thanks for winning the toss, Krumbles!)

The second thought I had concerned an old NBA playoff series between the New York Knicks and the Orlando Magic (I think it must have been 1997). That year, the Magic jumped out to a lead in the series, leaving the Knicks to play catch-up. The game I’m thinking of required the Knicks to stay alive; the Magic needed to win in order to wrap up the series. The Knicks came out and played desperate, hard, basketball for about 15 minutes. They ran for everything, went up for all rebounds, and played their hearts out. But the Magic didn’t break; they held on, weathered the storm, and then the Knicks broke, losing the game and the series.

So, my take on this first day was going to be that if India resisted and turned back the Aussie attack, they’d go on to break them later in the game. My reasoning is imprecise, but the analogy should be clear: the Aussies are keen to make a press, and have India break. If that tactic doesn’t work, I think they will find themselves out of ideas.

And the evidence is that that is already happening. Once again, the over-rate is abysmal, a sure sign that too much tinkering is going out on the field as the captain shuffles bowlers, fields, tactics, everything possible. Cameron White has been reduced to a spectator again as Clarke and Katich, both not picked for their bowling, bowl more overs than him. Honestly, 4 overs in a day for a test bowler? That’s such a resounding vote of no-confidence that I really wonder how White is faring emotionally. And despite huffing and puffing, the quicks didn't blow the house down.

All in all, this was not a first day the Australians wanted, and they will look back fondly at that period when they had India at 27-2 and the promised land beckoned.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Big man, big talk, perfect pairing

Who was more rattled by that 29 at Mohali, Hayden or Zaheer? It ended badly for both: Hayden was out too early to help his team, and Zaheer decided to hand out an idiotic sendoff which saw him get fined (Hayden was rattled enough to actually complain to the umpires). But given the latest evidence, i.e., Hayden talking up his sub-30 innings in the press, it seems like Hayden still hasn't recovered. But all this is to the good for Zaheer surely: any bowler should fancy his chances against a batsman coming hard at him. Nothing to lose, everything to gain. So long as you keep it in the "right areas". Point of information: has any batsman ever talked so big after making 42 runs in four innings, two ducks, and being 0-1 down after a 320 run drubbing? Why not say all this after you've scored a ton and won a test? And perhaps all Matty is doing is emulating Zak's outburst after the first test (a draw, no less). Why doesn't someone buy these guys a pair of movie tickets followed by a quiet dinner somewhere? Or perhaps Matty could do a guest chef stint at Zak's restaurant. The possibilities are endless.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

This won't wash, Gilly

I'm afraid this business surrounding Adam Gilchrist's book doesn't portray him in a particularly positive light. By that, I don't mean that I'm enraged that he has dared to question any aspect whatsoever of SRT's character, or slam Harbhajan, or the BCCI and CA. Gilly is entitled to his opinions, and to write about them, and publish them in his memoirs. More power to him. What I'm finding disingenuous is his rapid, incoherent, backtracking from his statements, once it became clear that far from helping his book sales, it could cost him IPL-dollars (yes, I know I'm being harsh, but read on).

For what else are we to make of his suggestion that he never accused Sachin of lying? Well, perhaps he didn't use the word "lie" or "liar". But he certainly made a strong claim that Sachin engaged in a convenient misrepresentation. That sounds like a lie to me. And what are we to make of his claim that he wasn't accusing SRT of poor sportsmanship in not being available to shake hands after a game? Gilly suggests that it was just to point out cultural differences, but his choice of language ("different strokes for different folks") and his clubbing in of SRT with Bhajji (Public Enemy No. 1 in Australia last summer) suggests that he wants a connection to be drawn between the two. Why say that Sachin is not to be found in the dressing room after a *defeat*, as opposed to saying, "he forgets to shake hands after a game" whether winning or losing? You've lost a few tests to India, haven't you, Gilly? What happens when India wins? Is he not around to shake hands then either? Or is it only when India loses?

My personal take is that Gilchrist wrote what he wanted to write, and then climbed down when he realized the proverbial smelly stuff had hit the fan.

Let my people in

Friday, October 24, 2008

Then and now

This post on the difference between player celebrations now and then, went up on Different Strokes a couple of weeks ago. It vanished off the front page pretty quickly and I forgot to link to it here. So, like, check it out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sauve qui peut?

Greg Baum thinks this Mohali test was Australia's Waterloo. I beg to differ. That sort of judgment should be reserved for the end of the series. Perhaps you could call this Australia's Battle of Leipzig, but even that assessment would only hold valid once the series was over. Two tests remain. So, perhaps Quatre Bras and Ligny combined at Delhi, and then Waterloo at Nagpur? That is, a heavy defeat, followed by a a close win at Delhi (for India), followed by a romp (again, for India; if you want to run this comparison all the way that is). But Napoleonic wars references aside, why write off the Aussie team two tests deep into a four test series? Especially against an Indian side that faces a captaincy and final eleven selection conundrum, and that hasn't done well whenever they are favorites? Post-mortem this result you want. Don't do the series just yet. The Waterloo metaphor should be reserved for a final crushing defeat, one from which there is no coming back. There's plenty of cricket left in this series.

I'll have a go at you instead

Signs of desperation from the Australian press contingent: sledging the Indian commentators on television. Funny, I never noticed them having any problems with the Indian commentators when the Australians were winning in 2004-5. Incidentally, the crack about LS commenting on Ganguly's biceps is unbelievably idiotic - Ganguly was gesturing to Bhajji in the pavilion, and LS was having a go at Ganguly, not admiring him. But I guess things are falling apart in the press box as well. Silly season.

Leave the stiffness at home

Oh, good Lord. Can we all get a sense of humor, please? This news about Australian fans getting arrested (arrested, would you believe it?) at Mohali is ludicrous. They had T-shirts with some piss-weak quips about the Mahatma, the bookie Gupta, and Indira (and I believe them when they say they were referring to Indira Naidoo, not the erstwhile PM). And they got hauled off to the brig, and had to apologize? Please. I grew up in Delhi, cracking dirty jokes about the Mahatma, singing rude, offensive songs about the Ramayana, and participating in just about every joke you could make about the Gandhi family. Everyone seemed to have a sense of humor about it. And now this? The Punjab Police is pretty thick-headed, I agree, but still, this is a bit much. I suspect some over-zealous patriot in the stands decided to make a complaint and the police, bored by all the sitting around, decided to "act".

Cheers, one-up!

I couldn't afford to stay up too late Tuesday morning so I hoped like hell India would wrap up before lunch, preferably restricting Australia to less than 200, and win by over 300. All of that came true. Zak did a Akramesque number on the Aussies in the first two overs, and after a frustrating little 9th wicket stand, Mishra wrapped up things nicely. Well done boys. What a pleasure to see Indian quicks knocking over stumps, and a new Indian leggie, a pair of Delhi boys turning into a very good Indian opening partnership, Dhoni playing like his old self, Dada sticking it up everyone's noses again, SRT showing his mastery, and finally, the aggressiveness throughout. Remember this game lads; try and aspire to these levels again and again.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Gettin' mic'ed

Interesting developments

I have been a bit crook the last couple of days and as a result both my blogging and cricket viewing have suffered. I missed watching all of the 4th day and only caught up on highlights. To say that I'm stunned by the Aussie collapse from 49-0 to 58-5 yesterday would be an understatement. Hayden's bizarre rush to get to 516 by stumps was something to behold, as was Sharma's ball to dismiss Ponting. As an Indian fan one learns to never take anything for granted, but even then I would be amazed if India didn't win this match by a big margin. The only way I can imagine that happening is if the Haddin-Clarke pair survives till lunch and the Indians fall apart in the field as a result. Stranger things than that have happened in cricket, so I'll just be waiting to see what happens (for what its worth, being 141-5 with a partnership of 83 on the board is a better situation than being 141-5 with wickets evenly spaced out, or so I think).

In any case, plenty of things had gone right before that for India. Despite the failure to wrap up Australia for less than 225, the right thing was done in not enforcing the follow-on, in changing the batting order, and in taking the lead past 500. Enforcing the follow-on would have been extremely dangerous given that Australia had batted for 100 overs or so, not changing the batting order would have brought Dravid to the crease, who with all due respect, seems to have lost the ability to move the score along in tests, and lastly anything less than 500 would have induced nervousness in the Indians had any big partnerships taken hold. In the end, everything clicked: the openers got off to a flyer, the run-rate was maintained, Australia blew up (and Sharma was blowing up, yo).

Lastly, the news about Ponting and Lee having an on-field spat was unbelievable. That sort of visible disagreement has got to be so dispiriting for the rest of the team. I'm sure its been sorted out in the dressing-room, but its strange stuff, and ties ever more into my opinion that Ponting does not know how to handle bowlers. All too often, he overbowls and underbowls members of his bowling attack and makes his disdain for them all too apparent (his usage of White is a case in point).

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mishy, is it?

I've enjoyed watching Amit Mishra bowl thus far in this test (to be honest, I knew very little about him before his selection, and was surprised to note that he's been in contention as far back as 2002). He has a classical legspinner's action (and this was brought out most clearly when watching the side-by-side contrast with Cameron White's action). He bowls a very good stock leg-break, and his googly has already earned him some fame, thanks to his last-over dismissal of Clarke yesterday. I find it quite incredible that legspinners can maintain any control whatsoever, given the difficulty of their craft (hence my unbounded admiration for any and all legspinners that can do so, notably Warne). So far Mishra looks like someone that can, besides turning the ball, maintain reasonable control. I'm not sure whats going to happen to Mishra once Kumble makes his return (in Indian cricket, its hard to tell, as Mishra himself will tell you). But whatever the resolution of this particular tale, I'm glad to have seen a skilled practitioner of craft show that he is a potential long-term fixure in the Indian team.

Nice to see you again

There is a new Dhoni out there. One who is batting like the old Dhoni used to. Somehow, I'm not surprised. Captaincy does seem to do something to this man. I really never thought I'd see him play a hook for six in a test again. But he's done it, and actually looks to have some aggressive intent. Welcome back MSD. Why don't you stick around?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The new New South Wales

Two Victorians in two consecutive test matches. Making debuts that is. This is the true revolution taking place in Australian cricket. Not the 'new-age' cricket that the Australian captain (or is he moonlighting as an Indian selector now?) talks about. All of a sudden, the untouchables of the Australian scene, comforted for years by the presence of a fattish, blonde legspinner in the test squad, have not one, but two, brand new baggy greens to show off. One of them has already done the Monty and picked up Tendulkar as his first test wicket. Who knows what delights await Siddle in the Punjab?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tuppence really

Monday, October 13, 2008

Call 'em in!

I did not expect an Australian declaration this early. 298 in 83 overs for India. This is a very good declaration by Ponting. Plenty of time for them to put some pressure on the Indians. India will need Sehwag and Gambhir to score at a decent pace to try and put the Aussies on the backfoot. Anything else will simply keep them in the game. Lastly, can I just say what a pleasure it is to see a genuinely attacking declaration in test cricket. Congrats to the Punter. I had him setting a target of 330-340 odd in 75. But Australia attacked from the very first ball, and scored at a decent rate in their brief dig. Just to add a downer: there do seem to be some rainclouds about, and I wonder if thats played on Ponting's mind; if so, more credit to him for taking a decision quickly. Incidentally, this morning Katich said he'd be willing to take a chance on losing this test in order to win it.

What a start

Right, here we go. The fifth day starts. Most likely results: a draw or a Aussie win. And Kumble has dropped Haddin off the first ball! Things that make you go hmmm...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

You said it

From CI's commentary, or from the Department of 'Nuff Said:
Strange tactics by Kumble. He has brought spin from both ends, while Harbhajan has had a long,very long spell, and Kumble has himself looked completely ineffective. Zaheer, on the other hand, last bowled more than two hours ago. The game is slowly drifting, and this partnership has completely capitalised, scoring 50 in quick time

A little slippage

Sharp chances dropped; Kumble bowling; and a poor line from Harbhajan. India are rapidly losing ground, and setting up an awkward day for themselves tomorrow.

A rare misjudgment

Mr. Cricket is gone, as vital a wicket as one could imagine. Please, please. Don't back off. Watson and Haddin are out there. The tail is close. The noisy crowd is your friend. If a bowling change is required, I'd bring back Khan before Kumble.

Who knew

I'm amazed. Kumble has actually set a quasi-aggressive field as Harbhajan bowls to Watson. Wonders will never cease. India need more wickets and this is the only way to peg the Aussies back. The lead is very close to 200, and batting last is going to be awkward no matter what the target.

Escape acts and crabbiness

I spent most of yesterday trudging around in Wilke Barre, Pennsylvania, trying to convince the good folks there it was a good idea to vote for Obama. I did manage to find the time to check the overnight score to find out that India had made it to 313-8, a very good escape act. I didn't manage to find a way to work that fact into any conversations with undecided voters though. If someone had actually pushed me in that direction, I'd have said I was hopeful that India would further reduce the lead in the morning and then hopefully trigger an Australian collapse. Well, when I awoke this morning (after resting my sore feet), I found some part of that had come true. India had made it to 360 (and Ishant had played some 30 balls, thus further confirming that he's trying to be Gillespie in both hair and batting), and Australia had lost two crucial wickets before the score was 50. Perhaps the painful Katich performance that followed was inevitable. And perhaps just as inevitable was his dismissal after hitting a boundary. Too unsettling. Still, Australia do lead by over 170 now, and there are 23 overs left today. Some steady batting by the Aussies could see them declare tomorrow and leave India to bat some 72 overs while chasing 300+. Or India could induce a little panic. But given the two skippers at hand, I'm not inclined to think that anything overly dramatic will happen by way of aggressive captaincy. Theres a good chance of a draw, but I wouldn't write off anything as yet.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A little tougher than anticipated

Well, well. I was doing a bit of a rain dance, and the gawds have obliged. Another not so distinguished performance from the bats. Gambhir was plumb; Viru played a terrible shot; SRT was a bit flaccid; Dravid a trifle unlucky; VVS tentative; Dhoni showed why he is a crap test batsman; and Ganguly paid the price, I think, for taking too many breaks. I didn't ever think this Aussie outfit would be a pushover, and this day is a good reason why.

There she goes

The Punter's turn to hand out crap over rates and defensive field placings. But that hasn't stopped from two early wickets falling. Viru gone. And so I must say, advantage Australia, and time for India to dig in now. (Er, when I say, "..time to..", I'm being descriptive, not prescriptive).

Friday, October 10, 2008

Not again!

I'm sick and tired of a couple of things today:

  1. Watching Indian captains go on the defensive the moment a four or two is hit (and more broadly, not taking any sort of intiative). Kumble's captaincy today was lame. Deep fields, minimal slip cordon? Come on. This business of giving singles to a recognized batsman so as to get the other supposedly "weaker" one has never, ever, worked. But Indian captains keep on doing it. I've seen Azhar, SRT, Ganguly, Dravid, Kumble all do it. It doesn't work. Give it up.
  2. Watching Harbhajan and Kumble wheeling away ineffectively. The pair have done tons of damage at home. But recently it seems to me that the two can't buy a wicket. We have so many good quicks. Why not play three of them on some quicker pitches?

Hey, a nursery rhyme

Play, play, play more IPL

Loudly with a scream

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

Test cricket is but a dream.

Athers the confused

Athers, Athers, Athers. Do you really believe all this stuff you write? Do you really think it was coaching Pakistan that killed Woolmer? As opposed to say, an old, untreated health condition (like Bob's weight)? Do you really think national coaches (Kirsten) should be writing about current players (Dhoni) being ready to take over as national captains (knowing that the current captain (Kumble) hasn't said anything about quitting)? Do you really think that Chappell's method of leaking to the press constantly was a professional approach? Perhaps thats why he lost the job? (Maybe its because he signed his emails "MBE"). And player power in India? Guffaw, snort, chuckle.

Took a while

Dang it, why didn't I post this last night itself? Here is what I wrote: "When Australia resume on the second day, India must dismiss Hussey early. Otherwise, India could be in for one of those situations where the one last recognized bat shepherds the lower-order bats and makes them pay. Its happened often enough in the past". Australia have now finally been bowled out for 430, and Hussey has scored 146. Had Zak not come up with that late three-wicket burst, matters could have been considerably worse. A score less than 350 would have given India some hope of thinking about coming up with a winning strategy. Now things are a little different.

Gee, why is it always up to Viru?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The first and the last

You know, its a real drag that Wasim Akram doesn't play test cricket any more. But I'm glad that there are still some left-armers around to remind us of him. I'm thinking of Zaheer Khan and Iran Pathan here. For there is one kind of dismissal that Waz had a lock on: getting righthanders LBW to a ball, delivered over the wicket, that pitches in line with the stumps and then goes straight. Zaheer did that today to Michael Clarke, and in doing so, just pegged things back a teensy bit for India on the first day. Zak started the day well (though luckily) and ended it well. The stuff in the middle wasn't so great: Ricky Ponting has played himself into form with a captain's knock. (By the way, is a score of 250 on a full day of test cricket, the clearest indicator that this Aussie team is not Steve Waugh's team?)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

In appreciation of Dadaism

My impression of Ganguly changed the moment I heard him give his first pre-match interview. I was used to Indian captains parroting the same old lines after every toss. To my surprise, Ganguly spoke quite decisively, articulately and intelligently. He seemed to have more in his rhetorical arsenal than just the usual cliches. As time went on, I went from being irritated by him to an admirer. I disliked his running between the wickets, and his slackness on the field. But I grew to admire a spirit that he seemed to be transmitting to the rest of the side: confidence and aggression. For better or worse, he saw the team as his, and the players (especially the younger ones) as his "boys". This kind of paternalism was a much needed one in the Indian cricketing context, which all too often, features the bumbling, restrictive hand of authority, but not the nurturing, guiding, or quite simply the "I've-got-your-back" one. Ganguly provided some of this and by simply acting like he didn't care about reputation and authority, made it cool for the younger brigade to not indulge in hero worship when it came to the rest of the cricketing world. Leave the hero worship to the schoolboys, he seemed to say, we're playing international cricket here. It was completely and totally unsurprising that the man who would do the most to inspire a modern Indian cricket team (and help it overcome its diffidence abroad) would be the one that would cop the most flak from international press and players. If he didn't, he'd have been doing something wrong.

Folks will write chapter and verse about his dazzling strokeplay through the off-side, and his useful, partnership-breaking bowling. (Some will write chapter and verse on his technical deficiencies). What matters for me in the ultimate analysis is that he was able to inject, in some small measure, a particular sensibility into Indian cricket. One that says "You took your shirt off to celebrate tieing a one-day series in my house; how about I come over to yours and take mine off to celebrate a real win?" When you get what that means, you'll get Dada.

Dada's Departure

Saurav Ganguly is on his way out. A deal has been worked out, and everyone is happy. And we all know what the batting lineup for the Australian tests will be now. Final tributes later; selection conundrums first.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The "Final" 15

A squad of 15 for a home test. Why is Mishra in there? I thought Chawla was the heir apparent? Just for once, I'd like to see the Indian selectors appoint a squad of 12 (or 13 max) for a home test. Just once.

Loner or packrider?

Well, here I go again, responding to a comment on a post with a post. I won't make a habit of it. Felix responded to my post about Gideon Haigh below by suggesting that Gideon was to be praised instead for speaking truth to power. First off, Felix, welcome here. I hope you stick around, and thanks for the article link.

Secondly, I'd urge you to take a look at the paragraph that I've quoted. My problem is that in there, Gideon simply echoes what the Australian team says about sledging. This is an area which has plenty of contention associated with it. Yet, Gideon suddenly loses his critical faculties and adopts the Australian line uncritically. Ironically, one could easily make the case it is the selective redefining of what counts as "aggression" on the field that has bothered the Indian team the most when it comes to Australia. There is no mention of this controversy. Instead Gideon has decided the Indian team (not the BCCI) are to blame in this regard as well. It is this loss of his ability to weigh up both sides of the debate that bothers me. He quotes the Australian captain like he is writing a press release, and for a man who has never shown the inclination to support "mental disintegration" on the field before, has suddenly decided that its OK, and in fact, the Indians are just whining about it. That is my problem with it.

Gideon's critique of the BCCI, far from making him a maverick or a loner, simply dumps him into another pack. Which prominent non-Indian journalist writing on cricket actually supports the BCCI? Heck, which Indian journalist does? I'd be very interested to get a name or two. Bagging the BCCI is like shooting fish in a barrel. I do it all the time on this blog. You should look through my archives to see what I think of them (especially when it comes to the ICL). Same for the ICC.

Lastly, that paragraph is utterly gratuitous. It doesn't fit into the rest of the article. Its almost as if Gideon couldn't let a chance go by to have another dig at something Indian. There is a tone of spite in his recent pieces which is bothersome. As I said, he is a historian par excellence when it comes to cricket. If I go off to buy a book on cricket history, I'll still be looking out for him. But as an observer of the modern scene, his anger at the BCCI and the Indian team by extension, is causing him to acquire a jaundiced vision.