Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Indian team's overseas duties

Darryl Harper hasn't had his carrots

Dump this man from the umpire's panel. Now, he's given Brendan Nash out after Aleem Dar rightly turned down an LBW appeal for a ball that struck him above the knee-roll, and then appeared on the replay to be going over the stumps. As Michael Holding pointed out on air, if the third umpire is in so much doubt about whats going on, why is he willing to over-turn an on-field decision? Does Harper not understand the rules?

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Darry Harper, have you had your carrots?

I'm afraid this Chanderpaul LBW decision at Bridgetown serves again to confirm that the referral system will continue to have glitches for a while yet. Even with the truncated Hawkeye, it seemed fairly obvious that the ball was going over the top.

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Iain O'Brien and English military history

Reading Iain O'Brien's blog on the T20 games against the Indians is a bit like reading English military history. For the guiding principle of the English military historian is that glorification of a vanquished opponent's abilities can only redound to the praise of your own (c.f Wellington on Napoleon, Montgomery on Rommel etc). Its an art in its own right, not mastered by all yet. Gloating is silly, and for short-sighted chumps. And in this case, premature. But the central lesson is truly worth imbibing: humility adds to glory.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Thanks Jacques

Thank you Jacques Kallis, for keeping your celebrations over reaching the 10,000 run mark so demure. I found Dravid's triumphant, hands held aloft, Olympian exultation at reaching the same mark last year at Chennai in very poor taste, especially since his innings had completely and totally bogged down India on the fourth day. Celebrations over these individual landmarks are most tasteful when done in as dignified fashion as possible. I don't mind the hoopla over centuries; they are, after all, contributing to a large team total at that point. But aggregate records, which are a recognition of your longevity and consistency need to be tackled a bit more tastefully. In Kallis' case, he also probably recognized that plenty of work needs to be done as RSA struggle at 17-2 facing an Aussie total of 466.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire and the Indian cricket fan

The reaction to my post (below; over at CI's Different Strokes) on the cricket question in Slumdog Millionaire, is informative in a couple of ways. Besides the obvious one that blog posts will always be misunderstood by a certain fraction of your readership, it also tells me my age is showing.

For I genuinely believed the cricket question in Slumdog Millionaire was an easy one, and infuriatingly so. But in doing so, I think didn't recognize that I was thinking of a kind of fan that I used to be very familiar with a long time ago: one that got a lot of his cricket information from magazines and books, that spent a fair amount of time perusing statistics columns, and read a decent amount of cricketing history. That fan didn't have that much information to cricket on television, and so to get his cricketing fix, he turned to textual sources and in so doing developed a set of interests related to cricket that almost invariably involved cricket statistics (and a lot of fantasizing about games he couldn't possibly be exposed to). Back then too, there wasn't that much cricket played, so keeping up with statistics was a little easier.

Now the modern Indian fan gets most of his cricket from the net or from television (if you live in India, you can pretty much watch cricket 24 hours a day from Neo, ESPN, Star Cricket). While interest in cricketing history hasn't gone away, its perhaps not as intense as it was, and it can't be, when there is so much cricket going on. Our cognitive apparatus simply isn't geared to let us keep glorying in the past when we have so much in the present to process. And the relationship to the game has to change when one's primary sources are not textual any more. Sure, the net is a rich source of information, but people use it to check scores, watch video clips, live streams and the like. I doubt the modern Indian fan uses the net to read about the history of the game. If the history is present, its incidental, like the little specials that show up on CI every once in a while. And if you have a interest in statistics, it tends not to be historical, but rather the kind that is interested in some sort of quantification of the qualitative i.e., can we come up with an all-rounder's coefficient that will settle the Kapil vs. Botham vs. Hadlee vs. Imran question once and for all? (Witness the debates on CI's statistics blog for instance).

And perhaps the modern Indian fan doesn' t give a rat's arse about all those Dead White Cricket Players that were such a source of fascination for me when I was a kid. They have tons of heroes now; they were born after India had become World Champions in cricket; the Indian player is ever more a hero at home; the relationship with the rest of the cricketing world has changed. More power to them.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire and Cricket

Monday, February 23, 2009

Whither the Great Cricket Documentary

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Remembering Richards and the 1979 WC final

A curious article by Mudar Patherya on Viv Richards' innings in the 1979 World Cup Final. Curious for two reasons: firstly, the headline says "Richards despatches Hendrick. 50 Magic Moments: Six over midwicket and done. The perfect ending to the second World Cup final". This makes it sound like the six ended the 1979 World Cup final. And this is not the headline writer's fault. Patherya himself writes as if Richards finished off the final with a six. He speaks of Richard's "coup de grace" and how "people enjoyed themselves in the 60th over of a World Cup final" where the mention of the "60th over" creates the impression of the end of the game. But the 1979 World Cup final did not end with that six; merely the West Indians' innings did. England still had to chase down their (for that time) imposing total of 286. The final ended when Hendrick was bowled by Croft. (The "coup de grace" if there was one, was administered to England's bowling, not the game.)

Even more curiously, Pathreya suggests it took four years before the community of Indian fans laid their eyes on this feat:
It was a good four years before we actually saw how Richards did hit Hendrick. You slimed up to someone who gloated in the possession of cricket videotapes, you bought a VCR for Rs 20,000, you pleaded for the tape for a day, you invited the select to a private showing, you basked in the reflected glory of being "close" to Richards' six, you analysed it to death thereafter, and you emerged as an authority in a community that had been condemned to only read about it.
But Doordarshan made the highlights of the World Cup final available that summer of 1979 itself. I watched them at home on our flaky black-n-white TruViz set (Doordarshan had also shown the highlights of India's opening round beating at the hand of the Windies; mercifully, they did not show anything else, though in retrospect I wish I could have seen the Sri Lankan team that beat India that year). Even more than Richards and Collis King's explosive partnership, what had stuck in my mind was Randall's fielding (the first time I saw a sliding save on the boundary) and Lloyd's seemingly deliberate drop of either Boycott or Brearley while they were crawling away during their lethargic opening stand of 129.

This memory of Patherya's is a strange aberration. Why does Patherya have such a recollection? I'm not discounting the possbility he saw the final's highlights four years later; my puzzlement is over why he thinks no one else saw it. One possibility is that when Patherya heard people talking about the Richards-King partnership (which for most people was the talking point of the final), he assumed they were, like most Indians always did, speaking vividly of cricketing events they had not actually witnessed. But even more importantly, I think the reason Patherya remembers watching the final in this fashion and context is that over the years our yearning for those times has grown and grown, and we associate even greater hardships with those times than existed.

Patherya is right that our visual associations with the cricketers of those times were skimpy, that for most of us, photographs were all we had to go by and we had to let our imaginations do a lot of work. When we did see television highlights, the experience was close to magical, especially when the coverage was the high-quality one of the BBC or the ABC (as in the case of the India-Australia 1977-78 series). So, perhaps, as we look back on the 1970s, we imagine that there was no way we could have seen Richards so quickly after the 1979 World Cup final. It must have taken longer; it must have been difficulty to lay hands on that precious footage; and it must have been rare. Biography, as Freud pointed out, is pretty damn difficult; autobiography even more so. But it can be genuinely creative, in constructing a story for ourselves that comports best with how we would like to look back on the twisted, complex, trail we leave behind us.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Test cricket, still the arse-kicking best

Starting in 2005, we have now had four (yup, four) test matches that have gone down to a 9-wickets down draw. Old Trafford 2005 (Aus-Eng), Antigua 2006 (WI-India), Lords 2007 (India-Eng) and now Antigua 2009 (WI-Eng). Has this sort of temporal clustering of the one-wicket-to-get draw ever happened before in test cricket? I doubt it. India have been denied once; England the other three times!

The Indian ODI uniform and an appeal

As Homer points over at Two Cents, quite a few Indian fans seem to despise the new Indian uniform for one-days and T20s (I don't care so much as I disliked the old one as well). However, the comments thread on the post, where folks are reminiscing over uniforms over the years, suggests that the time has come to put together a photo gallery/archive of India's ODI uniforms. So, without further ado, let me send out an appeal: can you please send me links to photos of different uniforms that you have noted over the years so the evolution of this garb can be noted (and critiqued)?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Attention all test cricket haters

So Allen Stanford has been cuffed and led off to the brig. Hooray. Next time someone talks smack about test cricket, keep this turn of events in mind. Be afraid, be very afraid. The Five-Day Gods are watching.

Silly skip

Some very interesting silliness on display from England at the ARG. Flintoff is presumably, not feeling well, or is injured. Hence his absence from his customary position in the batting line-up. But then, why send him in at all, especially when you are leading by 482? Why not let him rest a bit more?

A winner of two awards

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a twofer. A test cricketer has managed to simultaneously bag the Chewing-the-Cud and the Green-Energy-Initiative Awards. And it is none other than Owais Shah, whose rapidly moving facial muscles while chewing gum indicate extensive workouts (perhaps in the privacy of his hotel room while admiring himself in the portable full-length mirror he must carry around). If we could hook up a turbine to that jaw, we could easily power a small Caribbean island (perhaps Antigua?). Bravo Owais; your jaw muscles were evident from the time you descended on the test arena, yapping away at fielders while you batted, thus neatly rendering fielder-batsman communications full-duplex, but now the world-saving potential of that physical effort has become apparent.

Gee, I've jinxed him; he's just lost his middle-peg to Powell.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

In a hurry, clearly

And meanwhile, early signs of some confusion as India head to New Zealand. (I know, I'm late reacting to news - I was away on a little weekend trip stuffing myself silly with all sorts of great food). To express my confusion, all I need is two words and one punctuation mark: Dhawal Kulkarni?

Really, Beefy?

So, today, while watching the third day's play of the England-West Indies test at the ARG, I thought that Ian Botham's unwavering insistence that England enforce the follow-on in case the West Indies couldn't avoid it was, quite frankly, one of the silliest things I've heard a supposedly expert commentator say. For the record, it had been a hot day, Harmison was decidedly crook, Flintoff was clearly injured, England's lead was likely to be around 250 or so, the pitch was not getting easier to bat on, and an offspinner was taking wickets. Under that set of circumstances, why someone wouldn't want to bat again and rack up another 170-200 runs before creating a fourth innings pressure cooker was beyond me. Sir Beefy kept insisting that England "go for the jugular" but I'm not sure what he thought they were going to use as a weapon. And when reminded of the injuries his response was, "Well, are they going to get better in a day?". Well, perhaps not, but the two bowlers in question would have had some rest. Sometimes Botham is so caught up in his hard man act, its hard to tell whether one should take him seriously (OK, I know the answer to that one, but it was still a bit strange to watch). Talking to him was Nasser, who is a hard man in his own right, and his expression was giving the game away. He clearly wanted to be on his hands and knees, looking for that lost set of marbles.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Antigua Farce

This business at Antigua is total, utter, nonsense. Sack the match referee and the umpires. It is unbelievable and unconscionable that the problem with runups was not diagnosed before. What a farce. All it would have taken was a short trial by the bowlers with the referees and umpires watching. And cricket continues to shoot itself in the foot. Slumber on, all ye cricket administrators, make your millions, and let the game die. My deepest sympathies with all the fans cheated out of a game by this idiotic display of incompetence by everyone involved: the local ground authorities, the WICB and anyone that dipped their hands into this shit-pile.

More later, when I calm down and can stop spluttering.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why like Freddie?

Over at the Guardian, Lawrence Booth has an interesting piece on Andrew Flintoff in an attempt to establish a “The Emperor Has No Clothes” thesis (to wit, he hasn’t been in great form since 2005, and in fact, England have a better win-loss record when he doesn’t play).

Just a few days ago, I had noted that Flintoff was the first English cricketer since Botham and Gower to lay claim to my loyalty and affection. And Tifosi Guy had shown up to make claims similar to those of Lawrence.

So I think I’m compelled at this point to say something more about why I said what I did. Well, its not really that complicated. We all like cricketers whose numbers indicate they aren’t very talented or that they are not doing justice to whatever talent they do have. Carl Hooper might fall into the latter category for instance. And perhaps Kim Hughes falls into the first (for some Aussie fans who absolutely despise him, though for me he falls into the latter). Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference – is “talent” after all, part of being able to make use of your skills? And so on.

But I think it can be made even simpler. We just like watching some cricketers – and it doesn’t matter for how long they are in the middle, or how well they do out there, whether numerically or otherwise. Quite simply, by the way they play or try to play, they bring us pleasure. Sometimes it’s because they play one shot which we replay again and again in our heads. Or perhaps it’s because they, to use a cliché, try their hearts out. Or sometimes it’s because they represent something else that we’ve been hankering for; like, for instance, a fan tired of the silly sledging wars between India and Australia, might take a shine to a honest journeyman who does his bit, keeps a low profile, and doesn’t get caught up in all the nastiness.

I think this is how my “affection” for Flintoff might be best understood. I enjoy watching him bowl; he tries hard, he is hostile most of the time; he often represents a wicket-taking threat even if he doesn’t always get one; because he is a talisman for the Barmy Army, his presence fires up the crowds as well; and when he gets stuck into the opposition, he doesn’t descend into nastiness, but manages to walk a fine line between aggression and humor. What’s not to like? The fact that his numbers are mediocre is simply irrelevant for me.

I watch cricket matches for a lot of reasons. One of them is to be transported, to get the feeling that I’m watching something out of the ordinary. And if some player shows up and promises that, I’m willing to forgive his failures, or at least, make more allowances for him. It might be that Flintoff’s best days are over. It’s entirely possible. His ankle injury, the failed captaincy stint, the tensions with KP, all of these might have just added up to too much. But right now, even as he plays, he threatens, and no one takes him lightly. And sometimes the presence of the threat can be enough to make his presence on the field enjoyable for the fan like me. I used the word “affection” advisedly; it’s not an entirely rational emotion. (And as for "loyalty" I like to see him get out as soon as possible when he plays India)

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Your stage is set

Well, my campus broadband connection is a little on the, shall we say, crap side, and thus I'm unable to watch the end of the T20 game between India and Sri Lanka (I'm on a well-deserved break after my morning class). So all I can do is watch the ball-by-ball from Cricinfo scroll by, and note that the Pathan brothers have a chance for a little glory, bringing India home and all that. 28 off 18. Nice chance to make the parents beam and distribute mithai at home to the neighbors.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Bravo Windies!

Geez, what a win for the West Indies. Who'd have thought they would win by an innings on the back of a 74 run lead? Anyone that saw today's game was a lucky person (like me) to have seen one of the best exhibitions of fast bowling ever (by Jerome Taylor). Congrats to the West Indies. One can only hope this win is not a false dawn for the Windies, and that the remaining members of the fast bowler's trio, Powell and Edwards, are inspired to put in similar performances. And lets not forget Suleiman Benn, who wheeled away for 14 overs, 31 runs, and took four wickets (eight for the match). Its been a long time since a West Indian spinner has been treated well by his captain. Gayle didn't have much to do in the second innings, except making sure that the wicket-taking celebrations didn't distract his lads excessively. But he'd already done his bit in the first, with his ton, and his captaincy in the England first innings. A good team effort all around.

As for England they need to make sure they don't fall apart internally. And they need to dump Bell for Shah soon.

Damn, Jimmy Adams looks mighty fine and trim on the awards stand!

Transported back to the 80s

Can one be transported by sights seen on television, just like one can by hearing songs? Yes we can. For Jerome Taylor, by sliding his fingers across the ball, and bowling Matt Prior with a beautiful off-cutter, has just sent my mind racing back decades, back to 1984 and 1986.

And good lord, Broad has gone to Benn! I can't handle this.

The Obama effect in Kingston

OK, thats a classic right there. Sabina Park is buzzing of course, as the fifth English goes down at 23 (Collingwood plays on to Taylor). And in the stands, a lady holds up a banner that says, "Yes WI can". Obama, what hast thou done?

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"Just like the old days"

Yes, indeed, Nasser, just like the "old days". Jerome Taylor, with his first ball after lunch, sends Kevin Pietersen's off-stump flying with a beautiful delivery that seems to be drifting just a little towards leg, but is in fact, heading inexorably towards the timber. And the stump does a few neat cartwheels before finally lying supine, as if to say it had had enough. And the young quick takes off on a run of his own, the now-well-established "catch me if you can" routine. Sabina Park, of course, goes wild. What scenes. What scenes indeed, and what a reminder of what the cricketing world misses when the West Indies are not at the top of their game. Come on lads, can't you do this more often? God only knows the world of test cricket needs it.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

A good advert for test cricket

Good, tough test cricket happening over at Sabina Park. The West Indies start the day with a slight advantage; two settled batsmen get tons; but then both fall, and so do two other wickets cheaply. And now, a 50 run partnership has just started to gel, as the Windies draw closer to the English first innings total. Every run from the time the Windies draw level will be extremely useful. And because Freddie Flintoff is bowling, the atmosphere is crackling (how the hell does he do it every single time?). At some stage, I have write a piece on how Flintoff has managed to be the first English cricketer since Botham and Gower to have a claim on my loyalty and affection.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Not such a good start

My first impression of David Warner has been quite underwhelming (as I watch the second one-day international between Australia and New Zealand). He came off as a bit of a kasai(butcher), attempting a couple of big shots, getting tied down, and then holing out. Ah, well. I guess I'll have to wait a bit longer to see what the big fuss is all about. And now Brad Haddin has walked out to a big boo. At the MCG! Gee, is it mainly Kiwis at the ground?

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A question for the captain

Dear MS: If the idea behind team selection and strategy in the fourth one-day international was experimentation, then why the strange batting order, which saw you coming in at #3 and Rohit Sharma at #7? Were you short of batting time in the middle?

Sensible Gayle

Chris Gayle's captaincy yesterday at Sabina Park on the first day of the first England-West Indies test, in not changing the field after Kevin Pietersen had just launched into Suleiman Benn for a 4,4,6 on his way to 97, has been justfiably praised. I think its important to see his refusal to change the field when Pietersen was cutting loose as a very good demonstration of cricketing common sense. For note that had he pushed the field back when Pietersen back, the most likely course of action would have been a deft single or two, a safe passage to the century. Instead, by not changing the field, the temptation to finish off business with a boundary remained strong for KP. It would have been easier to discipline himself to go for a single with the field pushed back than it was to restrain himself from going a boundary with the same field and bowler that had already netted him 14. Changing the field would have slowed things down and let KP have a think. Better to keep things going as they were, to let the rush of blood stay in KP's head. And it worked.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

I know better from here

Sometimes when I am in the middle of a cricketing discussion which centers around umpiring incompetence, I think of an accusation that philosophers love to level against themselves: "only a philosopher would doubt that" where the "that" refers to some eminently sensible conclusion or belief (say, for instance, the existence of the external world). In the cricketing context, I think that accusation can safely be recast as "Only an umpire would give that (not) out".

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Some good from a dead rubber

The Duke of Wellington is said to have remarked, after the Battle of Waterloo, “The saddest thing after a battle lost is a battle gained”. Sometimes I feel that way about a series win in one-day internationals. For nothing feels quite as pointless as a couple of one-day internationals after a series has been decided. Dead tests can be harder on the players though, which perhaps explains why so many teams go down in dead rubber games. Still, these are international games, and pride, and some national honour is still at stake. For the Indian team in this set of games, there is time to carry out the inevitable rotations and experimentations. And to my mind, nothing is more interesting than the potential return of Balaji.

I have often gotten my calls on players wrong. A classic case is Ishant Sharma, who I couldn’t stop dissing before his debut in Australia. Another one was Balaji. I disliked him from the get-go. Something didn’t seem right. His action seemed all lope and no thrust. He seemed a bit too languid (thus sending the unkind thought through my mind that he was just going to be another Ranji trundler, a bloody sifarishi come to warm the benches for a few games before being sent back to the boonies). I was castigated for my lack of faith in him by friends whose judgment in cricket I trusted, but I refused to listen.

Of course, it was the tour of Pakistan in 2004 that changed my mind. The six off Shoaib in a one-day international, and his fine bowling (the most important being the 4-fer on the first day of the third test). And from being seemingly all shamble and shuffle he seemed lithe and athletic.

One wicket, more than any other, did it for me. It was the first wicket of the 4-fer in the third test at Rawalpindi. Ganguly had put Pakistan in, and I fretted. Yes, I was still fuming over the World Cup final. And on that day, I saw no reason to have put Pakistan in. I wanted India to bat again, to try and do a Multan all over again before pressing on for a series win. And we were coming off a loss in Lahore. What was Ganguly doing? When Umar and Farhat had put on some 30 odd, I was getting nervous. And then Balaji got Umar with a beautiful delivery that straightened and trapped him in front. In the next over Nehra got Farhat and the slide was on. In the second innings, as Pakistan tried to deal with India’s gigantic lead of 376, Balaji struck the first blow by getting rid of Farhat, and then the next day, took the all-important wicket of Inzi.

Even till 2005, I was writing in emails to friend, “If Balaji ever decides to build up some upper body strength, he could becomes express; with his current loping run and smooth delivery he regularly hits the mid 130s.”

Sadly, he went the other way, injuring himself and falling out of favor with the selectors on his way back. But now he’s around, and perhaps he’ll get a game in the remaining two fixtures. Dhoni has already indicated his desire to experiment. And so perhaps I’ll get a chance to relive some of the memories of 2004. Has it already been five years?

Monday, February 02, 2009

A few pickup games

Here a few more photos from my India trip (the common theme, of course, is cricket).

The first is a shot of a couple of games going on in the grounds next to Humayun's Tomb. There seems to be a concrete pitch directly in front. Must make for some interesting batting experiences.

This next one is taken from my brother's car as we drove on the Delhi-NOIDA expressway toward Delhi. Here you can see multiple games in progress. This was the first time my friend Scott Dexter was witnessing the phenomenon of the overlapping fields that is essential to maidan cricket, and he was a bit flabbergasted at how it all worked out.

The last one is of me again at Tughlaqabad fort. I managed to find one of me skying the ball as my pull shot didn't quite come off: