Saturday, March 28, 2009

A revised take on Napier

This was the post I was working on yesterday when I was called away for dinner, and then subsequently forgot to post:
Common sense would suggest that India will lose this second test at Napier by seven or eight wickets sometime on the fifth day. I don't think India will get bowled out for 300 odd again, but the problem is that India played only 93 overs in the first innings. Thus they've left themselves way too much time to play out in this test. To ensure themselves real safety, they'll need to bat till about tea on the fifth day. Perhaps an hour before tea will do as well. But if India get bowled out for 450 an hour before tea on the fifth day, they'll probably lose as well, for one would back New Zealand to chase down those runs. What India needed yesterday was a big 200 run partnership that sapped the Kiwis' spirits. Instead, no partnership exceeded 87, and Indian subsided from 252-5 to 305 all out (that slide is another reason I'm pessimistic about India's chances of survival). The amount of time left and New Zealand's lead also means that New Zealand should be able to sustain a reasonable amount of optimism even through any partnerships that might flower. All in all its a pretty sticky situation to be in.

Well, so some of my pessimism was unfounded. India did the right thing by only losing one wicket all day; one batsman scored a ton, and two others got 50s. About the only thing wrong they did all day was not score 63 more runs i.e., they haven't erased the deficit yet. That little fact means New Zealand will come out on the fifth day still feeling like they have a chance. Yuvraj and Karthik will have a second chance to show their steely natures (as opposed to the marshmallow impression they did in the first innings). The pre-lunch session will be quite tense today. Once India erase the deficit, every run from there on will deflate the Kiwis and knock the spring out of their step.

The most significant gain from yesterday's play was clearly Gambhir's batting. He's developing steadily, and some of the questions surrounding him (in my mind at least) are being answered on this tour. This Napier pitch is not the world's most hostile, but it still takes character to bat for a whole day in a situation like the one he found himself in. Kudos.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I could quit you, John

John Buchanan uvach:
Not just Sourav. Ponting, Gilchrist, Sachin, Laxman, Dravid - for them the onset of Twenty20 has perhaps come at the wrong time. They still can manage because of their sheer talent. But I'm quite clear in my thinking. Like Sourav, they are also nearing the end of their playing careers. The game needs a 'new dawn'. And the light will be provided by the numerous unnamed, uncapped players waiting for their chances.
You done, John? Good. Twenty20 has indeed come at the wrong time. Mainly, its come at the wrong time because just when I thought I was done with your pompous pontification, its thrown you a new lifeline. Now we have to listen to you droning on with your cockamie, half-assed, witless bullshit. Confucius say he who does not know that he does not know is a fool; avoid him. If only we could avoid you and the new dawn you are promising us. And if only you were clear in your thinking. Still, I'm clear in my mine. You're a bore.

Nightwatchmen Not Wanted

From CI:
For some reason India continue with their practice of using a nightwatchman, in perfect light, and perfect batting conditions. And that too a fast bowler who has just finished bowling 27 overs. Ishant Sharma couldn't survive the last six overs. At least India are consistent there: they sent in Ishant against Australia too, in Delhi last year, with the same consequence. Gary Kirsten said then: "Certainly, in all the cricket I have played in my time, and it's no different here, we always ask the No. 3 or 4 batsman if they want a nightwatchman. And it was requested that a nightwatchman be used. This is what happens every single time, in every situation, and there are very few batsmen who don't want a nightwatchman."
Er, why ask the batsmen? Why not, as captain, just tell them to go in according to the batting order? Why not, that is, ask them to do their jobs? Batsmen are, to use an old, but still delightful phrase, a bunch of laadsaabs, (derived from Lord-Saheb, I'm sure), used to sitting around in the pavilion, drinking chai, dipping in the odd biskoot, and occasionally ordering pakoras. Tell them to get off their round backsides, and go in and bat. That's what they're getting paid for. It wouldn't hurt to remind them of the silliness of it all when a nightwatchman's wicket falls. One more wicket down, and nothing to show for it.

The Indian team and moi

The Indian team reminds me of myself. That's one of the reasons they stay real, and don't get away into fantasy land. Like the Indian team, I do some things right, and mess up quite a lot as well. Sometimes I think I have my problems licked but then, viola, I'm reminded I've got a long way to go. Like the Indian team, I struggle to be consistent: one day I work long hours, do a lot of writing and research, and then I struggle for a while to get my concentration back so I can produce quality work. Sometimes I get off to a good start, and think I'm on a roll, and then bang, something brings me down to earth. I criticize them a fair amount but really, you should see the dressing-downs I hand out to myself when I'm in a bad mood. I'm know I'm inconsistent, and lacking in many of the qualities that the leaders in my game possess; just like the Indian team. We're good friends, the Indian team and I. Like peas in a pod.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Napier thoughts

Yesterday's play at Napier was a ghastly reminder to the Indian team of how badly things can go when a catch gets dropped. 351/4 is a long way from 23/3. The runs came at a healthy clip, edges flew, and everything that could go wrong, did. (As it usually does on a day when the score advances like that). Honestly, I'm glad Kumble wasn't playing; watching him combust in rage and frustration would not have been a pretty sight. There used to be a time when India's slip cordon was a real shambles; good Lord, I remember Srinath fielding in the slips when India toured New Zealand in 1999! Then Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar turned it into a very competent one (indeed, I consider Laxman and Dravid to be outstanding slippers though Dravid has slipped (er, no pun intended) recently). And now, we've lost Sachin in there and had it cost us dearly. Everyone talks about replacing the Fab Four in the batting order; what about replacing the Tremendous Three in the slips? Especially as India cultivates a pace bowling attack thats going to send lots of edges that way?

Speaking of edges, Karthik, who I'm a big fan of, looked distinctly uncomfortable. I wonder what has happened to the young man, who in my opinion, is a better batsman, and was a better keeper than MSD? Indeed, I'd have put him down as a future India captain. But now he looks to have the jitters, and seems to not act as if he is a part of things. Its a real pity; I consider his batting during the 2007 series in England a real contribution to the win that year. Hopefully, he'll get his head and his skills together, and make the contributions he's capable of making.

Full credit to Ryder and Taylor. Jessie looks increasingly solid, and this could be the test series transforms him into a serious test batsman (the Indian team has done that for many batsmen over the years). Taylor lived dangerously initially (and perhaps even later into his innings) but he rode his luck and hit enough shots to knock the bowlers off their mental planes.

While there might some inclination to treat this score as an indication of the track being a batting beauty, thats not entirely accurate. It is a batting beauty only insofar as it is true with consistent bounce. There is plenty of bounce and carry, and plenty there for quicks to not get discouraged. So I'm not inclined to think this test is done and dusted as a draw. It might still end up that way, but I don't think it will be because the pitch is unresponsive. Careless batting will result in edges flying (and carrying); they still need to be caught though. And bowlers who are good at swinging the ball (like Khan and Ishant are supposed to be), could still do well. Collapses aren't out of the question on this pitch. Indeed, Harbhajan should be happy that there is as much bounce as there is. India should come back tomorrow morning hoping to get an early wicket and trigger another slide.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A slip by a not-slip

During the last test, I'd complained about Dhoni's failure to adequately man the slip cordon, and suggested at one point, that he put Yuvraj in there. Watching Yuvraj drop Ross Taylor has given me some indication of why Dhoni might have been reluctant to do so. For that drop showed remarkably poor technique for a "slipper": Yuvraj merely bent down to his left, and casually reached for the ball with one hand. For those kind of low chances, you've got to try and get both hands to, and under the ball. I'm not sure I've seen Yuvraj in the slips before; and I've just been reminded that just because you're a good catcher in other positions, doesn't mean you'll do well in the slips as well.

And, Simon Doull, I agree, having a sweeper at point when you have taken three wickets in the first hour of a test is lame.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cricket and the American dream

Could there be hope for cricket in the US? I'm not sure. The NYT tries to be optimistic, sort of.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A quick apology

Folks, recently, I've been pretty slack about responding to reader's comments (especially in the past few days). Mea culpa. I will endeavor to be more diligent in the future.

Detention time

I'm sitting here, watching Stuart Broad argue with Aleem Dar about the calling of wides (during the second England-West Indies one-day international), wondering if he'll ever get hauled up for dissent, or whether he'll just go on getting a free pass because of his boyish, cherubic, good looks. Because the more I see of this young lad's pouting, complaints, and schoolboyish whining (like about how he wanted to go home after the tests because he didn't like the pitches in the West Indies), the more the schoolteacher in me wants to make him go stand in a corner, and to only turn around when he's told to. Perhaps he can wear a dunce cap while he's at it.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A little quiz

Quick trivia question (checking cricket record books or online archives not allowed): Who was India's captain the last time India won a test in New Zealand? And what was interesting about his being captain?

Strange to think its taken 33 years to win another test in New Zealand. A good start, now to be kept up.

RJ, that's nonsense

Well, blow me down. I do think I've just heard quite possibly the two stupidest excuses/explanations/reasons ever offered for a unexpected change in the batting order. Rahul Dravid has just come out to open India's second innings with Gambhir as India chase 39 to win. And as the commentators wonder what is going on and why Sehwag isn't out there, Ravi Shastri offers us these two gems:
  1. The team management wants to give Rahul Dravid some batting practice
  2. Sehwag might want to come out blazing and get out, and so it would be better if he didn't take two failures into the next test
I just said above that these were the two stupidest excuses I've ever heard for a change in batting order. I'm wondering if it might not be the case that these are the stupidest things I've ever heard a commentator say, period. Serious contenders. Ravi, if you have no idea, just say so. Don't wing it; you sound daft.

Well, at least Gambhir has restored my mood somewhat with a superb hook for four.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Its a strange thing, watching India trying to deliver the coup de grace in this Hamilton test. There is a curious air of lassitude about it all. Fielders goof off on the field; captains give the new ball to spinners; umpires don't co-operate (McCullum and O'Brien both have lives); the field settings are still not sure whether they are attacking or defending; its bright and sunny; the 9th wicket has added 50 runs; and the test match just moves along.

Can we just dump coaches now?

27 to win off 22 balls for the West Indies at Guyana in the first one-day international against England. You'd think we had a game on our hands. No. What we had was a farce. The West Indies take the light thanks to the coach, the bloody coach, telling them to come off.

Nothing sums up the lunacy, the insanity, the sheer idiocy of modern cricket than the sight of the team's captain, Chris Gayle, sitting speechless and motionless, like an emasculated puppet behind the coach, as that worthy, thanks to his calculations, waved his wards toward defeat.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A question for MSD

What precisely, in the name of all Jharkhand, is Dhoni's problem with the idea of manning his slip's cordon adequately, especially when he has the opposing team down, and just waiting for the knockout punch? With six wickets down in the first innings, he couldn't do it. Now, in the second innings, after a wicket fell in the first over and with NZ some 230 runs behind, he still doesn't like the idea. I don't think its because he has no attacking instincts; I think its because he's gotten stuck in a groove with certain kinds of field placings and isn't thinking about changing them. Even when the evidence says he should.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why the rush for the sixth wicket?



I hope 60-6 doesn't get added to this list. Because if there is one thing an Indian fan should dread, it's Indian fast bowlers destroying the opposition batting on the first day of a test and taking six wickets before lunch. For in the strange parallel universe that the Indian team lives in that tends to mean a devastating loss a few days later.

From 60-6 to 279 all out is a Great Escape. No doubt, Ryder and Vettori batted well. Credit where its due. But a bowling team that has reduced a batting side to 60-6 should still be pretty darn ticked off it let them get away to 279. Did the pitch "ease up"? Sure, if you buy the premise that it was ever doing anything in the morning. It wasn't that different. The ball was newer and harder in the morning, but this attack is supposed to be one that can reverse the older ball. And it did. But there weren't enough catchers to plug those dreaded gaps in the slip cordon (I lost count of the number of times the ball went through there). And it was a curious sight to see Harbhajan bowling with a such a sparse close-in field. Why not crowd the batsman with a few chattering fielders in his face? Six wickets were down; why did India act like they were the ones under pressure? When Zaheer was bowling his impeccable off-stump line in the afternoon session what was Yuvraj doing patrolling the deep at square-leg? (Yuvraj, an ace catcher?)

Now, India face a score of 279. To put reasonable pressure on New Zealand, and save themselves from the Fourth Innings In An Away Test Match Syndrome, they are going to have to bat out of their skins (279 is about a 125 runs or so more than 150, I think). Hopefully, the pitch will remain "eased up".

I'm frequently skeptical on this blog about India's aspirations to Great Power status in test cricket. This first day's play reminds me such skepticism is not unwarranted. With 104 test centuries in his batting line-up, facing a pitch that looked perfectly reasonable for batting once the pre-lunch session with the new ball was negotiated, an Indian captain chose to bowl; and then, even when his gambit succeeded beyond his wildest imaginings, he couldn't believe he had a chance to close things out.

As for the Indian batting, as usual, its up to Sehwag tomorrow to get things on the right track (a surefire derailing will occur with his early loss and the Dravid-induced crawl that is almost sure to follow). And we'll get some interesting data points on how far Gambhir and Yuvraj have come in their test careers.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The old and the new

So, like, I was about to post something along the lines of "Here is the new India; our quicks can take six wickets before lunch in an away test on the first day". Now, I might as well add "Here is the old India; we then let the seventh wicket put on a century partnership, and we still don't have enough fielders in catching positions when we have six wickets down".

Thanks lads, its nice to know some things don't change.

More seriously, a couple of things emerge from this stand. India bowled pretty well all day, and some lame batting helped them in the first session. In the second session, I'd say having more folks in catching positions behind the wickets would have helped. All said and done, NZ have done very well and now they are looking at putting up a score they wouldn't have dreamed of at 60-6.

Silly business

I've never understood why Harbhajan Singh is never given a silly point when he bowls. I can, sort of, understand the case for denying it when a right-handed batsman is batting. But now, its 80-6, and a left-handed batsman is facing. Still no silly-point? Strange. And now, Zaheer, the almost unplayable bowler of the morning has come on, made Ryder edge, and there is a big gap between second slip and gully. Four runs. Come on, skupper, its 80-6 on the first day!

Simon sez you're out

Poor James Franklin. That was a crap decision by Simon Taufel. Is he losing the plot? I saw him make a couple of bad ones in the India-England 2007 series but I thought that was a temporary aberration. This kind of decision was one he wouldn't have given in his good days. The giveaway for me was Dhoni's reaction; wicketkeepers just react very differently when they take a catch, and I'd expect Taufel to have picked that up. Or did he give him out LBW?

Two, but not three

Oh, gee. Two wickets down, and a third dropped. Boo, Viru. That one off Taylor was a sitter. But the truly amazing thing for me is that India got a wicketkeeper's legside catch. India either doesn't produce those chances, and when they do they have a hard time getting the umpire to raise his finger. The umpire was Taufel, easily the world's best, and he had no hesitation giving that out. Zaheer's been fantastic and he really has deserved his wickets thus far (and thanks to Ishant backing him up, no let up in the pressure thus far).

All we can hope is that Munaf doesn't ease things up.

Ah, test cricket

Ah, yes, the India-New Zealand test matches have started (the Hamilton test gets underway). And for those of us on the East Coast, the timings are perfect. 6PM start time, can you believe it? (Sony, sod off).

Dhoni has elected to bowl, and I'm going to go out on a not very adventurous limb and say this is as much a defensive move as it is an attacking move. Still, nothing quite like watching a good pace attack go at it hard, so I'm not complaining. And both Zaheer and Ishant are doing a good job. There is swing out there, and Ishant is clocking regularly in the 140s. Does my heart good it does, to see so many in catching positions with fast bowlers going at it.

Test cricket. Still tops.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The weather underground on cricket

I received an email today from Weather Underground, pushing their new weather-for-cricket page. Its quite nice; do check it out. It seems to confirm my worry that tonight's game against NZ is going to be another rain-affected game (and perhaps even a washout). Various bodyparts crossed as the hour draws nigh.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Newsflash: Mankind Unable to Control Weather

Truly, the mind boggles at the incompetence of the Sri Lankan Cricket Council at their failure to prevent the moving of the Champion's Trophy to South Africa:
According to the ICC, Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) were unable to provide a guarantee during a teleconference on Wednesday that there would be no rains in Colombo during the tournament which runs from September 24-October 5.
Surely, they could have gone on a hunger strike or something? Whats the world coming to? Pakistan can't guarantee the absence of violence; Sri Lanka can't guarantee the absence of bad weather. Truly, man has never seemed more helpless, more at the mercy of random forces without design.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bring on Swann!

England are missing a huge trick by not bringing on Swann right away after the fall of Gayle's wicket. Duh.

Actually, what England really need right now is Michael Clarke and the Indian tail. Four overs left.

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The Denouement of the Test

And Michael Atherton has just informed us that we have reached the "denouement" of the England-West Indies series. Unbelievable. I don't think I've heard that on cricket commentary before. And he pronounced it correctly too. Where did that lad go to school?

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Tell Massa to stick it where the sun don't shine

If I was Lendl Simmons, I would walk up to Darryl Harper after the day's play and say "Look, Bwana, I don't know if you know this, but I'm a grown man, not a schoolboy, and I don't work on your plantation. So if you want me to leave the ground, you can walk up to me and tell me in English. Don't wave your hands at me like you are shooing cattle off your garden patch. I know you're blind and all, but honestly, is it so hard to ask the English players for directions?"

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The Appeal of the Subcontinent

So, just the other day, Homer was wondering whether its only subcontinental players that get hauled up for excessive appealing. I thought so too (I've been reading about "wristy, dusky, excitable, subcontinentals" for a very long time). But today I stand corrected, for two Englishmen have been hauled up for excessive appealing by the match referee Alan Hurst over in Port of Spain. All is well. The Strong Arm of the Law might be punitive, but it is always fair.

But wait! The two Englishmen are named Madhusudan Singh Panesar and Amjad Khan! Curses. See? Its in the genes, the stars, the pitch, the water, the blood, the skies. Poor lads. Their parents moved so far away from home, put up with the trials and tribulation of migration, of an unsympathetic local populace, brought their kids up right, sent them to good schools, made sure they didn't have the wrong accents, and even got them into the English team, complete with the Four Lions sweater. But they still got hauled up for excessive appealing.

Sorry lads; you can run, but you can't hide.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Harper ist blind

Its official, Darryl Harper is blind. And if Dar doesn't give this one out, he's blind as well. Yup, its confirmed, Dar is blind and deaf too.

Humans rule! Death to the machines!

Poor Jack

The Harper decision (backed by Aleem Dar) to give Baker out was a classic Don't-Waste-My-Time-You-Bunny decision, always handed out to tailenders. Recognized batsmen don't get given out like that (though they should, when they are padding up) but tailenders regularly get shunted off. You could also call this the I-Don't-Call-Jordan-For-Traveling decision.

And England have a 2 run lead! This is riveting stuff. Sort of.

The Double Teapot

Congratulations Michael Atherton, for introducing some freshness into cricket commentary via (I think) a neologism: "the double-teapot", referring to the ever-so-slight pout in Jimmy Anderson's body language as he stood with both hands on his hips, piqued at his captain's field settings. Question: is this a common colloquial expression or is this a neologism?

Friday, March 06, 2009

What do Phillip Hughes and Kapil Dev have in common?

A few seconds after Phillip Hughes reached his maiden century by thumping Paul Harris for two sixes, Mark Nicholas asked, "I wonder how many people have reached their maiden centuries with a six? I mean, I imagine the Kapil Devs and the Ian Bothams got to 100s with sixes after scoring their first centuries, but really, how many reached their maiden tons with a six?".

Well, you just named one, Mark. Kapil Dev reached his maiden century (going from 98 to 104), at the Ferozeshah Kotla, against Alvin Kallicharran's West Indians, on 27th January 1979 with a flicked six off Norbert Phillip - it soared over deep-backward square-leg . Kapil would have reached his 100 on January 26th (Republic Day), but in those days, test matches had rest days.

All said and done, I'd have to say Hughes' romp in that over against Harris was way more dramatic. Kapil was not playing in his second test match; he was flogging a tired, dispirited West Indian attack on the third day of the fifth test of a six-test series; and more to the point, Hughes went from 89 to 105 in the same over, on the first day of a test.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Givin' the bird

JRod gives the bird to all and sundry in the wake of the Lahore attacks. Its a good list but its not comprehensive enough. Let me try and complete it. In that spirit, I give the bird to all those folks who:

  1. accused anyone and everyone expressing fears of touring Pakistan of being racist, greedy, hypocrites
  2. rushed to their keyboards the day after the Mumbai attacks, and after a perfunctory nod toward the 176 dead, said "If England tours India now, they will be racist, greedy, hypocrites"
  3. are ambivalent about violence in distant lands but demand sympathy and understanding and sensitivity when it occurs at home
  4. seek conspiracy theories as explanation but disdain introspection

Feel free to add your own. This is a free society; the Net is a big place.

Kesavan on the lessons of Lahore

Mukul Kesavan on the lessons of Lahore. The punchline:
The truth is that international cricket matches are custom-made theatres for terrorist violence. They're advertised weeks in advance, cricket grounds are often situated in the middle of uncontrollable human traffic, and for crazies like Kasab and company the prospect of live coverage for carnage is probably irresistible.
Remember this: the folks who carry out these acts (Just like the 7/7 bombers in London who bombed the iconic Underground) require maximum coverage and impact. In the context of the subcontinent, cricket provides it best. That factor needs to play a serious role in any assessment of the risk of an international cricket fixture in the subcontinent, especially after Lahore.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Tell me again, why won't they attack cricketers?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Be safe, Sri Lankans

Perhaps it was inevitable. But even then, its hard to express the shock I felt on hearing of the attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore.

What a tragic way to refute the stupidest argument ever made in favor of playing cricket in Pakistan: "The terrorists won't attack cricketers".

Rumours of demise greatly exaggerated etc.

Australia. South Africa. First Test. A victory by 162 runs. Three debutants. One scores a century in the first innings. One scores 75 in the second dig after an embarrassing duck in the first. The third returns match figures of 56-16-126-3. And a fast bowler, Mitchell Johnson, who frankly, has scared me more as a batsman than anything else, (at Perth and Mohali), got close to a ton, and to solving Australia's all-rounder problem (not that I think it wasn't a fake one to begin with).

South Africa could still win this series but I think the dancing over the Aussie corpse needs to stop, largely because it has been dragged away and resurrected.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Immature twats

What do you do when the scoreboard reads 672-7, your (Swann's) bowling figures have just turned into 43 overs, 130 runs for 4 wickets, and you've just bowled a No. 8 batsman? Why, you give him a sendoff! What else could you do? And what do you (Anderson) do when a batsman is on 276? Why, you sledge him of course! Step forward Graeme Swann and James Anderson, so that you can receive your Puerile-Kids-Let-Loose-to-Play Awards. We have joint winners because the jury found it really, really hard to settle on just one. England are getting into what could be a tricky third-innings situation as this West Indian score climbs toward 700; they'll need to be a bit more mature in their batting.

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