Friday, February 26, 2010

A day at the MCG - tres photos para ti

On a more self-indulgent note, here are three photos from my day at the MCG this past December (as before, click on the photos to get a larger size version). Tony T from the After Grog Blog (the comments section of which features some of the feistiest Aussie cricket fans out there) was kind enough to hook me up with a ticket to the Members' Reserve (the Members Stand, with just a little more posh to it). Yes, Tony is a member; his mum put his name on the waiting list when he was born; it took nineteen years for the membership to come through.

Tony lives within stone-throwing distance of the MCG so meeting up was easy, as was walking over to the reserve. The stand was pretty high up so there aren't any great action photos but you do get a sense of the grandeur of the MCG. I drank my first coffee evert at a test match on this day (and it was a surprisingly good cuppa too). When the time for beers rolled around, I realized that in the Reserve, you can't take your beers out of the bar. Gee. Still, a small price to pay I suppose.

The cricketing highlights were Umar Akmal's batting in the morning and Mohammed Aamer's fantastic spell late in the day.

The first shot, looking down past some hats:

Siddle bowling to Umar Akmal:

And then, Tony and myself at day's end:

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The team and the individual - getting the balance right

Quick straw-poll: how many folks watching the Gwalior ODI yelled at the television sets (or at the monitor) when Dhoni took a single off the last ball of the 48th and 49th overs? (I presume people were a little louder when he did it in the 49th over).

Well, I did. Because like everyone else, I had forgotten about the match underway, and the fact that it was being played by two teams, and had become fixated on the achievements of one man. Fair enough to a point; world records do tend to obsess us and the man occupying centerstage was not just any player but arguably the greatest batsman of his generation.

But later, when I had calmed down a bit and put the rampaging schoolboy in me to bed, I thought a bit more about my reaction. What exactly, had I wanted Dhoni to do? And I don't just mean the bit about the single, for I had wanted him to turn the strike over to Tendulkar as quickly as possible.

But why on earth should Dhoni have done that? The team needed one thing at that moment, and one thing alone: as many runs as possible on the board. There is not point in saying, "We already had 350 runs plus on the board". This is a modern ODI and such scores are not unattainable.

Dhoni could have turned the strike over to Tendulkar, yes, and then perhaps, gone back to his hitting ways. But why let that consideration arise? In a team-sport, if a team is to truly rise to champion level, it must, find a way to somehow subjugate the individual (and I don't mean that in any offensive sense whatsoever) to the team's needs.

I agree that a happy team is made up of those folks who think the collective takes care of their individual aspirations; hence the attention paid to individual landmarks when timing declarations. But the cleverest declarations run these two together ("We need some quick runs, go on get your ton, I can give you another 10 overs before we call it off").

And Dhoni, canny man that he is, knew he could balance the two. I don't doubt he would have taken a single quicker had Tendulkar been on 195. His swinging for the fences added runs aplenty and even the singles that he took on the last balls of those overs only came about because his shots didn't. He wasn't trying to keep the strike, he just kept playing the shots as he could manage them, all the while knowing that Tendulkar was tiring, and couldn't play the big run-producing shots any more.

All that was needed was a single, and he knew Tendulkar would need two balls at most. When the time came, he turned down the chance for a second run and let us all (including Tendulkar) a sigh of relief.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sachin's double-ton; how utterly expected

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lalit Modi, zip it

Today, I posted over at Different Strokes commenting on Lalit Modi's initial response to the release of the independent report commissioned by players' unions in England, Australia and South Africa that has led to talk of shifting the 2010 IPL to another country. By the time that post went up, I was regretting having ever said anything even mildly complimentary about that man. For Modi had followed up with more.

For I heard that Modi has a Twitter feed (I heard he had tweeted my article; good lord!). When I went to Modis' Twitter page. There, I was amazed to see Modi getting stuck into one and all.
His crack at Ponting being "dropped by KKR" was ridiculous and infantile. (See this story, which includes a quote from Saurav Ganguly, to see why thats the case).

To say that I'm dumbstruck would be an understatement. What is this man up to? Why does he spend so much time tweeting, especially when he seems prone to making intemperate statements like the one against Ponting? I'm still having a hard time believing that a man who occupies such a powerful position in cricket spends time on Twitter, getting into juvenile tit-for-tats. I shouldn't be surprised I suppose, but I still am.

Anyway, on more pleasant topics: coming up soon, a post on SRT's double-ton. Either here, or on Different Strokes.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

The tape-delayed game in the Internet era

Yesterday, I indulged in a little bit of tomfoolery that managed to evoke some nostalgia and simultaneously remind me of the brave new world of cricket watching.

As folks on the East Coast know, the India-South Africa one-day internationals start at 4AM in the morning and run till noon (approximately). This is not a bad time on the weekends (well, not the 4AM start, but if you stagger out of bed at a reasonably early time, you can catch a bit of the end of the first innings and then watch all of the second). Well, I got the early part down and caught the end of the Indian batting. And a little bit of the South African batting.

But then, duty called. I had 'work' to do (don't ask, its a long story). I would have to leave at 10 AM and return at 1PM. When I left, South Africa had lost their third wicket (and some of their early momentum). In normal circumstances, on my return, I would have checked the scores to see what had gone down in my absence. And even with the Internet's wonderful ability to provide highlights, I would have had to wait for those to go up (they would have been available sometime Sunday evening).

But there was one more option that was now available to me. I could simply replay the video stream ( makes available the entire stream for a while after the game ). And in that case, I could simply recreate my own "tape-delay" version of the game.

So, I fired up my machine, studiously avoided looking at the final score column on the right of the screen and clicked through to the replay. I then forwarded the video stream to approximately where I had left off, and watched it from there. I had to make sure, of course, that for the next couple of hours, I didn't visit Cricinfo (or any Indian site for that matter). The ending of the game was suitable reward for such diligence on my part.

My favorite tape-delay memories are of listening to radio commentary from the West Indies and of watching videos of the 1996 World Cup. As old-timers will remember, radio commentary from the West Indies would begin at 8 PM Indian time. It would run live till 1 AM. The post-tea session would then be taped, and played back starting at 5 AM. I would, after listening to the pre-tea sessions, sleep with a transistor next to my pillow, and on waking up, tune in again.

The illusion was perfect; how could it not be? There was no way to find out the scores and the only intervening experience had been that of sleep. It was thus that I heard the commentary for what I still consider one of the most exciting test finishes of all (albeit at India's expense): the West Indies' chase of 172 runs in 25 overs in the 1983 Kingston test. Viv Richards played, what was by his own judgment, his best innings to score 61 off 36 deliveries; Gus Logie hit a six off the first ball he faced in the second innings; Mohinder Amarnath lost the plot. When the match ended, I hooped and hollered; it was a great finish; I wanted a result; it didn't matter that India had lost to the mighty West Indies after all.

When the 1996 World Cup rolled around, I was living in Manhattan, and working in the Bronx. The day-night games began early in the morning and ended in the afternoon. So, I would set up a VCR with a tape on long-recording mode, and leave for work. My office had no internet connection (once again, don't ask, it's a long story), and so when I returned home, I was in a state of blissful ignorance. The tape of the match was waiting, full of pleasures yet to be discovered. Sadly, this is how I stumbled upon the disastrous riot in the semi-finals.

The modern tape-delay is even more flexible, I suppose. It's online and thus remotely accessible from a variety of locations. Sadly,'s interface is not the greatest and because its monopolist position in the world of cricket broadcasting it seems to feel no need to improve it, or its customer support (and the non-functional media player for Linux is a huge irritation). One can only hope that these blemishes will be removed in order to be truly realize the value of this broadcasting resource.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Note to folks leaving comments

Dear blog commenters (I'm not sure if that is a real word): I know I'm a bad host for I often do not reply to comments on time. I shall endeavor to be more diligent in this regard. Please do set notifications on for follow-ups in the future (if you aren't already). This is one of my new years resolutions; hopefully I can stick to it.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Revisiting the argument for legalizing ball-tampering

A week or so ago, I posted an article on Different Strokes arguing that ball-tampering should be legalized. Reactions to this article were not numerous (I think most of what folks had to say in response had already been said) but I still got some interesting critical feedback (including a post over at Straight Points). I want to think about some of that feedback here because I think the arguments against ball-tampering are good ones and I want to see if there are any good responses. (A reminder: I made that argument because a) the game is stacked against bowlers b) the law is too easy to break and c) it contributed to a poisonous atmosphere of hypocritical name-calling)

One objection runs along the line of "The motivations for wanting to legalize ball-tampering are praiseworthy - that you want to level the field for bowlers - but do you really need ball-tampering to do that? Why not fix things like pitches, the number of bouncers in an over, and so on? Why mess with a well-established law?" I agree with this objection insofar as I think all of those should be done as well. However, the most important potential change, that of leaving pitches uncovered will not be carried out; cricketing boards the world over are not interested in having matches end quickly. Still, there is something to be said for concentrating the most on the quality of the pitches for, as the Eden Gardens test showed, a balanced pitch can result in very good cricket.

Underwriting the objection above is another, more fundamental one. Where does the line get set for permissible ball-tampering? This is a pretty strong objection. Right now, there is a well-established bright line (of sorts): you can't change the condition of the ball. If you want to clean it, give it to the ump. There is a piece of thread sticking out from the seam? Give it to the ump to pick at. The reason I said this is a bright line of sorts is that all players regularly rub in their sweat and any face creams (including suncream) onto the ball's surface. (The whole John Lever-vaseline business seems quaint now when you think that all you have to do in order to get vaseline on the ball is to put some on your face and then rub it onto the ball, or better still walk out for a day's play with some vaseline squeezed out into your pocket and by simply dipping your hands in there once in a while, keep picking up a fresh stock between overs).

But if ball-tampering was to be legalized and bowlers and fielders felt free to pick at the seam or cut the ball with razor blades and so on, then the ball could become pretty badly damaged - not just slightly altered in shape. Would the umpires have to step in then? If so, then what good did the ball-tampering legalization do? Umpires will still be called on to make fine-line judgment calls and inevitably, we would hear the refrain "Umpire X penalizes bowlers from Country Y, but not Country Z". In short, we'd have a schmozzle of a mess, and no one would be happy. Some folks would still be called cheats, others would be called blind (or incompetent or racist).

We could suggest players accept the umpires decision that the ball has become unplayable. But this is too difficult. Players show no inclination to accept the umpires' decisions (hence, the UDRS), and secondly, umpires would come under even more pressure. Would they dare to make a bowling side change the ball in a tight situation? What if the batting side was to complain? Are they being precious or did they have a point?

So, in sum, this is a good argument against the legalization I suggested because while the current situation isn't ideal, the move I was suggesting might worsen things and furthermore, there exist a set of alternatives that could ameliorate the situation I find problematic.

There is only one issue left that I'd like to consider. Which is that I consider the best argument against legalization to be a practical one as above, and not one that is in anyway morally-inflected. That is, as of now, with the laws as they are, and with the decks stacked as they are, I don't consider a ball-tamperer to be a cheat. A rule-breaker, yes, but only one who does so as a means of redressing an unfair imbalance. He breaks the law, but does not deserve the moral opprobrium that is heaped upon his head. Were he to do so when pitches are fairer, when the game of cricket has reconfigured its notion of "deception" to not just apply to bowlers, then I might be more inclined to that judgment. Or if he were to be called a cheat, then he is only a cheat in one dictionary sense of the term: "to influence or lead by deceit, trick, or artifice".

"Deceit, trick, artifice" or terms like them were all used liberally when the googly made its appearance as well. In cricket's lexicon, switch-hitting is clever and inventive, but a bowler's deception is not. Cricket still needs to reconfigure its notion of what is fair and not when it comes to judging the actions of bowlers and batsmen.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Test championship, we hardly knew ye

Harbhajan, put a lid on it

I've just managed to finish watching the replay of the last session of play in the India-RSA test. To be honest, my most visceral reaction at the end of the game was intense irritation at the way Singh took off like a solo artist and went and posed for the crowd. He hadn't won the game. His team had. Acting like you are the only one responsible for pulling it off looks idiotic and was in extremely poor taste. If anything, I'd say his reaction ranks several leagues below Shane Watsons ludicrous send-off of Chris Gayle. I can understand the pent-up emotion, the joy of winning a close game, but share the moment with your team. Many players have pulled off close wins for their teams with great outstanding performances in situations similar to the one yesterday. Somehow those men found it within themselves to temper their ego just a bit.

Singh's five wickets were important but they needed a whole set of team performances to make it happen. Celebrate, hoop-n-holler but put this asinine posturing to rest. I've admired Harbhajan's grit and tenacity in the past and respected his fighting spirit and cricketing skill, but I really hope he can get over this habit, because he came close to ruining the end of the game for me.

Remember the hoo-ha about the Australians not shaking hands with the Indians after the Sydney test? How long did it take then? How long did it take for the Indians to get to Amla?

I'll write more on the game later, but I had to get this off my chest.

PS: I'll say this for Harbhajan, he was gracious in his post-match interview in acknowledging his team-mates. Some partial redemption for the man.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Yup, an Eden Gardens of a test allright

What a finish. Couldn't stay up to watch it past lunch unfortunately. Today is a heavy teaching day and there was no way I could have pulled it off.

A result in a test match that ends on the fifth day, and that featured six centuries. Take a bow, Eden Gardens.

And Harbhajan, congrats and all, but could you please put the "I've-scored-a-goal-in-the-WC-final" run to rest? You're starting to resemble Flintoff in his idiotic Jesus mode, and thats not a good thing.

More thoughts later. But once again, test cricket, you kick serious arse. You have no competitors on this planet. Pehaps even in the Local Magellanic Cluster.

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Mishy googles 'em a bit

Mishra has now taken three very good wickets in this innings. Two with classic deliveries: the perfect, on-length, leg-break that netted Kallis yesterday and now, the lovely googly that has just netted De Villiers. Even his dismissal of Smith yesterday was a neat little trick (aided and abetted by Smith swishing across the line): Mishra pitched the ball on middle-n-leg and it spun just enough to have taken the off-stump. Always a pleasure to watch a leggie; even better when its on the fifth day hunting for a win.

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Slow down son

Meanwhile, down in New Zealand (more precisely at Seddon Park, Hamilton), Bangladesh are chasing 404 to win, and while that target is pretty unlikely, it gets even more so, when you see the following (in the sixth over of the innings):

5.3 Vettori to Tamim Iqbal, SIX, using his feet and smashes it over long on

5.4 Vettori to Tamim Iqbal, OUT, dances down the wicket again but can't get to the pitch and skies it long off. Tuffey takes a very important catch running backwards above his head

(And in the fourth over of the innings, Iqbal had hit four fours in a row off Southee). What was he trying to do? Score all 400 runs by himself within 50 overs? This sort of kamikaze batting is a depressingly common aspect of Bangladesh's game. I'm not quite sure whats required to rewire the neural pathways of their top order. (Respect where its due; they did manage a very decent 408 in the first innings).

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A couple of AWOLs

Two quick notes (do I really need to say that? This is a blog, after all):

  1. One thought that occurred to me after the third day's play ended was that India desperately needed Ishant Sharma to also take wickets at the top of the order. Thus far, its been all Zaheer's work. Sharma has been pretty much AWOL till he took Harris' wicket (and as I write this, Amla has just absorbed a nasty crack on his elbow by not turning away properly from a Sharma delivery sent down round the wicket; geez, that bruise and swelling doesn't look nice).
  2. Mishra is off the field and his right arm is wrapped up in a bandage. Gee.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hangin' in there

Thus far, Amla and the supposedly-out-sorts Prince have dug in pretty well. 22 overs have been bowled on the fifth day and India haven't looked like taking a wicket. With Zaheer off the field, the Indian attack is blunted just a bit, but even then, this is a creditable showing by the Proteas. Amla could be headed for his second ton of the test; if he does make it, he could be the only batsman to score tons in every innings of a test 'series' (the scare quotes indicate the lack of more than two tests in this pseudo series).

While 76 more overs are supposed to be bowled, I think we are realistically looking at something like 62 or so. Plenty of time for all the twists and turns that one associates with last days of tests.

A wicket would change everything now, and everyone knows it. So even though the wicket hasn't fallen, nothing has really eased up. Of course, 22 overs have gone by and Prince has become just that much more confident. And thats not a small thing.

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Stick 'em in close skip!

A few days ago, I penned a post over at Different Strokes, complaining about the lack of close-in fielders for India spinners. Last night Harbhajan again bowled without a backward short-leg (a position that has netted him wickets in the past), and could only watch as at least two deflections went in that region. Today he's has had that position manned. Mishra fortunately has the full ring: a slip, backward short-leg, a silly mid-off and a forward short-leg.

But now Sehwag is bowling with just a slip, and a forward short-leg, with South Africa trailing by 213 runs on the fifth day of a test match in a series in which India is down 0-1 and needs a win to retain their test ranking at the top of the table. Is it just me or does something seem wrong with this picture? India cannot lose this match. They can only draw it or win it. So why are there no close-in fielders for Sehwag?

I can't pretend to understand what is going on in Dhoni's head. Perhaps he's been, as my friend Satadru Sen said the other day, "riding without a helmet." (One charitable take: Dhoni reckons he doesn't want to be in a situation where he has to do any run chasing later in the day and thus is trying to not be overly aggressive; still, that favors the South African strategy of needing just to use up as much time as possible).

Update: Sehwag now has another man close in. Perhaps MSD did hear me.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Looking forward to the morning (for the scores)

Rohan over at Ducking Beamers is perfectly correct. There is a certain pleasure to be had from experiencing that mixture of "dread and excitement" as I walk towards my computer in the mornings, (often with cup of coffee in hand), to check the cricket scores for a subcontinent test. (Well, the same can happen for tests in South Africa and England but in those cases, the game is still on, and the feeling is slightly different; in the case of subcontinent, there is the added sense of a fait accompli). And Rohan is right too, that this feeling is reminiscent of the older feeling of walking gingerly towards the morning newspaper, not knowing what terrible disappointments or unbridled exultations lay in store as one turned towards the sport pages.

We all grew up with a variety of news sources for cricket scores foremost amongs which was the newspaper, with the sports page tucked away in most cases on the (n-2) page. Thus, unfold, flip over, turn last page, and behold the cricket score. English scores sometimes showed up too late to be reported fully; Australian scores were a day behind; West Indian scores were current till lunch. The reports associated with each scores were just wire agency capsules. Since the scoreboard was not listen in a tabular format but rather in a single paragraph, I had to trace out the scores carefully, making sure not to mistake a hero's score for a villain's.

One problem with the morning newspaper was that it had frequently had to be shared. My father was quite sporting (no pun intended) about sharing the sports page; my brother less so. One delight associated with the morning paper was that it was read over a cup of tea. Thus, I often waited till I had turned to the sports page before I started sipping my morning tea, a little strategy to enhance the pleasure of the morning cuppa. Ah, caffeine and cricket, was there ever a sweeter combination of drug and sport? (Well, perhaps alcohol, but its brutal if you want to stay up late at night to watch a game - but I digress).

The role of the newspaper in reporting matches played in India was considerably different. I knew the scores already; I knew most of the twists of the previous day's play. Thus, the report provided a chance to see if anyone else agreed with my take on the day's play. I was pretty secure in my assessment of the game even as a young 'un, and hadn't elevated reporters to the level of authorities. Misplaced confidence obviously, but not such a terrible sin.

There was one problem with newspapers: there was the slight chance that they might not be delivered. Things were perfectly salvageable if our particular subscription was not available for the newspaperman would simply substitute another one. But if there was a larger problem, a strike, or some other natural disaster, then despair could set in.

And thats where the radio came in. But thats another story altogether.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

An Eden Garden of a test

I have to say, I'm pleased as punch about this test match. The cricket has been excellent on a pitch that seems to afford a decent amount of bounce, while showing signs of providing turn to the spinners. As all good test wickets should, it is equally pleasing to both bowlers and batsmen, and ensures batting later in the game will be more challenging. Fifteen wickets have fallen, and 638 runs scored in the first two days. (That ten of those wickets have been South African no doubt has some bearing on my generally cheerful disposition regarding this game). More to the point, the fall of wickets has ensured that even though India have a lead of 46 in hand going into the third day, they cannot afford to relax, especially since they will have to bat last (with a batting line-up which includes two tyros, Vijay and Badri, whose confidence will have been badly shaken by how they were cleaned up by the Proteas' quicks).

But a significant factor in my appreciation of this game has to do with its venue. I'm glad to see cricket return to the Eden Gardens. The riots of the 1996/97 World Cup and 1999 Asia Cup almost turned me off it for a while, but its hard to stay mad at Eden Gardens for too long. Given its eastern location, the winter sunshine at the Gardens is brighter than the piss-weak variant we get in the more northern grounds, and the outfield is both fast and immaculate in pleasing contrast to other Indian grounds.

And though the deathly silences at Eden Gardens when an Indian wicket falls (or when the opposition scores a boundary) are disconcerting, the noise levels when India are doing well make up for it. The crowds, even though they don't approach the 80K plus figures we used to regularly see till a few years ago, are still large enough to make this ground the definitive Indian test ground. They raise the roof, they bring it down, they lever up Indian batsmen's averages and they lower that of the bowlers'. It's a cauldron, an amphitheater, a Hollywood Bowl filled to the rafters with cricketing teenyboppers. If you're an Indian captain, this is where you want to win matches, where your bowlers should go hunting for wickets in the last session of a day. How singularly appropriate that the Mother of all Comebacks should have happened here in 2001.

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Up the creek without a paddle

I've seen some bad run-outs in my time but the one that just got rid of Gautam Gambhir has to go down as one of the all-time stinkers. All the ingredients were there: a partnership that is going great guns and is about to completely demoralize the opposition, a pair that normally runs well together, a senior partner that makes the call, a junior that is initially hesitant, and then, finally and fatally, a senior that changes his mind, and lastly the handing back of the momentum (at least temporarily) to South Africa.

Poor Gambhir. This series is a write-off for him, just as he was getting his eye back in, and just as the advantage of him as a counterweight to Paul Harris' line was about to become apparent.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hullabaloo at Eden Gardens

9,209,43. What do you reckon comes next? Turns out, 35. The first South African wicket fell at 9. Then the second wicket partnership added 209. Seven wickets then fell in the space of 43 runs. And the tenth wicket partnership added 35 (a pretty sloppy show by the Indians this morning). All said, a topsy-turvy series of events. How I wish I had been able to watch the post-tea session as it unfolded yesterday. To think that Sharma and Mishra picked up their first wickets of the series, that Harbhajan put himself on a hat-trick again at the Eden Gardens (and a non-bogus one at that, given how awful Gilchrist's LBW was at Kolkata in 2001), that Zaheer triggered a run-out with a direct-hit, and that Harris paid the price for getting distracted by a fast bowler. All in front of a crowd of "only" 35,000, small for the Eden Gardens, and yet big enough to pack any ground in England.

There are lots of reasons to dislike living on the East Coast. Missing this test's post-tea session because of the timezones will get added to that list.

Needless to say, I've been looking forward to the Indian batting response in this test, starting with the openers, and the next hour or so should be enthralling. Viru has already started off with a bang.

If only Laxman Sivramakrishnan weren't commentating.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

A couple of different strokes

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A day at the SCG - some photos

I've finally gotten around to putting up some photographs of my day at the SCG this past January. Fortunately, it was the fourth day. And you all know what went down that day (mainly the Pakistani lads). You can click on each photo to get a larger size version.

First, here is the gang. From left to right, John Sutton (aka Kenelmdigby) from Macquarie University, then Bob Egerton (former Wallaby, who played in the 1991 World Cup final - if anyone had a better timed short and sweet international career, I'm yet to hear of it!), and Dominic Murphy, Sydney University. Kudos to John for pushing us to go (and for giving us all a ride)!

Now, for a series of random groundshots (in the first one, Hussey is taking guard):

We sat in what used to be the old Doug Walters stand. It used to be uncovered and could be a real trial when the sun was out in full force - I've paid for my attendance in the past, most notably during the SRT-Laxman partnerships in both 2004 and 2008. Before that, it was the site of the infamous Sydney Hill. Dougie lives on, in that the bar in the stand is named after him, and also features a wonderful photo of him lounging about with a smoke and a beer. Yes, I know, I'm an idiot, I didn't take a photo of that. In my defense, I was busy buying beers.

A photo that emphasizes my earlier location in the day in the sun. We retreated later.

Finally, the end of day shot. Happy to have seen a great day's play. It was a pity Pakistan didn't put up more of a fight, but there was still enough drama to make the day worthwhile.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Need help with comment spam

Short of introducing moderated comments, is there any way I can get rid of these pesky spammers in my comments. I seem to get the same lot - selling flowers and cakes.


Monday, February 08, 2010

Step forward lads

A silver lining in the black clouds that seem to be hovering over India today: both Murali Vijay and Subramaniam Badrinath will get the chance to show their skills in testing conditions. I'd say Badrinath has already gotten off to a good start by his gritty display in the first innings. Murali made himself look a little silly by shouldering arms in the first, but he has gone on to thirty in the second innings, and if he can stay positive, he can grow by leaps and bounds in the course of a single day. Badri must have dreamed of a debut ton once he crossed the fifty mark, and perhaps he can go on today to do just that.

One of the abiding cliches of test cricket is that the greats seize the moment. Murali and Badri both have the chance to try and make an impression on a stage that is set for them. As before, they have absolutely nothing to lose. And everything to gain. That in itself should be liberating. Lets hope they see it that way.

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A pack of pretty strong cards

Barring miracles, India will lose this first test match against South Africa by an innings on the fourth day or by a similarly large margin on the fifth (odds are on the former).

What if anything, have we learned from yesterday's collapse? Not that much. Indian batting line-ups (like lots of batting line-ups the world over) are susceptible to high-quality pace and swing. And this line-up was weakened by the absence of Dravid and Laxman (we had collapses even with those gentlemen present). Indian tails are still notoriously fragile, so its no surprise to see the bottom bit of the line-up buckle and fold. Perhaps the sole bright light for India yesterday was Badrinath, who when he looks back at this debut, will thank his stars that he was given such a searching examination. It will stand him in good stead as he goes forward. And he still has a chance to get out there and play a long innings. He has everything to gain, and nothing to lose. All those years of waiting, and now finally, a moment in which he can redeem himself.

If there is pressure anywhere in the line-up, I suggest it rests on one man: Gautam Gambhir. He has racked up approximately a quintillion tons in the past year or so, and drawn comparisons with Bradman. The sneaky sensation that he hasn't really been tested had never gone away and now in his first exposure to a class pace attack in a while, he has come up short. He is going to want Eden Gardens to turn out differently - for himself and for the team.

India's problems began much earlier, of course, when South African racked up 558-6 after being 6-2. But those sorts of performances are commonplace frankly. Many is the time that I have gone to bed on the East Coast (at least in the last seven years since I returned to the US) and woken up to find a gigantic partnership flourishing. India's bowling attack, whether its because they are dealing with dead pitches at home, or the lack of penetration after early breakthroughs, still remains alarmingly susceptible to this sort of smack-around-the-park.

All is not lost. I expect the Indian team to do better in the second test. The batting line-up will be stronger. Folks will be suitably mortified. Perhaps Mishra will get an edge or two. Maybe Harbhajan will get his act in gear. Perhaps Sharma will.

This current Indian team is by far, the most accomplished, and perhaps most consistent, outfit that has taken the field in a while. They are deservedly ranked #1 in the world. But given all that, they still remain a team with distinct patches of weakness that has the tendency to go off the boil a bit too quickly. Some of this is because old, classical weaknesses remain.

In a cricket world where no one team dominates, this is par for the course. Let us not forget that South Africa just lost at home to England by an innings. Inconsistency of this sorts seems to be commonplace. The world of cricket awaits a true dominator. Till then, lets enjoy this sort of back-n-forthing.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Tres Amigos

The recent announcement that Rohit Sharma has been drafted in as a possible replacement for VVS Laxman means that the Indian batting line-up for the first test at Nagpur could well read: Sehwag, Gambhir, Murali, Tendulkar, Badri, Sharma, Dhoni, Harbhajan, Mishra, Zaheer, Ishant. Some folks might think this is the future of the Indian team. Well, once one throws folks like Pujara, Pandey, Tiwari, and Nayar into the mix. Still, its a good chance to see what lies ahead. (I know, I haven't mentioned Kohli, and thats because I'm strangely unconvinced by him).

The top six is an oddly balanced lineup in terms of state representation: two Delhi boys, two Mumbaikars, two Tamil Nadu lads. But there is only one left-hander in there. It'd be nice to have another one in the mix, but it's not the most pressing need at hand. The real need is for the three newcomers to make their presence felt. And they are lucky in a way: they get to face a good bowling attack in home conditions. The familiarity of the pitches and the crowds should make their task a little easier, as will the relative lack of pressure once Steyn and Morkel go off. Indeed, while Murali might have to face the new ball in case of an early dismissal, Badri and Sharma might have a slightly easier time of it. In writing thus, I'm perhaps doing an injustice to Wayne Parnell, who promises to be a handful, and is to boot, the kind of bowler that historically has caused problems to Indian batting line-ups. So all will not be peachy for the three newcomers.

Of the three newbies, Vijay has had the most impact in terms of tests (scores of 33, 41, 87, 30 thus far in his three tests). Badri and Sharma have yet to make their test debuts. Sharma, to be honest, has only partially redeemed himself in this last first-class season. Still, he looks bloody good whenever he gets going, and I'd back him to do well if he can settle in a bit before he starts playing those lovely shots of his. The one I worry about the most surprisingly enough is Badri. He has waited on the sidelines for so long that there is likely to be a little gnawing feeling inside him that he might not make it back if things go bad again. Hopefully, he can find some reassurance, both externally and internally.

Frustratingly, there are only two tests scheduled, but hopefully, the three young 'uns will get a decent chance to show off their wares. Fingers crossed for decent pitches and good weather. The more religious amongst you might consider a Ganesh puja or two.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Memories and remembrances

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A reprise of the CK Nayudu-Keith Miller story

Two of the best cricket stories I've ever heard came to me via my father. I recounted them both on the old newsgroup many years ago. While the stories are still out there in the, I would like to reproduce them here for a couple of reasons. I'd like to have an easily linkable permanent link, and secondly, there might be other folks interested in hearing them. I'll reproduce them in their original form, as I typed them in.

In the spirit of my recent trip to Australia, the first one is about CK Nayudu and Keith Miller. As I wrote on at the time, I heard this story from my Dad on a walk after dinner, wrapped up in shawls on a freezing cold Delhi night. It was around the time of the India Pakistan 1978 series, when Kapil's hitting was the rage and my father probably felt the need to remind youngsters that CK had "been there, done that". He also knew I was obsessed with Australian cricketers in general and Bradman in particular and again, felt the need to remind me that Keith Miller was a true great as well. I never thought of this story as being just a CK Nayudu story; my Dad told it as tribute to both Keith Miller and CK Nayudu, two two great cricketers.

Here it is. There is a twist to this story, which will form the basis of my next post over at Different Strokes.

Back in 1945-46 (I think, the Services team couldn't have been touring at any other time), the Australian Services team made a tour of India. They were captained by Lindsay Hassett and the team included one Keith Miller (also Bill Brown, if I'm not mistaken). Uday Rajan has posted scorecards of all the official matches played on this tour; I'm not sure whether they're in Cricinfo.

Anyway, one stop on their tour was a friendly match in New Delhi. Delhi in those days, especially the area around Connaught Place was a pretty interesting place; political meetings were held by the Congress in the area that now is taken up by that monstrosity - Palika Bazaar - and fairly serious sports matches were held at the Modern School, Barakhamba Road sports grounds. For those unaware of Modern School, it was an academic and sporting powerhouse worthy of the finest in India in its heyday. Also, the Rivoli Cinema was opened and Italian prisoners of war (this is from earlier days, '43 possibly) were taken there for their entertainment. How Italian prisoners of war landed up being interned in India is beyond me; maybe someone that knows the history of that time better can tell me.

The Australian Services team was scheduled to play one friendly match in New Delhi and this was played at the Modern School Grounds (come to think of it, I'm not sure of the venue or the opposition; I heard this story a long time ago). My Dad had just started living in the boarding house in that time (ruled by an autocratic Hungarian matron) and was a pretty avid cricketer even at the tender age of 10. So, naturally, when news went around of the match to be played, most school kids lined up to watch.

The big flap surrounded Keith Miller. He hadn't attained the kind of greatness that he would later, but he was already a star. He had the Brylcreem-brown-leather-jacket-aviator kind of look and his cricket seemed to match the image. He hit hard, bowled fast and was a character. The big deal with this particular match was that CK Nayudu was going to make a friendly appearance. He had been in retirement for some time (once again, I think; he must have been pretty old by this time) and had agreed to play in what was supposed to be a fun but well fought game. The Services team were under no strict instructions but I think everybody knew that they were here to entertain. The fact that CK Nayudu was a Keith Miller of sorts (hard hitting allrounder; maybe Keith was a Aussie CK?) added to the excitement. So on to the match.

The Services team batted first and soon enough, Miller was at the crease. A bit after he came on to bat, CK came on to bowl. His first delivery went for 6, the second for 4, the third for 6, the fourth for 4, the fifth for 6 and the sixth for 4. The crowd went absolutely bonkers. There were some mixed feelings obviously; CK was getting hammered, but it was easily some of the best hitting they had seen in a while. And this wasn't a completely farcical game either. Still stunned, the crowd waited for the second installment of the duel. My Dad of course, had never quite seen anything like this.

So the local team comes on to bat. And sure as night follows day, out came CK to bat. It was natural that Miller would bowl. I can't remember what he bowled but anyway suffice to say that no one was prepared for what followed. The first went for 6, the second for 4, the third for this point, my Dad's voice trailed off and this dreamy look came over his face. CK simply returned the favor. I don't think Miller was bowling pace or anything like that, but still it was the most incredible duel that he had seen.

I'm not sure how the match ended or any of the other details. My Dad swore that Lindsay Hassett was easily the most stylish batsmen that he had seen (Frank Worrell in 1958 came a close second). And that Keith Miller was easily the most dynamic. And CK? Well, I guess he just went back into retirement after that.

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