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Sunday, December 17, 2006

The importance of Saurav Ganguly

After Sachin became Pollock’s bunny,
and Jaffer, Sehwag, Dravid batted funny;
One man arrived to stop the kill,
With a bat of wood and a heart of steel.

The Indian cricket team, currently in South Africa began their quest for the One-day series on Nov 16th, with a warm-up match against a Rest of South Africa XI. Little under a month later, they played another warm-up match, this time in preparation for the test series, again against a Rest of South Africa XI. Though, with one small difference - a man called Saurav Ganguly was absent in the first one and present for the second. And, one big difference - India lost the first match and won the next.
With two back to back half-centuries followed by a small yet important cameo, Saurav Ganguly has almost single-handedly resurrected the dying spirits of Indian cricket and more importantly, he has laid the foundation for a historic victory, India's first ever test win in South Africa. Two days back, even the wildest Indian supporters would not have cherished any hopes of an Indan victory - so bruised and battered have the Indian batsmen been. In the situation, there was hardly a surprise when India were soon reduced to 110/4 in the first innings of the current test. It's in this context that Ganguly's half-century becomes important. Compare it to India's last tour of Australia and you will know what I mean. No one gave India any chance, and again, in the first innings of the first test India were in a similar position at 127/4. One man's steely resolve set the tone for India, then. The same man, after being dropped, humiliated and finally recalled is doing it again for his country. That's why, Saurav Chandidas Ganguly is important - he lifts his cricket when it's needed most, and alongwith it he lifts the whole team, upwards!
For a complete score-card of the India vs Australia 1st Test, Brisbane 2003-04, click here
An extract from Kadambari Murali's piece in today's Hindustan Times:
" Ganguly's half-century was worth much more than just 51 and he and everyone watching knew it. In a sense, it was a more defining knock than his 144 in Brisbane three years ago."

Friday, December 15, 2006

Thinking aloud....

Please Saurav, please....shut them up forever.
As I write this, Ganguly has just scored a beautiful boundary, piercing the slip cordon with complete control.....Boy, don't i get excited sometimes, or rather everytime this man, Saurav Chandidas Ganguly steps out onto the cricket field with a bat in his hand. For more than 3 years now, this guy has been under test every single time - why? Shouldn't it rather have been Sehwag, Jaffer, Tendulkar and the battered Indian captain who should have been under scrutiny? But no, the jury is constantly out on my man. I don't know if a good innings here will silence them or not, for you can only explain things to a logical, rational sort of chap. But even the biggest idiots will find it difficult to complain if Saurav strikes a big one here.
At the moment, the Wanderers is experiencing a unique combination of rain, sun and bad light. Ganguly is on 12, and I've a prayer on my lips. Amen.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Half-Monty, Twelve & Thirteen

Punter Ponting had forecasted that it would be Symond's match.....

At 172/4, with Andrew Symonds's cricket bat in full swing, the Australian captain would have thought that he had put his dollars at the right place. And why not, Symonds was on 26 off just 30 balls. Poor Monty had already been clobbered for two huge 6's in a space of 3 balls, with Symonds also showing his defensive skills in the delivery in-between. It's funny then, how dramatically the script changed, and how wrong Punter was!

Well, it actually turned out to be Poor Monty's match!! That he had just finished his unluckiest overs was a factor the Australians forgot to factor in! Now, the Englishmen find the number 13 unlucky and Sikhs despise the dozen. Monty Panesar happens to be both - once through with his 12th and 13th overs, Monty struck, and struck big time. In the very next over, he dashed Punter's gargantuan hopes. In his next (15th), he struck again - Gilly gobbled up and Monty on fire. Four overs later, the new-kid-on-the-spin bamboozled the original master and before he hit the scare of the double dozen, Monty trapped Lee in his 23rd over to complete his Half-Monty. ( 5/92 )

Harmison and Hoggard decimated the remaining half of Australian cricket and from here, it's upto the English willows to deliver the goodies . 2-1 will be an ideal scoreline to enter the Boxing Day Test with....it's good fun jumpin' the gun sometimes na?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Playing Selector: India vs SA, 1st Test

What should the Indian team for the 1st test against South Africa look like? I know, going by the current state of our cricket there ain't much hope but none-the-less cricket lovers like nothing more than playing selector, so here i go.

I will take up the easy ones first - amongst the batting slots there's only one that should be a certainty on current form and record. Ironically enough, that's the last of the slots for the specialised batsmen - at no.6, Saurav Ganguly looks a certainty. Of course, master batsman Tendulkar too will make it to his two-down position on the sheer dint of his records and sheer class, though his current form looks more than a little wobbly. More than anything else, it's the twin failures that he has just collected at Potchefstroom that's worrying me. The two Vs will make it too - Sehwag & Laxman, at #1 & #5 respectively. Latest news suggest that Rahul Dravid will be fit by the time the first ball is bowled at Johannesburg, and in that case he is definitely in at No.3.

Among the batting positions, we are still left with one slot which we we will deal with later. Amongst the bowlers, Zaheer has already ensured his place in the team with his performances on the tour. Against the Rest of South Africa, VRV impressed with his bowling and wins a place in my team. Kumble finds a place too, and so does Harbhajan Singh. Spin has been India's strength, and history has shown that selecting a lone spinner has often hurt India in the past. On the second or third afternoon, when the fast bowlers begin to look insipid when a partnership lasts for more than a full session, the attack needs variety. The duo of Kumble and Harbhajan provide that much needed spice to the attack - unfortunately for Sreesanth, i can't offer him a seat in the starting XI.

That leaves us with 2 empty slots - the wicket-keeper's one is a sitter, so we can ignore that and move to the final one. Who should open the innings with Virender Sehwag? In all probability, the Indian cricket think-tank will persist with Jaffer but this is my blog and i have my liberties which i am going to make full use of. Jaffer was on display recently and looks terrible - there's no point going into a match with a sure-shot failure. Problem is, we don't have an option. In that case, let's not waste a slot completely. Induct Pathan, afterall he has been your best batsman so far. Let him open. He will probably not fare worse than Jaffer. Even if he does fail with the bat, he can provide you with a genuine 5th bowling option. What say?

My team:
Sehwag, Pathan, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman,
Kumble, Harbhajan, Zaheer, VRV

Sunday, December 10, 2006

83 & Ganguly: www.google-y.com

Google can be weird at times. You must have read about the search-engine throwing up Bush/White House as the top search for the keyword failure. My google story is hardly that interesting or newsworthy, but interesting none the less.
Now a certain Saurav Ganguly happens to be my favourite cricketer and I hardly ever miss a chance to write about him on my cricket blog. Unfortunately i completely missed the December 7th, Potchefstroom story. I was away in Lucknow, on work, and by the time I could spare some time for my blog, the story had been written and re-written about a thousand times already. Lesser fans of Saurav had dissected the innings already and i was absolutely disheartened at missing the biggest Saurav innings in recent times. That's when i typed in the keywords Ganguly & 83 on the Google search window, and got a story!

You would expect the world's leading search engine to throw up cricinfo or some other popular cricket or news site or a general portal as the top search. Funnily enough, that was not the case - the #1 search result was a site called Nagalandpost . A site which mainly deals with an entirely different area had pushed the world's leading cricket portal to the number 2 slot for a cricket keyword.

Now, Nagaland is a tiny state located in India's extreme east, ensconsed between my home state, Assam and Myanmar. Nagaland has no known history of cricket, and even though Nagaland is a part of cricket-crazy India, it has no official cricket team, nor has any Naga player ever come even remotely close to playing for India. More Nagas follow cock-fighting than cricket!! That's why google's search result becomes all the more intriguing.
How do the Google's spiders go about doing their business? Surely, cricinfo has a far higher percentage of relevant keywords for cricket. Surely, cricinfo is far better linked by other cricket and Saurav Ganguly related sites. Qualitatively too, cricinfo would outscore Nagalandpost comprehensively, cricket-wise or otherwise. In terms of pageviews and traffic, Cricinfo is ranked amongst the world's leading 1000 websites. Nagalandpost is far, far behind.

Whatever way you think, this looks more than a little intriguing. Does the answer lie in the second keyword "83"? I don't know.....
just in case you are thinking yahoo, yahoo doesn't behave as weirdly for the keyword/s. No google-ys at yahoo as there is no sign of nagalandpost.com, at least not on the first results page. Cricinfo is where it should be, followed by news-sites and portals.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Cheeky Cricket

40.2 Nel to Karthik, FOUR, that's a unique shot! good length delivery outside the off stump - Karthik shuffles across a long way, manages to gets inside the line and then he lofts it over the keeper - cheaky

That's an extract from George Benoy's ball-by-ball commentary at Cricinfo for yesterday's match between India & South Africa. What George meant was cheeky, (so it's just a typing error) and even Harsha Bhogle described the shot as cheeky. It was cheeky indeed, but the CHEEKINESS was nothing if you compare it to a historic shot that was played on this very day, exactly seventy-eight years ago.

On the 3rd of December 1928, in a match between the Hindus and Parsees (Bombay Quadrangular) a bowler was so taken aback by a shot that he appealed: Kumar Shree Duleepsinhji had just played the world's first reverse sweep!! In A Book of Cricket Days, Bakhtiar Dadabhoy captures the moment in the words of the non-striker L.P. Jai - "Without changing the grip of the bat, he tried to turn the wide ball backwards towards third man with his bat turned and facing the wicket-keeper". Cheeky!!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Et Cetera: Senior Citizens, Sex and Cricket

i flicked this off flickr. Interesting picture clicked by a William Dane at an English county cricket match.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Ganguly is back, but why did he go?

Saurav Ganguly is back.
I would have been delighted even if the recall had not been a deserved one. But fortunately for Indian cricket, Dilip Vengsarkar is not my best buddy, and Ganguly’s inclusion in the test squad for South Africa was for authentic cricketing reasons only.

While I rejoice over his recall, what’s indeed sad is that India’s most successful captain was dropped from the Indian cricket team that easily, that too on very questionable grounds.( more on that later) For these, I don’t blame the selectors or the Indian cricket board, but the biggest menace of them all – the Indian public. I feel saddened to say this but my countrymen are largely a bunch of idiots, selfish, absolutely myopic and illogical. They were the ones who created an atmosphere where it began to be felt that Ganguly was past his prime, and the selectors threw away all logic out of the window when they took two wrong decisions, first to strip him of his captaincy, and then to drop him from the team itself.

Funnily enough, the world’s second highest century scorer in limited overs cricket was retained in the test squad and dropped from that part of the game where he was stronger. I am sure there would be hardly anyone who would argue with this part!

And then why was he dropped from the test team as well?
In the chronological order he scored 144, 2, 12, 37, 73, 16, 77, 45, 5, 9, 57, 40, 71, 88, 21, 12, 1, 1, 2, 101, 16, 5, 40, 39, 34 & 37 in his last 20 test matches. Before you begin to calculate the average, mode and medians just try to decide with a glance at the list. Chances are you will agree with me that a player doesn’t deserve to be dropped based on this series of scores. If you are still keen, let me tell you that the average works out to over 38. (The median is over 30, and the highest mode is 40!)

Want more statistics? Ganguly averages around 40 in his last six innings. If you think I am stretching the number to six to include that century in Zimbabwe, let’s drop it. Ganguly averages close to 40 even in his last 4 innings. Why I included six was for 2 reasons – these tests are spread across months and more than one series and venue. Further, if a player has been selected for a series or match and he has performed well, it’s quite stupid that you should then drop him for some past performances, which however, as I have illustrated is again not true. There was just one really lean patch where he fared badly – that stretch of 21,12,1,1,2 – this was against Pakistan at home. But he sprung back soon to score a century in Harare, and performed creditably against Pakistan in Pakistan. On pure batting reasons alone, statistically or otherwise, should he have been dropped?

Even if there was a dip, wasn’t there reason to be a little lenient on India’s most successful captain ever, someone who had got the team to believe in itself, someone who was winning series after series for India. A victory starved nation which was in the throes of the match-fixing scandal had been transformed beyond recognition by this man – look at the above series of scores again. That first one, the big 144 was probably the most important test century scored by an Indian cricketer in the last two decades. India were in Australia playing the first test of a new series at Brisbane. The technically sound duo of Tendulkar and Dravid had just been scalped by Jason Gillespie for a total of 1 runs. That’s when Ganguly stepped in and resurrected the team. If Ganguly had failed that day, what’s now a glorious chapter of India’s cricketing history may never have been.

As I write this, another silly poll on a another silly tv channel where lots of silly people participate says that 95% of my countrymen now think that Ganguly should be made captain as well. My advise to the selectors is simple – don’t listen to these idiots. Make him captain if you should, but for better reasons. Yeah, another one – come what may, don’t drop him further, not till the World Cup at least. It was Ganguly who made us so optimistic that we were not happy with a runners-up position at the previous World Cup. With him around, we may just have a chance again….

Monday, November 20, 2006

Today in Cricket History

Poonam and I were sipping our Assam chais* at the Cha-Bar inside the Oxford Book Store inside the Statesman House today evening when A Book of Cricket grabbed my attention. Now if you are a regular to this store or have been there even a few times, you must have already got thinking by now. Light, unlike sound travels in a straight line, and without bending this basic principle of science, it would be utterly impossible to have a dekko* of the sports section from any of the tables in the cha-bar. Well, i did have a dekko and i have not managed to create any flutters in the world of sciene either. It just happened that Bakhtiar Dadabhoy's efforts had been carelessly abandoned by my predecessor on the cha-table and it was lying under the table somewhere in between mine and Poonam's feet. Now i would have never known a thing but she gets tickled and ruffled if the faintest of foreign particles manage to contact her body or any part covering her body, which in this case was her left shoe. Well, her tickling cost me six hundred rupees but it looks like money well spent.
A Book of Cricket Days is no novel concept. You must have sometime or the other read a column in some newspaper titled "Today in History". It's a surprise the author picked up on this much beaten idea. Who the hell wants to know what happened in the world of cricket on 20th November 1936 or 1956 or any other year for that matter. But that's not how Dadabhoy saw it, as i realised only a little later. You may not be curious to know what happened on 20th November 1987, but that's just because you don't know what happened on that fateful Friday, that too in the life of a god fearing Muslim cricket player. The ex-Pakistan captain Rameez Raja became the first victim of cricket's Law 37-1. To add to Raja's displeasure, when he became the first batsman to be given out for obstructing the field in one-day internationals, he was on exactly one short of hundred, on 99. But that's not what the higest point of the book is, for a mere rattling off of such facts and figure would have converted it into a most insipid affair. Raj Singh Dungarpur very correctly point it out in his foreword: "This book with its emphasis on bare facts and records could easily have become a dry catalogue of dreary statistics but the author has avoided this pitfall with diligent and resourceful research and a discerning eye for the colourful detail of anecdote". Dadabhoy had a tough task on hand, yet he has managed to make every single day exciting for the lovers of that beautiful game called cricket. Pick it up for those moments when you come home early to catch an exciting contest of bat and ball only to find the rain-gods playing foul with your plans. So what if that day's cricket is a non-affair. Long, long back, exactly ten or twenty or thirty years back, it was an exciting day of cricket, says Dadabhoy. Let's re-live the joy.
* chai - hindi for tea
dekko - to catch a glimpse

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Cricket's Cup of Woes

The Ashes is round the corner, the world's biggest cricket show is just a few months away, my team is beginning their campaign in South Africa later today, yet I am not getting terribly excited about cricket. So much so that after the frenetic activity i displayed during the Champions Trophy, I haven't posted a single entry in the last 10 days. There's something definitely wrong with the world of cricket....

The two touring teams have begun their campaigns in identical fashion - while the Prime Minister's XI have inflicted a heavy defeat on the Englishmen, the Indians fared only marginally better in their tour opener against a Rest of South Africa team. Of the twenty-two batsmen on display from the two touring teams, as many as 13 failed to reach double digit scores including a duck each from Raina, Mongia and Anderson. These curtain-raisers don't bode too well for the cricket ahead and what makes matters worse is the injury lists - Marcus Trescothick, an important component of the vicotorious Ashes team ( 2005) with 431 runs in that cricket-at-its-very-best series is out of contention due to some stress related problems, Yuvraj Singh who tore his ligament playing kho-kho with his shoes on has added to India's already long list of batting woes, Sehwag is in discomfort, Flintoff is not in the pink of health and i am sure i am missing out on a couple of others.
Another Ashes drubbing looks not too far away for the Pommies and the Indians, who have always found South Africa in South Africa the toughest challenge ever look ready to be slaughtered again. In the tour opener, they found Steyn too tough to handle, wait till they face the likes of Ntini and Pollock on the bouncy Durban. Latest weather reports from Johannesburg (that's where the first ODI is happening later today) say that the sky is turning grey already, unless the clouds are a good nimbus, it might be a gray day ahead for India.
Neither Australia nor South Africa are the teams that they were 5 years back - one is good without being very good, the other very good but not unbeatable any more (i guess you know which adjective fits whom). That makes it only sadder for cricket - an erosion of their strength has been nullified by the alarming plummeting of quality elsewhere. India and England were the rising forces of cricket a couple of seasons back, one had bearded the lion in its den and the other had snatched the Ashes back after a long hiatus. It's mine and cricket's misfortune that their ascendancy has been reversed all too rapidly - we are back to a boring unipolar world !
Any wonder that I am disillusioned and disenchanted with cricket. Want more reasons? Throw a glance at the schedule for the coming World Cup - there are more mismatches than matches. Bermuda is a kind of shorts, a triangle, a nation, an unsolved mystery - that's all i knew about it till the ICC in all its wisdom told me that it's a cricket playing nation and they will be competing at the highest level very soon. Not to miss the others who will be joining the party - Scotland, Netherlands, Canada....is that some convoluted strategy to improve the status of the Bangladeshi and Kenyan cricket teams? I can't think of a better reason for converting cricket's showpiece tournament into a complete circus.
Cricket needs a miracle, and soon. Will you gentlemen join me in the prayer?
post script

while researching for the post, came across a site called www.injuryupdate.com !! further research might reveal that its board of directors include Shane Bond, Ashish Nehra, Marcus Trescothick, Sachin Tendulkar....

Monday, November 06, 2006

Dada defies ULFA dadagiri*, scores ton

As Saurav Ganguly & Avishek Jhunjunwala walked back to the pavillion at Guwahati's Nehru Stadium at the end of the 2nd day's play of the Deodhar Trophy encounter between East & North zones, the only thing on their minds must have been the huge score piled up by North in the first innings. In a little over an hour the situation changed dramatically, and by the time the players reached their hotel, cricket had taken a clear back seat.

Within minutes of each other, at about 1840 hrs local time, the Assam capital had been rocked by 3 bomb blasts leaving 15 dead, and at least 30 injured. Not surprisingly, a number of players fearing for their safety, called for the match to be abandoned. It was only after an assurance of safety from the Govt of Assam and reassurance from senior pros including Ganguly that the players relented.

Cricket resumed the next morning, and the few brave hearts who had made it to the ground were well rewarded - they got what they had asked for, and a little more. It was vintage Ganguly at his classical best. By modern cricket standards, it was a patient innings with the 100 coming off only the 191st ball, but it was an innings under pressure - both from a personal as well as a team point of view. Chasing a mammoth 504, East had lost two quick wickets the day before and Ganguly, who is out of the national team badly needed a big score for himself. And that's what he did - three 6's and a dozen 4's - and still undefeated at 118. The big question now is - can he continue with this form and make it back, to where he belongs ?

United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) is an insurgent group active in Assam for over 20 years now. They seek independence from India and are not averse to using violent means towards attaining their objective. Though they have not yet claimed responsibility for these blasts, intelligence sources say that ULFA is the most likely group behind the blasts.

* dadagiri - an indian slang for bullyism

the banished king and a destroyed pauper

Australia - The Commonwealth Bank and Cricket Australia, today announced the Bank will become the major sponsor of the world’s leading one-day cricket team and best one-day competition for the next three years.
The one-day competition will be known as the ‘Commonwealth Bank Series’ and the Australian team known as the ‘Commonwealth Bank one-day international team’.
2nd November - Media Release ( Commonwealth Bank)
  • Pakistan - With the Captain suspended, fast bowlers banned, the Vice captain refusing to be a dummy captain, fringe bowlers ineligible because of suspect actions, some players injured and others due to be dropped shortly, its probably only a matter of time before the Pakistan XI resembles a Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited International XI at some point.
So when do we get to see the mouthwatering spine-tingling match-up between Commonwealth Bank One day International All stars XI and Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited One Day International All Stars XI ?

The Aussies sell a piece of their soul

With the Captain suspended, fast bowlers banned, the Vice captain refusing to be a dummy captain, fringe bowlers ineligible because of suspect actions, some players injured and others due to be dropped shortly, its probably only a matter of time before the Pakistan XI resembles a Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited International XI at some point.
So when do we get to see the mouthwatering spine-tingling match-up between Commonwealth Bank One day International All stars XI and Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited One Day International All Stars XI ?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

a tampered cricket ball & the principles of justice

"The first principle of a good government is certainly a distribution of its powers into executive, judiciary, and legislative, and a subdivision of the latter into two or three branches." --Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1787.

There is a good reason why the founding fathers of almost all modern nation states enshrined into the constitutions of their respective constitutions the idea of an independent Judiciary, that was distinct and separate from the executive and the legislature. One of the most important reasons behind this was to protect the minorites from getting trampled under a majority juggernaut. Unlike the legislature, the judiciary would not decide matters by a vote but on evidence, motives and witness disposals. In Darrell Hair's case, this basic maxim of modern democracies has been brutally violated. Hair has been condemned and ejected from the system for no good reason. There is no evidence against Hair - whatever there is, is only circumstantial. For the courts that would not have been good enough but it was enough for the International Cricket Committee because a majority of its members voted against Hair. Poor Hair has been sentenced by the legislature !!

Besides subversion of justice, this is also a classic case of reverse-racism. A highly-placed ICC source told AFP that India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, together with South Africa, Zimbabwe and West Indies voted for Hair's dismissal at the executive board meeting of the ICC in Mumbai on Friday. ( source: www.cricinfo.com ) Can it get more apparent - that this is a clear case of black vs white.

I am no fan of Hair's but this is not the way I wished to see him go. The reason could have been better and it should have happened long ago.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

doping scandal: akhtar & asif won't play the world cup

Just saw this new flash, Pakistan Cricket Board hands out punishments to the doping accused. Akhtar 2 yrs & Asif 1 yr.

So all of us who were thinking that PCB had acted smartly and would ensure that Akhtar would be around for the world cup have been belied. Bad news for Pak cricket fans and everyone else too...

A dash of sex in the gentlemen's game

Do check out the all new "hot cricket" link on the right.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Reason for Kumble's selection for South Africa:

"Anil Kumble is an integral part of our One-day Cricket" - Dilip Vengsarkar, Chairman of India's selection committeee, on Sunday Oct 30th 2006

For more cricket humour, check http://crickethumour.blogspot.com

Monday, October 30, 2006

Champions Trophy: India outclassed by World Champions

At the end of over no.42, India were not too badly placed at 197 for 4, with Mohammad Kaif and Mahender Singh Dhoni doing duty for India in the middle of the Punjab Cricket Association Ground at Mohali, Chandigarh in the last league match of the ICC Champions Trophy 2006. Things took a turn from there on, as the World Champions took control of the match, first with the ball and then with the bat. Riding on controlled late spells by the pace duo of Lee and Mc Grath and superb knocks from skipper Ponting and man-of-the-match Damien Martyn, Australia thrashed India by 6 wickets and qualified for the semi-finals in style.
Australian Cricketer

Earlier in the day, Rahul Dravid won the toss, and as expected, elected to bat. Considering the recent form of the Indian batsmen, the team got off to a reasonably good start. Tendulkar and Sehwag laid a good foundation, though Tendulkar himself got out cheaply for 10. His opening partner however struck form at the right time – there is something about Sehwag, for a man badly out of form (he had 54 runs from his previous 6 innings), he is almost arrogantly confident. In the very first ball of the match, Sehwag swung the bat and guided the ball to the third man. Not once did he look out of touch against Lee, Mc Grath or any of the other Aussie bowlers. Compare this to the in-form Tendulkar, who took his own sweet time getting settled down, opening his account not before he had faced a dozen balls already. Sehwag had already raced to 21 by then. Dravid continued with the good work and the platform had been created. What was needed now was for the stroke-makers to come to the party.

Therein India failed, and miserably so. Raina coming in before the free-playing Pathan was a wrong ploy, and it cost India dear with him failing even to rotate the strike. This was the period when Lee, who had been expensive earlier, sent down a maiden 43rd over, following it up with just a single off his next over. India should have reached in excess of 275, and fell short by a good twenty five runs. In the hindsight, you could well say that the way Australia batted, even 275 would not have been enough. But twenty five more runs would have put further pressure on the batsmen, and what would have happened then, you would never know. However, that was not the case and the Aussie openers ripped the Indian quickies apart without ever really playing a risky shot. Pathan and Munaf did not have the pace to rattle the batsmen, and both Gilchrist and Shane Watson settled in comfortably. While Gilchrist scored his first two boundaries against Pathan, Watson scored his first two against Patel. When they were bowling a fuller length, the line was too wide and when it was dug in short, either didn’t have the speed to make it count. 26 runs were scored off the 7th and 8th overs and from there on the run rate never fell below 6 till the 25th over. Skipper Ponting joined in the fun later and scored a brisk 58. Not afraid to come out of his crease, he never really allowed Harbhajan or Mongia to really dominate the proceedings. While Mongia impressed with his spinners, Harbhajan should have bowled a more attacking line. He bowled too flat and too defensively, and the batsmen were quite happy to let him do that. Among the two, Mongia was the one who looked like taking any wickets. And he did that in his very first over. At 111/2, Damien Martyn trodded in, to play his most memorable innings in recent times. Martyn started off catiously against the spinners, but when he finally opened himself up, he was on song. Much like his skipper, Martyn used his feet well against the spinners. Including a beautiful inside-out drive over the cover fence against Mongia, he struck eight lucid boundaries. When he finally flicked a low full toss from Patel to the midwicket boundary, Martyn broke Australia’s jinx against India in the Champions Trophy. For India, it was all over.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Has the door been closed on Saurav Ganguly?

A guard closes the door as a patron walks in into Saurav's, the cricketer's restaurant in Kolkata

The Challenger Trophy was definitely a chance, what with the new chief selector Vengsarkar making the right murmurs just before the tournament. But alas, Ganguly didn't give Vengsarkar & co. any reason to even discuss his name in the next selection meeting. What's worse, as a result of the twin failures in the NKP Salve Trophy, Ganguly lost his place even in the Rest of India squad for the Irani Trophy. "Oo, Aa, India" notwithstanding, Saurav is frittering the few precious chances he has been getting post the Challenger. He just recorded twin failures in the Deodhar Trophy, even getting out to a below-par bowler from Assam.

Whatever little hopes Ganguly fans entertain of him making a comeback have more to do with Virender Sehwag than Dada himself. Sehwag's insipid performances are keeping the hopes alive for Ganguly. The World Cup is not too far away, and if Sehwag doesn't score soon, the selectors will need to go hunting for another opener. For the the biggest stage in cricket, they would prefer an experienced hand but Ganguly needs to give them some reasons - big and quick. The door is still ajar, but it's upto Ganguly now to keep it from closing completely.

Food for cricketing thought:
1. Sehwag's last One-day MOM came way back on April 2nd 2005 against Pakistan at Kochi.
2. In his last 30 ODIs, Sehwag hasn't crossed 100 even once, and 50 just 5 times.
3. In his last 20 ODIs, Sehwag has scored just 524 runs averaging a poor 27.57

Monday, October 23, 2006

Champions Trophy: India's duty to the World of Cricket

Australian Cricketer
On Sunday, the 29th of October 2006, the Indian cricket team will need to shoulder a huge responsibility. It is in all likelihood, not going to be a very important match for India, as they will probably beat the West Indies in their next match and seal a place in the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy. But the importance of the match is much bigger - India will be doing duty for the entire cricketing fraternity.

For too long now, one team has been dominating the world of cricket. Australia's incessant reign at the top has resulted in the game becoming less charming and less popular. The Indian cricket team has a chance now to send them packing back home. An early exit by the Australians will be a refreshing change. You could argue saying that even in the previous editions of this trophy, Australia have made quick exits. But they were one-off, knock-out matches, which could be called flukes. That's not the case here. The once-mighty West Indians dealt them an early blow this time. But unlike last time, they have a chance to recover. England could have sealed their fates, but they pom-pommed their way to a defeat. So, the mantle is on India's shoulders now. Send the Aussies home early and do the world of cricket a favour. It will be upto the Englishmen then, to retain the Ashes, and clinch the deal for the world.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Cricket on bad pitches: I am loving it

Vivian Richards says that the pitches prepared for the ICC Champions Trophy are not good enough for One-day cricket. Rickey Ponting obviously agrees with him. So does Stephen Fleming, Muttiah Murlidharan, Navjot Singh Sidhu and the rest of the cricketing world. The CCI president is so shocked by the under-prepared wickets that he wants the final of the premier cricket tournament shifted out of his own ground! And he must be right because the ICC wants the decision reversed( no, no it's got nothing to do with the fact that ICC read in the reverse reads CCI, just that they always take the wrong decisions, that's all!!). But I am loving it.

A completely doped out Pakistan defeated favourites Sri Lanka. The permanent underdog Newzealand outclassed the Proteas and then the West Indies, beaten-to-the-pulp-by-Lanka shocked World Champions Australia in a classic cliff-hanger. Three matches so far in the main league of the Champions Trophy and Three upsets. What more could one ask for? The berated ICC Trophy is suddenly alive and kicking - all thanks to the severely criticised wickets.

Slowly but surely One-day cricket has been losing its charm - everything seemed to be falling into a very monotonous pattern. If you want to be less harsh, you could say that there were four or five patterns from which the captain was free to choose one depending on the situation and his own style and supply of substance in the team. Lets look at some of the ingredients:

1. Captain A elects to go with one traditional opener and one of the swashbuckling variety( Dravid and Tendulkar). Captain B prefers a high-risk, high-gain flamboyant couple to open. ( Kaluwitharana/Jayasurya).

2. When the going gets tough in the middle, fielding captain A who has saved 4-5 overs of his opening bowler's spell for the end-burst, brings him back for a 2 over spell to help him get a break-through. In this rule, there are almost no exceptions, so no captain B at all

3. Captain A experiments(sic) by promoting batsman no. 7 or 8 to no.3. Captain B does not. He prefers a regular batsman at no.3

4. If 3 to 4 wickets fall early, god save the viewers because now is consolidation time. So batsmen 5,6,7 will rotate the strike like good school boys, take singles, dispatch the occasional bad ball to the boundary et cetera. God really save the viewer if 5,6 and 7 fall too because now the game is as good as over.

The last 500 One-day Cricket matches have been played like this. The first 250 were fun because it was new. The next 250 were not because of the first 250. Thank god for the CCI and the ICC Champions Trophy wickets. The monotony has been broken and One-day cricket is fun again. A television commentator (think it was Tony Greig, but am not too sure) had once remarked that Cricket is at its best when the ball dominates the bat by just a little margin. He was almost right, except for the margin bit. Cricket is at its best when the ball dominates the bat by more than just a margin !!!

Monday, October 16, 2006

A new trouble for Pakistan Cricket: Nandrolone

Somehow this ICC Champions Trophy is not a very auspicious tournament for Cricket. This is in addition to the fact that it is not the right tournament anyways. Where is the point in having a tournament like this six months before the World Cup? The format this year (of the main phase of the tournament) is exactly the format of the earlier World Cups( 1975 & 1979, 83 and 87 were different in only that there were two matches now between each team in the pools).

Well, lets not meander away from the point - and the point is a substance called Nandrolone, which is now rocking Pakistan Cricket. This latest trouble for Pakistan Cricket might also mark the arrival of the drug-menace in the world of cricket. No, I am not discounting Warne's popping of the pill his mummy gave him, but Warne being Warne, and the fact that it was an isolated case made it a little less dangerous. What's making me more than a little uneasy about Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif is 1) the fact that 2 guys have been caught together, both for the same banned anabolic steroid called nandrolone, and both are Pakistan's new ball bowlers, and 2) they are from Pakistan and the fact that the tests were carried out, not by a neutral body like WADA but by Pakistan internally, and that Pakistan has on its own recalled them from the Champions Trophy.

The Pakistan Cricket Board has acted in the most appreciable manner and its efforts needs to be lauded. The recall of Akhtar and Asif means that Pakistan will suddenly need 2 new guys to open their attack in their match against Lanka tomorrow.

Nandrolone, the substance consumption that Akhtar and Asif have been found guilty of is not new to the world of sports. Linford Christie, Merlene Ottey, Dougie Walker and many other illustrious sportsmen have been banned after having been caught for Nandrolone-abuse. And this makes it all the more dangerous for Cricket.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Cricket: Mandira & Bermuda

mandira bedi

I am a cricket fan..plus there is another problem, i am not fond of soccer or basketball or f-1 and other such games which are on the upswing. And I am worried, genuinely so. Firstly, I have to bear with Mandira Bedi and Co. on TV when I am trying to enjoy some serious cricket. Secondly, ICC wants me to watch Bermuda play cricket, and that in the World Cup. As if Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are not good enough. Please guys, do something, i just hope you don't kill the game...unlike lots of you i don't even have the option of switching over to EPL or NBA..I just like this cricket thing a wee bit too much.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Globalisation of cricket, My Foot!!

Kiwi Cricket in Africa?
So China is getting serious about cricket. And United States tried its level best to host one of the matches of the next world cup on its soil. So Bermuda is no more just a triangle, but also a leading cricekting nation....My foot!!

The ICC first needs to take a long hard look at the state of the game in the countries which have already been playing cricket for years now. The picture ain't beautiful, and only once the decline there has been arrested should they go about acquiring newer territories. The Champions Trophy 2007 has just begun, and we are already witness to the pathetic state of the Zimbabwean cricket team. And this was not sudden, it has been a gradual decline, and the ICC should have stepped in and done something about it, if it is really serious about promoting cricket. In the Caribbean and England, Cricket is no longer the leading sport. Newzealand is stuck in some kind of a limbo. For as long as i have been following cricket, there has been no major upswing or downswing. They have never been a leading force in the world of cricket, and whenever they manage to win a few matches, it's always a surprise. Shane Bond was the last big thing which happened, but hardly does anyone have a clue where he is for most of the time. That's also true of the Newzealand team though. When they play their first match of the ICC Cricket Champions Trophy 2007, it will be their first serious cricket match in 7 months. Bangladesh surprises once every year, but that's about it. That leaves you with just India,Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia. So the net result of the globalise-cricket drive is 4 serious nations, down from 7 or 8 a few years back. ( Have left out South Africa, because i need a little more time to understand where they are at the moment, anyways their rise has more to do with government politics than ICC politics)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Pakistan: More politics than cricket

I am sure that i have a lot of company when i say that if Pakistan's cricketers, selectors and board put as much focus into their cricket as they do in their politics, they might just become Australia's biggest challenger on top of the cricket world. Pakistan probably produces the world's best fast bowlers consistently, even otherwise they have the biggest amount of talent-going-waste in the world of cricket. Only if stories like the recent "Younis Khan" and captaincy didn't appear all too regulary from Islamabad or Lahore or Rawalpindi. I don't know who is right or who is wrong, just that someone need to take charge of Pakistan cricket very earnestly. Maybe even Musharaff, he is after all a parton of the PCB. What say??

Thursday, October 05, 2006

GANDHIgiri IN, DADAgiri OUT ??

Saurav Ganguly2nd October 2006 was not just another day in the park for Saurav Ganguly. The second league match of the NKP Salve Challenger Trophy was being played at M.A. Chidambaram Stadium Chennai, and this was the first of the two or maximum three chances that he had, to create an impression on the national selectors. He started off well, and with three well-placed boundaries, he looked set to score a big one. But alas, it was not to be. When he trooped back to the pavillion for a paltry 24, he must have known it more than anyone else - that the end of the road is fast approaching. Ganguly's team lost the match by 268 runs and with that one more thing became certain - that the Greens were out of reckoning for the finals, and the next match would be Dada's last chance to redeem.

While Gandhi Jayanti proved unlucky for Dada, the next one turned out to be worse. Dimsissed for just 3 runs, the second consecutive failure means that Saurav has now lost his place even in the Rest of India team for the Irani Trophy. That's as bad as it gets, and the future doesn't look too bright for India's most successful captain ever, also my favourite cricketer. But you never know what the future holds - Gandhi has just made a come-back into our drawing rooms and lives, Dada's job is definitely easier!!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Monday Morning Blues for the Greens

Sachin Tendulkar
No one can bat like Tendulkar used to. Not even Tendulkar! The Tendulkar we see nowadays is not the real thing - except sometimes when he decides to surprise us. Today was one such day. Twenty precisely struck boundaries and four beautiful sixes - each one with the Maestro's class written all over them made it a very special holiday - as if a Sunday, Dusshera, Vijaya Dashmi and Gandhi Jayanti already coinciding were not good enough!

When Lahiri finally ended the Green's miseries, Tendulkar had already compiled 139 of just 100 balls - this desipite the fact that an early fall of wicket had caused Tendulkar to start his innings catiously. The score had already raced to 226 and this was only the 33rd over. Dravid's and Dhoni's half-centuries ensured that Sachin's good work was not undone and with the Blues ending their innings at a mammoth 381, the cricket match was as good as over. Except perhaps for one aspect - Saurav Ganguly. The new chief selector, Dilip Vengsarkar had ignited hopes by saying that they would be watching Ganguly very closely. Ganguly began well and he pierced his favourite off side field succesfully to notch three beatiful boundaries. But that was just about it. He soon perished for 24. With him gone,and the result
already decided (well almost), the match was as good as over.

A 268 run defeat victory means that the Blues have virtually ensured themselves a place in the finals. And so have the Reds?

( NKP Salve Challenger Trophy, Match 2: Blue vs Green, MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai, 2nd October 2006)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Red, Blue & Green: A Colourful Challenger

The glittering NKP Salve Challenger Trophy
The Challenger Trophy is probably the most interesting concept conceived by the BCCI ever. And this year they have added the right dash of colour(s) to it too. While India Blue is obviously what was earlier India Seniors, A & B have now become Red & Green. While it's fascinating to watch the very best of Indian cricket competing against each other, the NKP Salve Challenger trophy is most popular because of the way it's connected to future selections to Team India. We have seen in the past that one good performance here often catapults a player into the big league. Bowlers who have picked up big wickets have been the luckiest in that sense.

Challenger 2006 is important because of 2007 - the World Cup is just round the corner, and the Indian ODI team is in the middle of a big slump. Which means, a few premier seats are up for the grabs. Sehwag's position in the team is very surprisingly a little shaky ( who would have bargained for Sehwag becoming a Test mega-success and and ODI failure?) and Ganguly is dying to make a comeback. The Challenger could be his last chance to make an impression. The Indian pacers performed not too creditably in Malaysia, and coupled with the fact that the lone spinner was a success, the selectors would definitely have a re-look at Kumble. The biggest grudge of Laxman's life has been his exclusion from the World Cup 2003 team, and he will be vying to make amends here. Interestingly, the person he lost a place to in the previous edition of the World Cup has again made a timely impression with his fighting knock in Malaysia and is a part of the "Blues" now. Zaheer Khan and Piyush Chawla are the other leading contenders. Forty-two of India's best are in the fray - let's see who comes out with flying colours

Ganguly: From Challenger to World Cup??

Saurav Ganguly, concentrating on comeback
The Cricket World Cup 2007 is not too far away - it's actually so close that fans have already started buying tickets to the West Indies! Does Dada hold any chance? And is there enough time to make an impression? The answers to both these questions is an unequivocal yes. The Indian team is in the middle of a big ODI slump and the batting order - both opening and middle order is far from settled. And this coupled with the fact that the World Cup is too close may ironically be the biggest reason why Saurav holds a good chance.

Dravid, by promoting himself up the order has unsettled both the top order and the middle order. And he needs to quickly make some adjustments so that the team has a settled look before the World Cup starts. Sehwag's recent and not-too-recent ODI records have been pathetic and it may not be possible to justify his inclusion for very long unless he posts some consistent scores. An opening slot may be up for grabs, and if it comes to a toss-up, Ganguly's bowling might give him the selection edge. ( Remember that the cricket world cup rules allow only 14 players, and multi-faceted players may be prefered, not the best logic but you can never tell)

But first things first - Ganguly first needs to put some runs on the board to make the selectors look up. And the NKP Salve Challenger Trophy is just the right place to do it. And no one knows it more than Dada himself. Although his team plays their first match only on Monday, Ganguly was the first one to arrive for practise today. he had a long net session ( 45 minutes) and was seen playing his traditional lofted drives. He looks determined, for sure.

Durga Puja celebrations are on in Bengal, and the first match of the Challenger is on the Vijaya Dashmi day, considered the most auspicious day of the year in Bengal. Who knows what the future holds? Maybe Kiran More's perfectly-timed exit and Vengsarkar's entry is because of some divine intervention !!!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Hair, Inzamam, BCCI & ICC: This ain't cricket

A round ball was Oval-ized a few days back..no one knows for sure who tampered with the rotundess - and funnily enough two very-round guys were in the middle ( plenty of it ) of the controversy !
But guess who comes out of it with mud on its face - the ICC !! It's amazing how it does it time and again. It has probably done it to appease the cash-rich Asian Cricket Boards, but the BCCI has now done an about-turn. May Allah shower some mercy on ICC. Only he can guarantee it a "Safe and Secure" exit out of this tampered controversy.

For more on BCCI and ball-tampering, read this Cricinfo.com column

What's Round, What's Oval: Inzy, Hair or the Cricket Ball?

Ball-tampering: Pak at the Oval

Darrell's Hairy Episode: Not all black and white!

Hair showing the cricket ball to Inzamam, informing him that the ball is no longer round like either of the two gentlemen!
I am not a fan of Mr Darrell Hair, the umpire or the person. I loved it when Ranatunga won that infamous match in Australia, when another Hairy episode had taken place. I am not a racist either, but I do believe that browns and blacks have been victimised and not everything was hunky-dory with the early Australian umpiring when the countries from the sub-continent went visiting.

But, in the current imbroglio I am not Championing Asia's case at all - if Hair was wrong and Inzy right, then that would be a much better case for removing Darrell but this is plain arm-twisting by BCCI & PCB. The reason put forward by ICC for not taking the umpire on board is as ridiculous as it gets: "For safety and security reasons". This (BCCI) is the same board which is ready to guarantee the entire Pakistan team complete security. Is the threat perception here even a small portion of that?

I am sorry to say, but the ICC keeps sinking further and further...
( Am actually surprised how when Ganguly was captain and Dalmiya the king of the world, could a Ashoka D'Silva survive !! )

Click here to read the transcripts of Hair's correpsondence with ICC

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Rahul/Azhar vs Ganguly: A matter of Captaincy

Current India Coach Greg Chappell explaining a shot to his predecessor, John WrightArresting a decay is mostly difficult because it invariably happens in a very unnoticeable, gradual manner. Corruption, for instance, would never have become as acceptable had it happened all of a sudden. Why it succeeded is because it corroded the system over a very long period of time in a very non-intrusive manner.

Yesterday*, surprisingly, a decay reached one of its early summits and I say surprising because unlike corruption or most other decadence that have been witnessed, this one was surprisingly rapid yet there is hardly much murmur about it. And the surprise is all the more because this latest case of decay is taking place in an area we are quite attached with – emotionally and actually.

It was less than two years back that Indian cricket was riding high on the success of Saurav and Wright’s tactics. What was amazing and heart-warming about the team was not so much the success that they were achieving, but the spirit with which they were playing. On a player-to-player basis, this team was no superior than the previous teams which had represented the country. In fact, the shining star of the previous years, and one of the greatest batsman the game has ever seen, was now evidently past his peak. And I think, the best way to gauge the success of this team is from the position of this great player in the team. Saurav’s team became free of Sachin – Sachin was important, he was arguably still the most important player, but that was it. The team’s performance was no longer proportional to the length of Tendulkar’s stay at the crease. The Indian cricket team became what it was always supposed to be one – a team. Each member became important and no one indispensable. Azhar’s boys had been replaced by Saurav’s men.

Watching the dying moments of the match yesterday was an agonizing experience. I could see my spirits and hopes dying – the clock had completed a full circle all too soon. Rahul’s India had become Azhar’s India: Saurav’s India has been thrown into the dustbin of cricketing history all too soon. While there is enough logic and statistics to back the decision of throwing the player Saurav into the bin, there is no logic, cricketing or scientific, to abandon all the good work that he had done. When five boys (read wickets) fell early in Azhar’s India, the game was given up. Saurav’s men fought it till the very end – and more often than not, succeeded. The idea of giving up had been given up.
An interesting bit of statistic: While chasing an ODI target, if seven or more wickets have fallen, the win record of Ganguly’s team is 1.5 times that of Azhar’s. The importance of this record is realized when you look at a similar record for the Australian team since 1st Jan 1991. Their variance between overall win record and for this filter is less than 20%. For India, it’s close to 35%. Which means, if Australia had a similar record as other team’s for this particular filter, their record for this period, when they have been the unquestioned number one team, would only remain marginally better than the next team.

You might think that India didn’t give up yesterday after the first five wickets fell early and you are right about it in a very narrow, unthinking manner. Ganguly’s biggest contribution to the team was not recovery but a more tangible phenomenon called success. (See box) Though I have not been able to collect empirical evidence to verify this, India under Ganguly had the best probability of reaching a score of 200 batting first, if the first four wickets fell for less than 50. The idea is that recovering and reaching 150-175, while commendable, did not do much for the end result. The first target for team recovering from a similar position (unless the wicket is a landmine) is invariably 200. Anything less is a defeat – like it happened yesterday. Unlike the paying public’s penchant for close finishes, Ganguly was the kind who would not see a difference between a 16 run loss and a 56 run one. A defeat is a defeat, and it hurts.

Let’s continue the above discussion, with the situation reversing – India defending a total, that is. Except for the odd match, like the Benson & Hedges tie against the West Indies in 1991 at WACA, Azhar’s bowling changes were too defensive and fatal. In this match Azhar did a Ganguly. Defending a meager 126, he went for the jugular – not a single over was given to any irregular bowler though he had only four regular bowlers in his armoury. Tendulkar was brought in to bowl the 41st over only when he had absolutely no choice. But by then the strategy had worked beautifully, with West Indies having lost all but one wicket, and still short by six runs. India won the match, but not before Tendulkar had given away 5 runs. Imagine the result if Azhar had employed his regular strategy. While Kapil, Prabhakar, Srinath and Banerjee had each recorded an economy rate of 3 or under, a few overs by Tendulkar, even if he had scalped a wicket or two, would most probably have been a fatal strategy. But unlike this day of master-captaincy, Azhar was mostly a master at missing the plot. In innumberable cases, when the match was tightly balanced, Azhar’s defensive tactic of getting through with his secondary bowlers first would kill the match long before the spearheads came back into attack.

Ganguly was no genius, just that he was smart enough to learn from Azhar’s mistakes. He didn’t transform the team over night; it was a slow, gradual process. So it is bizarre that the man who thought Dada was next only to God (okay, only in half of the cricket field) should have gone into a complete re-learning mode. Dravid opening the innings would nowhere fit into Dada’s scheme of going for the jugular. Even if we leave Dada aside, a copybook correct Rahul should know that no team puts its best two batsmen at the very top. I am not against innovation or experimentation, but this is plain wrong – cricket is over a hundred years old, one-dayers itself are over a ripe thirty: Certain experiments have already been done and the results well-documented for future reference, you are repeating failed experiments at your own peril.

Saurav succeeded because he learnt from history, he knew the weaknesses that were to be worked on, and the strengths that were to be harnessed. Even he experimented occasionally but never went on an over-drive. Rahul is failing because Chappell seems to have convinced him to start on a blank-canvas. They are following a most weird hit-n-trial strategy. You just need to iron out the wrinkles; a complete plastic surgery may the kill the body.

* Written on the day after the India- Australia match of the DLF Cup 2006, Malaysia