Archive for the ‘Cricket’ Category

Sachin Tendulkar ‘rested’, Rahane debuts – wishful thinking?

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

I write this on the eve of the fourth and final test between India and Australia in Delhi. With a 3-0 lead and an unbelievably vulnerable Australian side facing it, a 4-0 whitewash certainly seems possible. At the end of the 3rd test, captain Dhoni was asked about the approach to team selection for the 4th test and his response seemed to indicate that there was likely to be some changes (and not just those forced by injury, such as that to Shikhar Dhawan). It wasn’t an explicit statement as such, yet for some reason that’s how I interpreted it.

Here’s what I feel could happen – or may be should happen. The team management should give Sachin Tendulkar a rest and play Ajinkya Rahane in his place. They should also consider giving Ashok Dinda a go and leave out Suresh Raina who has been brought into the squad after Dhawan got injured and Gambhir was diagnosed with jaundice.

I am not in the ‘ask Sachin to retire’ camp– looking at his batting in the Australia series, he does seem hungry and good enough to play the South Africa series in about 8 months’ time; India could be well-served by his expeirince too. However, with the Australia series done and dusted, it is a great opportunity to give somebody like Rahane a well-deserved debut and see how he fares.

Personally, I feel doing something like this will be in the larger interest of the team. We’ll know whether the Indian team management can show the same adventurous spirit as the Australian ‘leadership group’ did by dropping 4 players for the 3rd test.

A tale of two debuts for Shikhar Dhawan

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Shikhar Dhawan made his ODI and Test debuts against the same opponents, Australia- albeit 2.5 years apart. In his ODI debut, he faced all of 2 balls and was bowled of the second ball he faced for a duck. Call it coincidence, but it was a game in which Michael Clarke scored a wonderful hundred (well, here’s another: Clarke got out for a duck in this game, while Dhawan eventually racked up the fastest ton on debut in the history of Test cricket!).

Today, when Dhawan went out to open the innings for the first time in a Test match, he may have well wondered if misfortune had cast her evil eye on him again. He was caught out of the crease, backing up too much at the non-striker’s end, when the ball accidentally fell on the stumps and dislodged the bails. Thankfully, for everyone who managed to watch the innings that followed (except for the visiting players and their traveling supporters), the Australians just let that incident be and moved on…. to be completely blown away by some amazingly dazzling strokeplay. The Aussie bowlers and fielders gave it their all– their commitment on the field was admirable, but towards the end of the day’s play, a look of helplessness took over; heads fell over in near-surrender as eyes followed the ball that inevitably raced past them with unbelievable frequency. A hundred in a session of play between lunch and tea, and a near double hundred within the end of the next session– that certainly belongs to the the rarest of the rare occasions.

If Dhawan is able to reproduce an innings even half as good in quality of strokeplay in future, he would have earned the right to twirl his moustache with pride!

P.S: On air, Sunil Gavaskar was tongue-in-cheek as usual poking fun at the tendency of Australians and Englishmen to focus on the Ashes even as they are playing test series elsewhere in the world. He kept emphasising the need for them to focus on the present. Fair point, but why do Indian commentators (Mr.Gavaskar is as guilty of this as anyone else) want to talk about a batsman getting double hundreds and triple hundreds even as they reach a hundred or a double hundred, respectively?

Mr.Reliable calls it a day

Friday, March 9th, 2012

It is a bit eerie. Ever since Rahul Dravid called a press release for today- Friday, the 9th March– the press worldwide has already been out with his cricket obituary. It has been written with almost absolute certainty that Rahul Dravid is retiring and that’s what this press conference is all about.

Nevertheless, as soon as I heard of the news, one of the first things that came to mind was to ask my friend Ravi–an ardent fan of Dravid, if ever there was one– to ask for a guest post for this blog. I was almost certain that he would be moved to put his dormant writing skills to use; yet, things slipped through the cracks during the day, and I missed dropping him that invitation. Just past midnight, I get a mail from Ravi asking me if there was some space on my blog to post his piece celebrating Dravid’s career!

So, here it is, posted verbatim. I am posting this before Dravid’s press conference; I’ll go with the rest of the world in concluding that today is the day when cricket lovers worldover say adieu to the “Great Wall”. I look forward to some original writing (not pathetically written ghost-written pieces like several other ex-cricketers) and insightful commentary from Dravid in his next avatar, which I will believe will begin very soon.

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All good things come to an end, so does the great career of Rahul Dravid. After a very impressive debut in England in 1996 he had to face the South Africans overses and showed a lot of resilience and spirit. Very early in his test career he had earned the reputation of being dependable or reliable. One of those guys when you watch for the first time gives the impression that he is 8000-10000 runs man. He did not let us down and always stood and fought in all situations without giving it away. He is undoubtedly one of the best batsmen the world has seen and I would rate him only second after Sachin Tendulkar among the Indians, and that’s only for skill. As far as his attitude goes he is right up there.

All along his career he played with some fantastic players in both forms of the game. Sachin, Saurav, Laxman, Sehwag, Yuvraj etc. These guys dominated and our man would quietly allow them the centre stage and silently do his job like a master craftsman. He never competed with these guys, but always complimented. He played in the larger interest of the team and therefore his 24000 odd runs in both forms of the game are priceless, as his presence in the middle brought out the best from his team mates. A few innings great innings I remember are Laxmans 281 at Kolkatta (2001), Sauravs 183 at Taunton (1991), Sachins 186 at Hyderabad (1999), MS Dhoni’s 183 at Jaipur (2005). The non-striker in all these great innings was Dravid. He scored 180, 145, 154 and I think 39 from the other end respectively. The first three scores were substantial ones, but they all got overshadowed, and he never minded that as he always played for the team. He has played in whatever position he was asked to, and even kept wickets when the team needed. He was not a naturally gifted stroke player as the guys listed above, but he made it up with grit, determination, discipline, dedication and tons of hard work. A classic and correct batsman who when got out bowled, one knew know that it was unplayable ball. That’s the reason I feel you will never produce a Rahul Dravid again as today’s system does not need a cricketer to toil hard to make a living in cricket.

India’s best period in test cricket coincided with his best batting. He averages more than 100 in all tests won under Saurav Ganguly. He was always questioned for his style of batting in the 50 over format, but he provided the solidity and sanity among all these stroke players and his aggregate of 10000 runs @40 reflects his contribution. His slip catching was another great contribution to the team. His time with Greg Chappell as coach was probably one of the most volatile period in recent times. There was so much written about RD as well, the man hardly ever spoke a wrong word. His conduct on and off the field all along has been almost immaculate. That’s the reason he has earned the respect of even the opposition team members. It’s been a privilege to watch his career and it has been a great lesson of building it brick by brick.

For ardent fans like me it’s hard to believe that there will be an Indian test team without RD at number 3. Let’s wish the Legend a great life ahead and thank him for his contribution to Indian Cricket and bringing innumerable smiles on the faces of Indian cricket fans.

Contributed by Ravi Kumar.

Rahul Dravid’s recall to the one-day team: a friend reacts

Monday, August 8th, 2011

My friend Ravi, an intelligent and knowledgeable cricket follower, sent me an e-mail yesterday after he heard of the selection of the Indian cricket team for the one-day series against England. He has always been an ardent follower of Dravid and is one of those who believe that Dravid is one of those cricketers who- despite his acknowleged greatness- has never really gotten his due. I present his mail below (with some minor edits), which perhaps echoes the sentiments of a large section of Indian followers:

Couldn’t help laugh when I read that RD was recalled for ODI series in England…. and I had to respond to this joke.

He was dropped in Oct’2007 as it was perceived that he does not fit into the scheme of things for India in the shorter version. This was after he had resigned abruptly from captaincy after coming back from England, where had scored a 85 ball hundred in an ODI….

He is then called back to ODIs in 2009 after a disastrous T20 WC campaign where the Indian youngsters could not handle “BOUNCE”. He may have played about 3 games and was again left out…… to be recalled now in 2011 since most of his team mates cannot handle “SWING, BOUNCE”. ….. maybe even “SPIN”. That’s about the batsman

The irony is that it’s a World Cup winning team……..The “WORLD CHAMPIONS”……… need a 38 year old …. probably not even to win … but to reduce their margin of defeat.

In my opinion no one would be laughing harder than the man himself for BCCI’s step in the wrongdirection.

Ravi wanted my views on it and I didn’t have a straight answer– I was just in one of those moods!

BCCI is showing that it is a flexible organization that can adapt itself very quickly; it is flexible and not as rigid as the rest of the envious world makes it out to be. They realize that Dravid is the man in form and they are adopting a horses for courses policy—he is the horse that can respond to swing, seam, bounce and spin. What’s more, he may well keep wickets, which will allow Dhoni to focus on his captaincy and also contribute a bit as the fifth bowler. That way we can have an additional batsman and really strengthen our already formidable batting line up.

You see, BCCI and the selection committee use hindsight and foresight in their selection; it’s bunch of smart guys we have out there.

Nevertheless, later in the evening, Rahul Dravid himself gave the best response to the selection panel- he announced his retirement from the shorter format of the game to focus on test cricket. Being the gentleman that he is, Dravid didn’t decline the opportunity to play in the forthcoming series– which he couldn’t be blamed for even if he had done it.

IPL4: a case of elusive charisma and dynamism

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

That IPL 4 commenced and concluded as scheduled is perhaps proof that no individual is indispensable; an institution is greater than an individual. That the event should have meandered to a close with empty stadiums— even the Wankhede Stadium looked more than half-empty for a game featuring Sachin Tendulkar in a knock out!- is proof of the difference than an individual can make to an institution.

Could Lalit Modi have made the IPL Season 4 any different? Could he have prevented the sharp drop in TRP ratings or gotten more bodies through the stadium gates? May be not. It is being argued that even with our gargantuan appetite, we had reached the limit of how much cricket we could ingest. However, if you hear some of the owners on what they had to say about IPL 4 without Lalit Modi, it is clear that they felt he could have made a serious difference to how this year’s event finally turned out.

This is where charisma and dynamism come into play- people possessed with these enviable traits make things happen. I can’t help feeling that Lalit Modi’s involvement would have given the much-needed impetus to the event— he’d have foreseen satiated appetites as a result of the World Cup and turned that ‘liability’ into another opportunity.

IPL 4 needed someone to think of dishing out ‘hajmolas‘ before the event to make people want to have more of the same. Alas, the person who could have done now seems to prefer a diet of Barcelona versus Manchester United at Wembley, though.

Seam? … Yes! Bounce?….. Maybe no…

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Jacque Kallis unsuccessfully tries to avoid a snorter from Sreesanth at Kingsmead, Durban

Years from now, if someone were to see this picture without a caption detailing its context, it is unlikely that anyone is going to believe that it is that one of the greatest ever South African batsmen trying to evade a snorter from an Indian medium pacer in South Africa, in their own den- the Kingsmead in Durban! This picture tells a story, as does the result of the test match at Durban, where supposedly the green and bouncy track was supposed to have blown away the Indians: the story is that the current crop of medium pace bowlers India possesses are perfectly capable of making the most capable of batsmen hop and fish if they were to get a seaming and bouncy pitch.

This is a lesson which overseas teams don’t seem to have absorbed- at the WACA in 2008, Shaun Tait was supposed to blow away Indian batsmen, but it was the Aussies who were blown away by the swing and seam of R.P.Singh and Ishant Sharma. And now, Durban…

As the captain Dhoni sai on the likelihood of encountering a green pitch at the Newlands in Cape Town for the decider, “the greener the pitch, the better it is” , it is very clear that the Indians are confident of doing well on seaming tracks. I believe the Indian batsmen are more adept at playing the moving ball than batsmen in some other parts of the world, including Australia and South Africa, while their bowlers are skilled at seam and swing bowling, which makes up for their lack of pace on helpful tracks. More than seam or swing- or for that matter, pace- the challenge seems to be bounce and that is something that the Indian batsmen have still some way to go before conquering.

Jacques Kallis- the greatest cricketer of his generation?

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Jacques Kallis scored his first double hundred in a test match today at the Supersport Park in Centurion and, as the commentators,  proclaimed “finally got the monkey off his back”. It’s only just reward for such an illustrious career. For me, Kallis is certainly one of the greatest players of his generation, if not the greatest. I don’t think anyone would be too far from the mark even if he was called the greatest.

For some reason, the word “great” hasn’t been used as liberally with Kallis as they have been with players who have far less to show as their achievements. True, Kallis is neither the most attractive of batsmen- mind you, he looks darn good- nor is he the most explosive; he is the not the kind that will fill up stadiums like a Tendulkar or a Sehwag would. 

However, he could most certainly win a game for his team with either bat or ball, and of course his slip catching.  He has been the one genuine all-rounder that cricket has seen in the last decade and half, though many have been bestowed the title rather easily.  

With close to 12000 test runs, 38 test centuries, over 260 test wickets and over 160 catches (stats courtesy: Cricinfo), Jacques Kallis is the Gary Sobers of this era. I feel it is high time he gets mentioned in the same breath as some of the other legends of the game. He richly deserves it and it’s only fair!

IPL 3 all set to kick off

Friday, March 12th, 2010

In a few hours, the curtains will go up on the third edition of IPL . Like last year, there has been some drama before the event starts, though I can’t help think that a lot of the uncertainty this year was created by folks trying to somehow get some bargaining power in the organisation of the tournament.  Otherwise, I don’t see how the below par levels of security had shown such great progress in a matter of a week. Anyway, it’s not only cricketers who seem to make quick bucks with the IPL, security consultants do too..

For the IPL’s sake, hope all goes well!

Where are the Calypso Charmers?

Friday, January 1st, 2010

If cricket was the religion in the Caribbean, the thread that strung together the scattered islands, then the malaise of conversions is gnawing away the thread rapidly. Call it disillusionment or betrayal of faith. When I heard of it from a friend who was on a software assignment in Jamaica, I was pained. “Do you get to play cricket there?” I had asked him enviously. “Cricket?” he had said. “People here are more interested in basketball, or they’d rather become athletes, the way they run on the beach.”

Pained. Maybe even pity. Those are the feelings evoked when artistes lose their touch, when entertainers only embarrass, and charmers’ charms are rendered impotent. Less than a decade and half ago, the West Indian cricketers were the invincible, indomitable, Calypso Charmers. Feared as an opposition, but immensely lovable, they were like a tribe of warriors who fought for their pride and conquered anyone who came in their way. But it all seems like ages ago, isn’t it?

Back in 1983, as a ten-year-old boy, my father and I used to wake up at four in the morning to listen to Dicky Rutnagur and Tony Cozier (then a radio commentator). That was the series where India first gave signs of the shock-in-waiting — the Prudential World Cup victory. But it was the first test at Sabina Park in Kingston when I felt myself falling in love with the Calypso Charmers. My father, an ardent fan of the Caribbeans himself, had contributed to kindle that feeling with tales of Michael Holding, Colin Croft, Sylvester Clarke, Clive Lloyd and Alvin Kallicharan. The Windies needed some 170 odd (or was it 190 odd — the memory is a little rusty) in the post-tea session on the final day to win the test. And didn’t they do it in style? Vivian Richards and company blasted Kapil Dev and party out the attack. Since then, I’ve always looked forward to at least reading about the exploits of the Windies, no matter in which part of the world they were playing or against what opposition.

Indeed, I missed the great Caribbeans at the peak. I have never seen Holding, Roberts, Garner, Croft at their fiery best or the dominance of Lloyd and Kallicharan. But I’ve been fortunate to see the late Malcolm Marshall charging in on his slightly diagonal run-up to a field of three slips, two gullies and a forward short-leg. And an occasional blast from Sir Viv, Greenidge and Haynes. But by the mid-eighties, when my understanding of the game matured, the West Indian citadel had started cracking. Each of the above-mentioned aging pillars of that citadel gave way. All of a sudden, a side that had an enviable abundance of talent was faced with the daunting reality that talent is after all a non-replenishable quantity.

Of course, the journey downhill did see the emergence of the two great Cs — Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose. For a decade and a half, these two bore the burden of holding it all together and attempt to arrest the slump. Time and again, their performances flashed back images of the team under Lloyd, turning around matches from hopeless situations. Take for instance, Walsh in Australia under Richie Richardson taking the last wicket with the Kangaroos needing 2 to win. Or Ambrose against India at Barbados or against South Africa. For all their greatness, it is saddening that the two Cs leave the game defeated, but thankfully, at least with the right to hold their head high.

Brian Lara came on to the world cricketing arena carrying the hopes and aspirations of the entire Caribbean. He may still hold the record for the highest test innings or that for the highest first class score, but he is most likely to be remembered as a case of unfulfilled promise and under-utilized potential. Handling and nourishing talent is as important as having talent, and Lara is perhaps the best instance in contemporary cricket of talent going to the head, and an obvious lack of synchronization between natural abilities and temperament. No wonder then, that after being head-to-head with Sachin Tendulkar in the race to be acclaimed the best batsman in the world, it is the latter who is now head and shoulders above the pack. For a brief while, though, Lara raised hopes of belying the question marks on his mental toughness. That was against Australia two years ago, when he almost single-handedly led the Windies to victory, playing in the process (at least, some former West Indian cricketers say so) one of the best knocks ever. Unfortunately, he never could continue in that vein, and for a side so bereft of natural talent and so shamefully dependent on Lara, that is disaster.

And now we have a team that is getting whitewashed each time it plays. 0-5 against South Africa, 0-3 against Pakistan, 0-2 against New Zealand! Are we talking of the once-mighty West Indies? It only seems to be getting worse. Look at what’s happening Down Under right now. The fragile-as-a-soap-bubble batting line-up struggles to collectively get to three-figures even against the Australian state sides. Importantly, they’ve lost a record held for almost 17 years by that great West Indian side under Lloyd and with that the striking landmark of invincibility of the Windies has been erased.

It all seems hopeless and beyond redemption. And as my friend in Jamaica said, when hope is lost and faith eroded, followers convert. That is the last straw. But as an ardent lover of West Indian cricket, I still hope for a miracle. Each time the West Indians bat, I wish that a Chanderpaul or a Hinds or a Sarwan can stand tall and play like Richards or Greenidge. Or a Nixon McLean and Mervyn Dillon will rip through an opposition line up like Holding and Roberts did. Yet, I can’t help wondering if it is hoping too much to see the Calypso Charmers again?

[This article was first published on Sulekha.com in January 2001; and subsequently also published in the Trinidadian newspaper and website, Carribean Voice].