28 April 2007

The unbelievable lightness of being Sri-Lanka

When India crashed out of the Cup, the 'weight of expectation' took a lot of blame. Why then is it that a country like Sri Lanka (which obviously needs a World Cup win more than India) is able to field a team that is so effervescent that it is almost amateurish. Is it concievable that India can put together a group of cricketers who derive such joy from the game?
Come on Sri Lanka. Do it for the game!

26 April 2007

Can they be stopped?

Pakistan in '99, India in '03. Will the subcontinent be third time lucky? Will Bangladesh lose in the 2011 finals?

Will Sri Lanka suffer the same fate? Will the Aussie penchant for the big occasion prove too much to handle for Lankan wristiness, elegance and joy? For me, that is the key, and that is where India faltered in the 2003 final and how South Africa got so badly outclassed yesterday. Come the big occasion and at least three Aussies put their hands up, and usually that is enough. Where others wilt under the pressure of the spotlight, the Aussies have been able to raise their game. And that will be Sri Lanka's test too. Will they, like South Africa did, buckle under pressure and lose soft wickets at the top of the order? If they do, Shaun Tait will shoot to kill the middle order. Will Malinga, like Zaheer in 2003, lose it? What counts in Sri Lanka's favour is that they have three men who have been there and done that a decade ago.

Level-heads will help of course.

25 April 2007

What an innings!

Why should I say anything more? If you didn't watch it, you missed something. If you did watch it, you know what I'm talking about. In either case, what I say will not make a difference. I can't do justice describing it for those who missed it. And for those who watched it, you already know what I'm saying.

24 April 2007

The better semi-final

I'll bet that today's will be better semi-final. The other one is going to be a slugfest. This one will have a bigger role for the bowlers. Murali, Bond, Malinga, Vettori, Vaas, Maharrof, Oram - the variety on display is simply delicious, and a fit feast it will be for a semi-final.

Speaking of semis, Rahul Bhattacharya has, as usual, written a brilliant article on the past four editions and their climactic semifinals.

I am excited. Fleming has been out to Vaas for a duck the last four times these teams have met. Can he avoid the jinx and continue to lead from the front as he has done through this tournament and so many times in the last decade? If he stays, the Murali threat would have suffered quite a dent. Not only does he have the left hand batsman's advantage, but he is recognized as one of the better players against this freakish king-among-offspinners. If he gets out fast, Styris, Fulton and McMillan have a job on their hands. Bond against Jayasurya will be crucial as well. Bond's initial spell will determine whether the 'weak' Sri Lankan lower middle order will come into play. And then of course, Malinga with the older ball. His contest with McCullum and Oram will be very interesting as well.

21 April 2007

The day the music died

Who cares if he destabilized West Indian cricket, or if he had a massive ego. Where will the joy come from now? Will the laptop lackeys give us the pleasure of watching Lara crackle into position?

The quality of the one-day circus

Yesterday saw yet another hammering. Ricky Ponting is yet to lose as captain in World Cups (a whoppping 20 matches). The last time the Aussies lost to anyone in a World Cup was in 1999, against Pakistan. The last two World Cup finals have been horribly anti-climactic and mismatched.

Are the Aussies actually unbeatable? Or is there a lack of depth in the one-day game? They are of course, in a different league. But is it because they are good or because the others are bad? Is it a question worth asking?

Unlike the Test format, the ODI is supposed to be the version of the game where the minnow has a better chance of winning against the established team. With greater emphasis on keeping the bowling tight, rotating the strike, inviting the mistakes and hitting out at the death, it does not 'test' a cricketer's skill and determination like the five-day game does. So why is it that the Aussies have been able to establish such ruthless supremacy? I mean, al it takes is for three people in the opposite corner to come to the party, and for the rest to rally around them. Is it not surprising that none of India, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, West Indies and England have had a good day against Australia? A set of weekend cricketers were able to provide insight. How is it that amateurs from Ireland were able to compete at this level? The gap between Ireland and New Zealand is only as wide as the gulf between New Zealand (and the rest) and Australia.

I will leave the question unanswered and wait for further evidence.

19 April 2007

Shoaib Malik

The unassuming Malik has been handled the poisoned chalice. The good thing is, he knows its poisoned, and its up to him what to do with it.
So what's his deal? It's not like he is a regular in the Test side. True that in the less than twenty matches that he has played since his debut, he has done pretty much everything including open the innings. True also, that he is a chameleon capable of reinvention in the one-day scene, without complaining too much. Also true that he raises his game against the ol' enemy. So why him?
Because Khan did not want it? That explains why he isn't captain, not why Malik is. So who were the other contenders? Afridi. But which one? The one who scored the Karachi hundred against us or the impostor? A disgraced Shoaib Akhthar? But why not Yousuf? Too religious in an anti-religious environment? Perhaps. Anyway, Malik seems to be the best of the lot, but he won't not a puffed-chested Flintoff-Imran-Ganguly-Smith style imposing captain. He has always melted into the background, but it remains to be seen how captaincy will change all that.

There are two other captaincy probables around the world who will fall into the "utility cricketer" bracket. Paul Collingwood is good enough to claim his spot in the team as a batsman, but still manages gives out the impression that he is just a nudger-nudler; and so does Scott Styris though he can probably out hit both Oram and Craig McMillan. The difference is that Malik is just 25 while both Collingwood and Styris are on the wrong side of thirty - and that will work against them when their respective selection committees sit down to discuss captaincy.

I guess Dravid too started out as a utility cricketer; having to keep wickets in order to be on the flight to South Africa in 2003.

18 April 2007


Ireland beat Bangladesh who beat South Africa who lost to New Zealand after they had trounced England who beat Bangladesh who lost to New Zealand who lost to Sri Lanka who beat England who beat Ireland.

16 April 2007

heavyweight championship

The Sri Lankan team management has thrown a spanner into my game preview. Both Vaas and Murali have been rested.
But as I write, Jayasurya has fallen to Bracken. Ha! What did I say? Australia have won one decisive mini-battle.

Mini-battles today

Today, Australia play the only team that look like having the arsenal to beat them.

Murali v Ponting, Clarke, Symonds: Whether setting a total or chasing, this match is likely to be determined in how the Aussie batting copes with Murali in the middle overs. Ponting used to have problems with quality spin. Harbhajan Singh in his zestier days used to torment him. The weakness seemed to be his inability to defend with soft hands - something that he has been able to overcome by taking the attack to the bowlers at the beginning of their spells. If those chinks still exist, Murali is the one to expose them. Clarke, on the other hand has feet like quicksilver and is ackowledged to be one of the best young players of good spin bowling outside the subcontinent. Where the Aussies have an edge over the other teams that have faced Murali so far in the tournament is their ability to steal singles - thus denting the pressure game that he so relishes. Also, a set Mathew Hayden could change this equation completely, by going ballistic against Murali.

Jayasurya v Bracken: Face it, if Jayasurya survives the tenth over, chances are that the Aussie bowling is likely to take a beating. For someone who has opened the innings for the Lankans for what seems like an eternity, the left-arm pacer can't be called a weakness. Be that as it may, Bracken's ability to alternately take the ball away from the left handers and bring it in, can get him Jayasurya's wicket. Bracken should concentrate on his length and movement in the air and leave the bouncing to Tait.

Jayawardene, Sangakkara v McGrath: Like Murali, McGrath too loves a challenge. Whether setting a target, or chasing, the bulk of Srilanka's batting in the tournament (outside of Jayasurya) has come from this experienced duo. Sanga has batted himself back into form, and Jayawardene has decisevely erased his bad World Cup record. Expect Sangakkara to take the attack to McGrath.

Dilshan, Arnold, Chamara v Hogg, Symonds: If they are batting first, Sri Lanka will look to capitalize on the fifteen or so overs from these too. However, the Sri Lankan lower middle order has not yet displayed an ability to explode in the latter stages of the innings. Today, they may have to.

12 April 2007

One step forward, two steps back

With a long and rich history of dissappointing its primary stakeholders, the one-step-forward, two-steps-back approach should surprise no one. Granted, the BCCI is a large organization with many heads doing the thinking and many tongues doing the talking. Be that as it may, the past week was as close to the Tower of Babel as a cricket body could get. Sample the thoughts on selection policy. On the one hand, there was a clear written commitment to profesionalize the selection process, and removing the regional bias inherent in the current process. At the same time, the Working Committee has practically given a diktat to the selection committee regarding the composition of the squad to Bangladesh. Not only has Dravid been named captain, a young team is clearly preferred at the expense of some 'senior players'. Shackling the selection process thus spits in the face of professionalism.

10 April 2007

Re: Pervy's comment

Thanks, Pervy. Obviously, Chappell and Dravid thought that Tendulkar was better equipped for the slow low middle overs.

The decision (if one were to believe the sound bytes) was born out of the following premises:

1. Ganguly had to be in the team. Period.
2. Uthappa had to be in the team. Not on an impressive track recors, but to keep Sehwag in check and for the promise of creating magic.
3. Tendulkar may be a better opener than either, but the team needed him in the middle order. Why? Because, Tendulkar is a "master of the angles", as somebodysaid, and there is no better single-runner in India. Plus, if the team needs a boost in the middle overs, Sachin has never had a problem shifting gear now, has he? Remember Greg saying looong back, that this world Cup, "will be won in the middle overs".

Objectively, you have to agree with the logic in point 3, particularly with the benefit of hindsight. Looking at the succesful teams in this World Cup, everyone bar the Aussies have relied on a middle-order heavyweight to pile up the big scores. Generally starts have been sedate, even Jayasurya eschewing the hammer-and-tongs approach in the first five overs. Styris has been a giant, Jayawardene is back to piling the runs and Ponting never really stopped. Kallis, even though he has been a bit slow, has made sure that the Africans were well placed for Boucher-Pollock-Kemp-Hall to make a difference at the end.

If this logic were clearly explained to Tendulkar, then it was up to him to swallow a bit of pride to do the dirty work. And who knows, things may have clicked on some other day. As far as strategies went, this one had as much going for it, as any other one.

The problem however, is if it were the first two factors that influenced the decision-making than the third. If that were the case, one cannot fault Tendulkar for losing commitment.

04 April 2007

Sachin... Sachin...

And in the cross-fire of dirty linen, one voice stands out today. And interestingly, it is the only voice that is not from a 'source'. And that voice belonged to Sachin Tendulkar.
Come to think of it. When was the last time that Tendulkar showed any kind of emotion to the press? Over the past seventeen years, I can only think of two. And neither comes close to this. The first was when he relinquished his captaincy after a disastorous tour of Australia. The second was the post-match conference after a century against Kenya in the '99 World Cup, the day after his father's funeral.
And thus spake Sachin of hurt and dissappointment and 'heart and soul' and how no coach has ever questioned his attitude. It has made certain that in this war of Chappell versus the senior players, the ex-coach has to lose. No TV expert, no former captain has ever (will ever?) questioned Sachin's love for the game. Only the most fickle of fans has ever said that Tendulkar is stretching his playing career, just for the green. Jadeja said today morning, that 'he has never missed practice in seventeen years'. Of course, a coach will know more about it that Jadeja, but then it is the perception that counts.
It might be a disciplinary issue too, you know, this coming-out-in-the-open-thing. There are rules saying exactly when a palyer can talk to the press. So when a player braces disciplinary sanction to be emotional before the nation after seventeen years, he has to be believed. I will be extremely surprised if Chappell walks out of this one.

02 April 2007

The Namesake

In The Namesake, Irfan Khan is brilliant.

Ashoke Ganguli (Irfan Khan) brings his new wife (Ashima, played by Tabu) to a cold New York flat. Jhumpa Lahiri's book (I am told) tells the story of two generations through the life of Gogol Ganguli, Ashoke and Ashima's first son. Deviating from this, Mira Nair's movie is mostly about Ashima. Despite all this, Irfan Khan steals everyones thunder. He plays the Bengali-academic-in-America to perfection. Firstly, he gets the accent right - something Tabu has difficulty with. Kal Penn is decent as Gogol, but only just. In romatic scenes, he seems to be out of his depth - with neither of his relationships evoking any real chemistry.

But do see the movie, if only for Irfan and Tabu, a host of extremely funny Bengalis of all sorts and some really touching scenes which portray ABCD equations with much more sensitivity than any movie since 2000. Including Bend it like Beckham.