29 February 2008

Two at the Top

One of cricket's most enduring records is on the verge of being broken. It was under seige a couple of years back, but Sehwag and Dravid fell short. Smith and the other dude have come a few steps closer, but have to wait for the final assault on the peak.

28 February 2008

Teen India

Amidst all the hype and fuss raised by Team India's trip to Australia, there has been a quiet, almost unnoticed, progress to the Under-19 Worldcup finals by Teen-India. It has been a delight to watch an athletic and attractive brand of cricket played by our young brigade.
So, here is a toast to the two Kohli's, to Goswami and Tiwary and to Srivastava and Jadeja, indeed to the entire team. There is a silent prayer, as well, that they fulfil their enormous potential and do not end up as mere "what-should-have-beens".

27 February 2008

Huge Christians don't speak of institutional biases

"That's why he has been charged more than anyone that's ever played in the history of cricket."
Another statistic that is often bandied about is that Indians are the worst offenders of the hallowed Code of Conduct.
So, are black people in America more dangerous or more criminally inclined than white people?

Appropriate marijuana reference

The same obnoxious little weed

Opening combo

If India go with five bowlers, Sehwag will once again find it difficult to make the XI. In his absence, who should partner Tendulkar? Gambhir looks good at one down. Uthappa has not convinced everyone he will be consistent at the top of the order. Is Praveen Kumar going to be our man?

26 February 2008

Talk about being provocative

Hayden just referred to Bhajji as an "obnoxious little weed".
Is "little" racist?

Apparently its a season for finding mascots..

.. And TM strongly believes that if shit is packaged well, shit will sell. Look no further than the subprime crisis for evidence on that.

Ah well.. here's the "package".

My nomination for the Delhi Daredevils:

And for the Bangalore royal Challengers:

25 February 2008

Brilliant Brendon

The heir-apparent is ready to take over. Just as King Adam Gilchrist I is ready to abdicate, we have his successor Price Brendon McCullum ready to take over. So, it seems that bowlers all over the world have a new Antipodean glove-man to be afraid of. 80*(28), 80*(47), 77(43), 52*(21), 51*(22), 50*(25) have been some of Brendon's innings on the big stage and as is evident from the strike rate, the impact is devastating.
With the Kolkatta franchise paying him a whopping US$700000 to rope him in, the IPL is the newest stage for the pocket dynamo to shine. The cover boundaries are going to be peppered and the crowd going to have their fill as McCullum looks to be one of the buys of the tournament.
He may not succeed always, but when he succeeds, boy, a television set seems to be the best invention of mankind.

22 February 2008

Thunder in a beer can

In a sense, it is great, and bodes well for the future of cricket that Mohammed Ashraful has not reflected too much on his own batting, despite captaincy and the general inconsistency of the batting order. On a day that saw fourteen wickets fall, he made 34 from 27 balls. I did not watch it, but I am sure he felt really stupid getting caught and bowled by Botha.

21 February 2008

The Dreaded Overdose

Cricinfo reports that the Pakistan cricket board has approached the Indian cricket board for a short three match ODI series in March to fill in for Australia's culled itinery. This news has nearly force me to throw up. The reason is simple, India and Pakistan have matched their abilities on the cricket field far too often, in the near past, for my liking.

Infact, the India-Pakistan cricket history has been as chequered as their diplomatic history. There were regular series' till 1960-61, when India hosted Pakistan to a sleep-inducing bore of a stalemate. Then, for 18 years, there was a lull induced by two wars and diplomatic turmoil. After all the dust of the twin wars had settled, India and Pakistan resumed their cricketing battles. Pakistan had much the better of the exchanges which came to an end in 1989. Despite a false dawn in 1999, it took 15 years for cricketing relations to assume normalcy and with it the pendulum suddenly swung to the other extreme. Blood thirsty foes turned life-long friends, India and Pakistan have played each other every year since 2004. They have played a mindboggling 12 tests and 28 ODIs in this period. If the initial series', both in India and Pakistan, were both ntense affairs, the latter two have threatened a return to the dreaded drawn series' of the mid 1980's.

For a series hyped to be the Asian equivalent of the Ashes, the Indo-Pak series' have sadly lacked the passion of the Ashes'. Even during the nadir of England's cricketing fortunes, the Ashes had a special feeling to it. Unfortunately, the Asian Ashes is threatening to end up as a damp squib. It is great that it is no longer the Kumbh Mela, but nor do you want it to be the cricket viewers Waterloo. Let it be the Asian Ashes.

It is a sincere hope that the imminent South African tour of India results in a rejection of the Pakistan tour idea. But, sadly it looks a forlorn hope as the administrators seem intent on killing the Golden goose - India V/S Pakistan.

Pervy sticks up for Yuvi (yawn)

In response to my post here, Pervy decided to exhume that argument about Yuvraj and Test cricket. I know it is boring, and everything that needs to be said has already been repeated a hundred times, but I could not neglect the pain in Pervy's writing. Read on..

I think the comment on yuvraj not being fit for test cricket is a little unfair.My comment in defence of Yuvraj assumes that he does not bat like he did in Melbourne and Sydney. Those innings were just not up to the mark. But assuming Yuvraj is a better test player than we saw in Australia (and he is), I think a batsman like Yuvraj brings something to a side that a Rahul Dravid (The Great) cannot - the ability to counter-attack. Yuvraj yesterday played a glorious innings - not because of the kind of shots he played (which were terrific mind you), but because of the impact it had on the game. At 20-30 odd for 3 chasing a modest total of 230, it is very easy to come in and try and save your wicket, absorb the pressure, and then accelerate later. The only problem is, when the time for the third stage comes, the batsman who has absorbed the pressure more often than not fails to accelerate and the team is left in a situation worse than what he came in. A counter-attacking innings, on the other hand, not only stems the rot, but also makes the asking rate easier or at least renders it constant. How does this counter-attacking ability translate into a test scenario, where the asking rate is hardly ever in the equation? The only real life scenario that comes to my mind is the Yuvraj 160 odd against Pakistan. An innings like that changes the complexion of a game, turns the pressure equation on its head. Have we ever in rahul Dravid's great test career seen an innings like that? I am not for a minute here saying Yuvraj Singh should replace Rahul dravid in the test side. What Dravid does is very important for us and he has done great things in the past. But still, there are things he cannot do that yuvraj can. That is why, when we judge Yuvraj's suitability for a test match, the touchstone should not be a Rahul Dravid. The touch stone should be the contribution he can make to a winning total. After all, even in a test match, just like in ODIs or T20s, the only aim for batting is to post a good enough total or to chase a target down. This good enough total is a team contribution, a team that consists of different individuals with different styles. And Yuvraj certainly has an ability to change a match in a way that noone else does. But right now he does not have a good enough technique or the temperament for test cricket because he has failed miserably in the test series. Well so has Rahul Dravid, but then dravid has those statistics to back his claim. There are many who have changed the traditional notions in which test cricket is understood - players like Sehwag who have refused to let opening be about taking the shine off the new ball, and despite the initial comments about his unsuitability for test cricket, he remains the only Indian batsman to have scored a triple century. Funny no, in a country that has produced Sunil gavaskar, sachin tendulkar and rahul dravid! well maybe test cricket is not just about playing for longer, about saving your wicket at all costs, about having the perfect defence. In a team which has five other batsmen who can presumably do that, maybe there is space for one who can walk in and turn a game on its head once in a while.


The Bangalore team is going to be called the Bangalore Royal Challengers!

Come on! It is the one city in the competition I may have a slight fondness for. Delhi is beautiful, and they have Sehwag etc, but come on, I haven't lived here long enough to support (shudder!) a Delhi team. But if I need to support Bangalore, I'll have to live with that horrible name. Damn you, Vijay Mallya.

Bangalore have Jaffer, Chanderpaul, Dravid and Kallis in the same team. While a few would consider this too slow a batting lineup for T20, I think Dravid, Kallis and Chanderpaul are itching to show the upstarts their armoury. Plus there is Boucher.
No worries on the fast bowling front: Steyn, Zak and Bracken are a handful, and Kallis can give backup.
Spinners will be Kumble and Cameron White. One great leggie and a pretend . Not bad, but could be the chink.

20 February 2008

There's a buzz around the stadium..

Because Sajith has finally agreed to write for Island Express. Once an attacking midfielder for the Jupiter Jetsetters, and in their cricket team for sledging purposes alone, he is now one of South India's most valuable programmers. For a while, he carried his curious mix of 'shaken not stirred' and 'foul-mouthed fisherman' to the umpiring arena, but not for very long.

Underrated Achiever

The Indian tour of Australia is nearly at the end of its enthralling journey just as I am about to embark on a historic voyage of my own. I am about to start writing on the one acommon religion of a billion Indians – CRICKET. The cricket lover in me has finally smiled after seeing a new generation take small yet confident steps on the big playground. It has been a pleasure watching the Indian team, post- Melbourne test, perform in Australia. The seniors have pulled their weight and more importantly, the youngsters, especially in the Commonwealth Bank ODI series, have shown that there is much to hope for in the coming future. Therefore, there is no more perfect time for me to start writing about cricket.

But, now that the tour is coming to an end, it is with a degree of sadness that I watch the youngsters perform. The reason is that, in a matter of weeks, ESPN-STAR is going to bid farewell to telecasting live cricket to the Indian audience, at least until the ill-fated Asia cup in June. Along with ESPN-STAR, a very familiar voice will stop taking centre stage at four in the morning- HARSHA BHOGLE. For the last couple of months, Harsha’s voice has been,invariably, my morning wake up call whether discussing the umpiring issues or the vagaries of the climate. It has been delightfully refreshing to see that the oomph factor is not a pre-requisite to being a successful broadcaster. With Harsha anchoring the show, the toss and the pitch report become important events. Aimless chatter and bosom hugging sarees are replaced by a sensible discussion on the Tendulkar phenomenon and the Perth triumph. The most sensible cricketing show that I have seen in the last six moths has been his “Harsha Online” series and especially the episode starring Adam Gilchrist, just after the Sydney fiasco. That particular episode was special as two of cricket’s most vaunted gentlemen – one of the playing fraternity, the other of the media family, discussed on cricket with evident mutual respect, showing that cricket still retains its decency, despite the unwanted mudslinging we saw at Sydney.

Harsha Bhogle has been the face of ESPN-STAR’s cricket broadcasts for well over a decade and has become an absolutely integral ingredient to ESPN-STAR’s continued excellence on the cricket front. What has been wonderful to see is his measured approach to anchoring the show. While several questions are clich├ęs in the telecast field, so often the way you put it across the table or even the timing of the question could make a whale of a difference in the impact it generates. That has been a quality that Bhogle has displayed adequately and efficiently. This is not forgetting Harsha’s commentating skills. Partnered with an ex-international star, like Geoffrey Boycott, Bhogle has been adept at describing the cricket and also bringing in the star’s expertise at the same time, thus adding to the show in general. There are several other arrows up Bhogle’s quiver. To me, his blogs on ESPN-STAR website have been the most eagerly awaited ones. When he writes, one suddenly finds the trams of Kolkata and the tons by Kallis in the same paragraph. Neither looks out of place, each in fact adding to the reading experience. Harsha’s writings have made me dream about England in June, about the magic of reading Rohit Brijnath, his friend Geoffrey Boycott and the real story behind the leopard which was a part of the ESPN studio during the 2003 South Africa world cup. There is a superb control of the language and the metaphors he uses mesmerizes you and reminds you of your old English teacher.

But, to me Harsha Bhogle stands for a man who has lived his boyhood dream. Like Bollywood for the 1970’s, cricket has been the ultimate drug for the Y2K generation. It has given dreams of being multi-millionaires sporting designer shades and having svelte girls on either side. But, more often than not, people fall by the way side. The aspiring young fourteen year old prodigy becomes a satisfied graduate at twenty two and a happy corporate employee at twenty five. Cricket takes a back seat, becoming something to be seen on the television, the old cricket bat has been discarded. But, it is here that Harsha Bhogle has been different. It is difficult for us to imagine an Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad graduate to try for the job of a cricket commentator. Yet, Harsha did it in order to pursue a childhood dream. Harsha Bhogle is an example of a man willing to sacrifice a fruitful career in the quest of a distant dream. That to me is his real legacy, the real source of inspiration he provides to me.

Today, as I try to write about that modern opium - Cricket, there is no better source of inspiration than Harsha Bhogle for daring to dream when many would have rested on their laurels. This blog is a tribute to the likes of Harsha, the underrated achievers in and off the cricket field.

Match Tied!!!

What is with New Zealand and making the most of very limited talent.. Jamie How today played one of the best one day knocks ever - to the extent that cricinfo acknowledged that they were wrong in calling him the wrong man for the job!!!!

Chasing 340 (a score that neither the side batting first and certainly not the side batting second would have considered feasible a few years back), New Zealand were coasting to victory on How's blitzkreig, when they decided that the crowd was not sufficiently entertained with over 600 runs already scored, and decided to commit harakiri in a manner that would have made those Japanese pilots of yore proud. With Fulton, Styris and Oram throwing their wickets away in the fag end of the match in search of glory (where singles would have easily brought NZ to the door of victory), it was left to How and poor old Vettori to finish the job. They clame close but didnt quite manage the feat and the war of attrition ended in an honourable draw.

But for someone who loves watching, it was an exhibition of batting par excellence from both sides - with classical shots mixing beautifully with innovation and power. The 'bunch of trundlers' on both sides looked innocuous enough (please check out Anderson's figures for a laugh!!) and the fielding from two supposedly excellent fielding sides was reminicent of the India of old.

All said, a thriller to watch and read about - something that was no necessary to keep the excitement of 50 over cricket alive in the madness of 20:20!! Cheers to the incompetence on both sides then....

We've seen this before

When Sehwag was dropped from a squad that included underperforming Yuvraj - who had the blind faith of his captain, it was enough to set the tongues wagging. What these morons did not realize was that it was not a fair comparison. Sehwag is a top order batsman now, and as such, has to outperform one of Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar. To replace Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Manoj Tiwary are the candidates. And these people have not been good enough to repace one of the best ODI batsmen of 2006-07.

I hope that he continues to score big in the few opportunities that remain in Australia. But I also hope that will not be a reason for the selectors to pick him for the Test squad - stunting his education again. We have seen him dazzle us before, and we have patiently continued to expect the very best. Soulberry says it best:

This is why I would keep Yuvraj for the ODIs for at least two-three years from here despite his periodic blackouts. Test matches are a different game. What I'd work on, as regards Yuvraj , is try and help him maintain concentration and confidence (not bravado) over longer intervals of time.

Consider this:

North Zone are 230/5, trailing West Zone by 44 runs, at lunch on the second day of the Duleep Trophy final. The new ball is due soon. These are circumstances which he should experience in the Indian Test team in future. And a Yuvraj Singh in top nick is exactly the sort of batsman, one would want at the crease to push for a huge lead.

So please, let him have an opportunity to push that first class average closer to fifty. Surely, for a man of his abundant gift, that should not take too long.

19 February 2008

India morph into New Zealand

The much-hyped Indian bowling looked like Paul Collingwood and Dmitri Mascarenhas were bowling at both ends when Kumar and Jayawardene were batting. Actually, make that Chris Harris and Gavin Larsen. An unhelpful pitch quickly turned Munaf, Pathan and Praveen into a bunch of trundlers, who will rely on tight bowling to make the batsman take a risk and perhaps get a wicket. And if the batsman are not so inclined, we need lightning striking twice in the same place (as it did today) to break such a partnership.
If Zaheer and Arpy don't play, we need to play Sreesanth. If for some reason, all three cannot play, Dhoni needs to take a gamble and play Chawla. India need at least two bowlers who can hustle a set batsmen in the middle overs.

17 February 2008

Pathan's batting

Pathan is not a polished enough bat to command a permanent position at the top of the order. Despite the evident talent, there are significant deficiencies in his game that lessen his impact. He has a good eye, looks good off the front foot, while cutting, and when defending close to the body. Judgment outside off is not something one can hold against him in the shorter versions of the game. In addition to the pull, if he can make himself a better 'milker' of runs, he can become double the batsman he is now.

If some of these aspects of his batting can improve, he is just the solution India needs for real firepower in the bowling. Like today. But as things stand, such a strategy is necessarily a gamble that will put an inexperienced batting order under a lot of prssure. I am okay with batting Pathan at number three if the circumstances are right. His batting will improve and that can only be good. But until his batting improves, it is wrong to treat him as a batsman. Not only does it put his own game under pressure, it also means that if the target crosses 250, (or if it is the Aussie bowling they are up against) the likes of Gambhir and Sharma are being asked to perform out of their skins.

16 February 2008

What's your ideal Indian ODI atack?

Okay, the assumption here is that Pathan is not an all-rounder, and if he needs to fit in, has to be one of four bowlers. And I am not including Praveen Kumar, Munaf or Powar in the equation. You are welcome to question that. I am also assuming that we will very rarely be in a position to play both frontline spinners together. Here are the options:

A. Zaheer, Arpy, Pathan, Bhajji
B. Zaheer, Arpy, Pathan, Chawla
C. Zaheer, Arpy, Sreesanth, Bhajji
D. Zaheer, Arpy, Ishant, Bhajji
E. Zaheer, Arpy, Sreesanth, Chawla
F. Zaheer, Arpy, Ishant, Chawla
G. Zaheer, Pathan, Sreesanth, Bhajji
H. Zaheer, Pathan, Ishant, Bhajji
I. Zaheer, Pathan, Ishant, Chawla
J. Zaheer, Pathan, Sreesanth, Bhajji
K. Zaheer, Pathan, Sreesanth, Chawla
L. Zaheer, Pathan, Ishant, Bhajji
M. Arpy, Pathan, Ishant, Bhajji
N. Arpy, Pathan, Ishant, Chawla
O. Arpy, Pathan, Sreesanth, Bhajji
P. Arpy, Pathan, Sreesanth, Chawla
Q. Arpy, Ishant, Sreesanth, Bhajji
R. Arpy, Ishant, Sreesanth, Chawla
S. Zaheer, Ishant, Sreesanth, Bhajji
T. Zaheer, Ishant, Sreesanth, Chawla
U. Pathan, Ishant, Sreesanth, Chawla
V. Pathan, Ishant, Sreesanth, Bhajji

Have I missed a permutation? In fact, I am certain that there are more.

But that is quite a few options if everyone is fit. It will be quite lovely if one of Pathan or Praveen Kumar is able to fit the Hopes mould, in which case, Yuvraj Singh will never have to bowl. Yay!!

15 February 2008

A narcotic called Sanath

In the last four years, Jayasuriya has been part of 58 victories - averaging almost 41 with the bat. In the 37 losses that he has been part of in the same period, he has averaged 23. This statistic speaks volumes about the Lankan dependence on this fisherman-cum-boxer-turned-spinner-cum-opening mauler. (In the last four years, there is no significant difference in Sachin's averages in winning and losing causes). With Sri Lanka nowhere close to unearthing someone who can give a sense of familairity at the top of the order, his impending retirement poses a few questions of Jayawardene and the "nearly-there" man, the great tragic, Kumar Sangakkara.

14 February 2008

I dont't care what anyone else thinks but,

at several points in his career, I used to think Stephen Fleming bordered on genius. True class. Got caught smoking pot in South Africa and was later made captain of his team - a post that he held on to, through the many captains every other team was churning out. Was he cool or what? Everyone kept telling us he was a great captain, and I will believe that without any evidence - anecdotal or statistical. And then the there was that on drive.

13 February 2008

"Not quite cricket" post

Everyone, please go here. Listen, if you live in Delhi, this is as close to Woodstock as we will ever ever get. So c'mon, y'all.

12 February 2008

Taufel undecided..

The sport is in danger of losing its best umpire, and it is not difficult to imagine why at the age of 37, he is thinking it is already a bit too much.

I was hoping it would not need something like this, for the ICC to start getting its act together on broadening the panel to make life easier for those already on it.

Without compromising on accountability, that is..

11 February 2008

A question of seniority

Even after TM's extreme brashness, I was not entirely convinced and wanted the mood turned back down to "dour". And where do I go to, if I need some circumspection. Well, Soulberry, of course! And something that he wrote has got me thinking about the "continuing rise of India"

Yuvraj Singh is an 'icon' in the IPL galaxy. He is also closing in on 200 matches. Yesterday, he played his 197th - a hundred matches more than his captain, and a few more than Sehwag and Bhajji. He is second only to Tendulkar in terms of experience and close to 2500 runs more than anyone else in the middle order. All this makes him, decisively, a "senior player".

It is not easy to evaluate a senior player. On the one hand, there is the vast experience of playing in several different conditions and situations. On the other, it is no longer a case of holding promise for the future. It is a balance of these two questions that is keeping Anil Kumble, VVS, Dravid and Ganguly out of the one-day tem. No doubt they are "blue chip", as Bhogle is so fond of saying, but the future was a different place where athleticism was at least as important as the quality of the forward defence, and these guys just did not have enough of it. Yuvraj Singh, on the other hand, was the prototype for the future - fabulously talented and supremely agile. Enough to merit greater generosity than the BCCI has shown anyone.

But now that the future is here, Yuvraj does not look so superhuman. His captain who bats lower than him, keeps wickets and is fitter and more agile than him, but much less talented with the bat, averages seven more runs than him every match and six more runs than him, every hundred balls. There is no doubt who has been the most consistent among the two. Rohit Sharma and Gambhir are looking more solid and more composed. Still, there is no doubt about the Yuvraj Singh's eye and timing, and an unparalleled ability to change the direction of a match.

But somewhere down the line, the selectors will need to be critical. If the selectors are honest with themselves, they will know that the "future" is here and ability has not transformed into a good, consistent batsman. Raina, Karthik and Kaif are knocking on the doors and saying, "Look, we may not be as talented, but we are paisa vasool". Tewary is saying that he is the "new future", and he should be given a longer stint in the team, for the sake of "promise".

But to end on the same happy note that TM left us, despite all of Yuvraj's failures, Uthappa is yet to have a knock. Or is that really a happy note?

The continuing rise of India

Ishant!! It is a pleasure to finally see a tall Indian fast bowler doing justice to the potential of that height (unlike a Yohannan!) and troubling batsment that are allegedly the best in the world with pace and bounce - aspects that these batsmen are supposedly reared on. It is intersting to see what makes him so dangerous- as Ponting said, unlike other fast bowlers, he brings the ball in to the right hander. But why is that such an issue for batsmen?

For the technically minded, the problem is as follows: As a batsman, you are taught to bring your foot out to the line of the ball, so each batsman moves towards the ball. The problem is that when the ball swings in, unless you are lightning fast with the footwork (made that much more difficult when the ball is delivered at over 140 and you have less than half a second to get your feet in place, your eyes over the ball, and your bat swinging) your front foot has effectively gone too far across- consequently, you are either playing around your front foot (a nightmarishly difficult proposition) or are severaly cramped for room, with your elbows jamming into your sides. What makes an inswinging bowler an impossibility to play is the added ability to either move the ball away or, even worse, make the ball hold its line. With the batsman playing for the inswing, a vall that holds its line, puts the batsman in the uncomfortable position where he is too far inside the line, with only his outside edge covering the line of the ball (ala Ponting and Symond's dismissals yesterday). Add to all of this the catalyst that is bounce, and the noose tightens around the batsmen's neck - for the unaccustomed, it is impossible to control (or play with soft hands) and ball that is flying of the shoulder of the bat. It is this combination that makes Ishant so dangerous and so delightful to have in our side!!

09 February 2008

Just glanced at the scorecard and I do not beleive even India is capable of four run outs. Collingwood, Shah, Swann and Broad showed how England is capable of being more rubbish than rubbish. On its day, England can be the worst ODI team in the business.

Of course, so can Pakistan and India, I hear you say? But Pakistan and India can turn up the next day and play the best breed of cricket in the world. England can't.

08 February 2008

Hey, new guy!!

Through a career dogged by injury, a bad sense of fashion and what can best be described as "weight issues", TM was a competetive bastard.

In a world of sports psychiatry and video-analysis, this number four bat was a whiff of fresh air - or should I say stale tobacco?

He captained a University team to a few famous victories and was not too deterred by all those demoralizing losses. Even when he had to keep wickets, he refused to let his weight go below a 120 kilos.

His bowling was slow and the kindest thing you could say about it was "intelligent".

He is bigger than you, but can move faster than you. One of the best slip catchers, he is combative and occasionally works for a huge law firm.

Island Express presents TM.

India will be world test champions next year

Over the years, we have seen overseas series after overseas series in which either the batting has crumbled on fast bouncy tracks, or the bowling has doled out runs like a man in a Santa suit on Christmas (sounds very Siddhuish doesn’t it!). The good news is that in the recent past we have seen a gradual halt being brought to this travesty, and to some extent a reversal, with several of our current stars boasting better overseas records than domestic ones.

With the solidity of the middle order finally translating into confident runs oozing of the middle of the bat, we have put up big enough scores on grounds across the world. Wins in South Africa, England and the WACA are evidence of the prowess of our fab four. With Sehwag back in the team and getting runs and the undoubted class of Jaffer at the top, the first 6 look a nightmarish proposition for any bowling attack. With the recently found doggedness of Dhoni, the ungainly grit of Kumble and the dash of madness in Harbhajan, Zaheer and Arpy, we finally have a batting order (and wonder of wonders, a tail) that can, does and will continue to regularly contribute around the world.

However, the success story lies more in the bowling than in the batting. Unheard of developments in the fast bowling department (a lot of which is courtesy the stellar efforts of the MRF pace academy) are aggressively swinging the balance of power in favour of India. With Zaheer and Arpy (and for the faithful, Sreesanth) demonstrating their mastery over the almost lost art of swing bowling, and Munaf and Ishant demonstrating the all so difficult to face seam bowling, recent stars such as Balaji are finding it impossible to break into the team. With Praveen Kumar and his colleagues hammering on the doors of selection, it is only the collective might of the broad shoulders of our current bowling that is keeping them out. To add to the woes of any batting side facing this attack, there is the daunting challenge of facing and keeping out Kumble, the havoc that Bhajji threatens to wreck, the teasing flight of Pawar and the exciting new talent of Piyush Chawla in the bowling ranks. With options to play with, Kumble, and soon Dhoni, unlike other captains, will have the option and the ability to pick an attack that can regularly knock out 20 wickets in any surface on the world.

The icing on the cake is the development of Pathan as an all rounder, to fill in that vital number 7 slot, when one of the fab 4 vacates the middle order (Ganguly, I hear you say?). A man with a thousand runs and a 100 wickets in international cricket has finally found the mental strength to justify the talent that has never been in doubt. Prodigious swing with the new ball, the ability to defend staunchly and the god given crowd pleasing ability to knock the ball out of the park, he is the quintessential all rounder. Add to that his ability to field and a superb arm, and the only criticism that you are left with is a slight shortage of pace and a tendency to run out of ideas once the shine is off the ball.

In these exciting times, the only cloud on the horizon is the imminent departure of the fab 4 from our sights, whether at their own option or upon the insistence of the media. With them gone, the dream team suddenly looks brittle in the middle order – with Yuvraj failing to step up in Australia, and neither Rohit Sharma nor Manoj Tiwary looking like they can handle the pace, the future of Indian cricket lies in finding men that can fill the shoes of the giants who are about to hang up theirs. Ofcourse, not only will we miss their meditatively patient batting in the middle, we will sorely miss the solidity that each one of them (save Ganguly) provides to the slip cordon – a solidity that has been the hallmark of the greatness of all sides. I, as always hope, that there are atleast three 20 year old guys out there who are about to step up to the plate… Amen.

05 February 2008

Gambhir here to stay?

Sachin and Sehwag were barely able to give the credible platform that Gambhir and Dhoni used.

Both Gambhir and Dhoni have played a lot in the India A circuit together and were noticed around the national fringes at about the same time. Dhoni went on to cement his spot as wicketkeeper-batsman of choice and eventually became the T20 and ODI captain.

Gautam Gambhir was a vital element of Dhoni's victorious T20 campaign. But Gambhir in the one dayers has mostly been a minnow bully. Outside of Bangladesh, Ireland and Scotland, his only century had been a stunner against full-stength Sri Lankan attack at Ahmedabad. Since that day in November 2005, his major innings' have been a 101 against Bangladesh, and 80* against Ireland, an 85* against Scotland, a 51 against England and a 57 against Pakistan. In all, he has played 39 one-dayers and his inconsistency is reflected in an average of 33.82 - very poor considering that he has to displace Ganguly for a spot in the top order.

In Test matches too, he was early to promise, sharing a 218-run stand with Sehwag in his second match (again, Nov 2004) making 96 against Ntini and Pollock at Kanpur. Since then, a century against Bangladesh, a second innings 50 in the match India lost against Pakistan at Bangalore and a 97 against Zimbabwe have been his standount innings. He averages 33 after 14 matches.

But this innings today in Australia, will buy him a lot of time in the team. If he can weather Malinga and Vaas, and attack Murali well, there is no reason to suspect talent at all. This innings has answered a few questions, some of which will be his own doubts, about temprament. Having come on the back of a victorious Ranji campaign for Delhi were he played a pivotal role over the season, he is no doubt confident as well.

At least two of the Fab Four will retire before 2010. Since the early nineties, the middle order has been so strong (or so full of superstars) that we have always tended to sacrifice an opener in the name of balance. In the process the most dispensable middle order bat who could be a wicketkeeper, would be sent out as reluctant opener. If Gambhir is able to make the transition to Test batsman, Indian cricket may enter a phase which has not been experienced for a long time - where the top order will be treated as sacred and the middle order batsmen have to compete among themselves to not get sacrificed in the name of balance.

03 February 2008

Getting all excited

I tend to agree with Unc J Rod when he argues for compulsory intoxication when it comes to really enjoying an entire one-dayer. So it came as a surprise to me when I found myself making an effort to pull myself out of bed on a Sunday. I am excited about this series.
No, it’s not about Gilly's retirement. I am already tired of that.
I want to watch these guys bat against some of the best ODI bowlers.
No, not Gambhir and Uthappa who have been in the team for a while now and should be expected to become more consistent about continuing after getting their eye in. The same goes for Karthik and Raina whenever they get a chance. And certainly not Yuvraj and Dhoni who need to be held accountable for all miserable innings totals. This series will be a fair test of whether their freestroking abandon will hold up, something Sachin was able to do at his peak with several times the expectation on him.
I refer to Rohit Sharma and Manoj Tiwary. The captain made his call when he opted for Tiwary ahead of Raina and Karthik, and I only hope he persists with that call.
I say hope because Tiwary stood horribly exposed today. Something extremely Dadaesque about his approach to fast short bowling aimed at the throat. And then the yorker and then death. Sharma has something of a Mark Waugh about him. He can look so good, and so calm, but will routinely stand accused of playing a lazy shot when he gets out.
Both are in Ozland because of their promise. Enough promise to be in the team ahead of Dravid and Ganguly. And both are being talked up as possible Test replacements for the Fab Four in addition to Badri. Ian Chappel went all gushy wushy when he spoke aboout Sharma, mentioning him in the same sentence as Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting. Having said that, let us hope these two are cut some slack. Give them at least four games on the trot before you give Karthik or Raina a go.  
When Tiwary meets Lee the next time, I will be watching.

01 February 2008

Like a pack of wild dogs

Aussies were just awesome in their bloodthirst. I love T20 cricket, I think, because even this steamroll had me watching.

India, on the other hand, were stunned. Like deer caught in the headlights type thing. Sharma, Uthappa, Gambhir, Sree have never played in Oz before and it showed, but Shaken not Stirred Dhoni was a spectacular disappointment.

Clarke's field for Ishant Sharma when he walked in said it all.