30 March 2008

Smirked too fast?

Three South African pacemen had an impact on the game on the fourth day, pulling the match back before it got away. Arpy and Sree struggled to have any sort of impact, and merely laying the blame on the pitch will not help Kumble's team move forward. Knowing how he plays his game, Kumble will have a few questions to ask himself and his fast bowlers in the few days before the team takes the field at Motera on what is expected to be even flatter than Chennai. 

Has the hype over the infusion of life into the Indian fast bowling been proved to be just that? Were the performances on overseas tours over the past years, just an extended flash in the pan? Were we too early to rejoice? Is Arpy Singh the new Agarkar? Can Ishant Sharma sustain his Messianic appeal on soul-destroying pitches? Is he too young and inexperienced to be so critical to our fortunes already? Is not Zaheer bound to have at least another low in his career? Will Sree ever become a true sultan of swing? Should not Munaf, Pathan and VRV be threatening more to wrest a spot in the squad? Or can all the fast bowling woes over the last few days be solved by the induction of Pathan at the expense of Jaffer? 

Not time to panic yet. This was Arpy's first bad performance in a match since he made his return against Bangladesh - and has shown remarkable consistency - but not fitness, until now. Sree has not played a Test since the Oval (?) and is now probably only fourth in the pecking order anyway.  

Not panicking yet, just some questions.

29 March 2008

Only on popular request.

Intellectual Property Rights be damned. J Rod, for the complete satisfaction of your legion of google fans, I suggest you put this up.

28 March 2008

300, starring the V-Bomb

Dale Steyn recieved an education in Test cricket. Morne Morkel troubled him with bounce more not than often. Paul Harris was ineffective at best. Ntini did not play like someone with a bucketload of wickets - either too short or too full.

Of course, none of this really mattered because Virender Sehwag is a Chennai SuperKing (averaging over 150 at the venue now). With nine wickets still to go before SA can bat again, the V-Bomb has made sure India will not lose. If India can keep the run rate up tomorrow, there is no reason India cannot put pressure on South Africa on the last day.
A world record, at a TV screen near you?

Letter to Smith

Dear Grame Smith,

Either you don't know, or if you know, then shame on you. Either you know that Paul Harris is the feeblest of spinners who does not stand a chance against Virender Sehwag, and so you lowered him into the shallow end by asking him to bowl a restrictive, disgraceful line to him, in which case it is okay, but then now we know that you know that Harris is not very great. The other option then, is that you know that Harris is capable of the occasional special ball, but you were shittin your pants scared wondering how much he will leak if he came around the stumps and actually tried to GET A WICKET. In that case, shame on you, Graeme Smith for asking your lone spinner to come over the stumps first thing in the morning, in Chennai. Okay, it is a flat track, but you did have 500 runs to play with.


Spirit of Cricket Future.

27 March 2008

South Africans I like

South Africans have been taking more than their fair share of hard knocks from Aussie bloggers. There are a few that even I don't like, but here's a few that are in my list of favourite cricketers. There are more, but after today, who wants to give them more reasons to congragulate themselves?

All in the interests of cosmic balance.
  1. Jhonty Rhodes - self explanatory
  2. Alan Donald - self explanatory - used to love Tendulkar-Donald duels.
  3. Lance Klusener - for doing to cricket, what machine guns did to movies, revealing beauty through sustained ugliness, and not in an Ashwell Prince sort of way.
  4. Fanie DeViliers - I understood as a little kid watching him bowl at the likes of the horribly diffident Sujith Somasunder, the ultimate potential of the slower ball.

Arpy's first Test at home!

Its a thin line between attacking and loose, and Bhajji ain't walking it. His good balls have been few, and there have been several hit-me balls.
Arpy Singh on the other hand, is not even a shadow of his self in Australia and England. Playing in his first Test at home, he looked among other things, lazy - which is not something I thought could be said of him. And it is not as if he is a stranger to batting beauties. His debut was against Pakistan on a dead Faisalabad track. (We use a term in Malayalam to refer to er.. less endowed women which directly translates to "the frog over which a Tamil goods lorry has passed".. well, suffice to say that it was that kind of a track. Afridi mauled Bhajji, Arpy took 4-for in a MoM performance, and Pakistan made 588 in the first innings, and India responded with 603)
Is he unfit? Unlikely considering he picked up five wickets in a domestic Deodhar game. Not only were there a few bloopers on the field, his first spell was consistently in the mid 120s while Sree - not so Santh anymore, was regularly in the mid 130s. Sree might have gone for almost as many runs, but those who watched him bowl will know he created far more chances on what appears to be the flattest of tracks. If Arpy does not pull up his socks - a lot, in the second innings, the choice of who to drop when Ishant returns will become easier.

26 March 2008

Bhajji begins his eleventh year

Harbhajan Singh has the perfect opportunity to cement his spot as the second-choice spinner and heir apparent to Kumble's role as first choice. The venue is the Chepauk where he averages 23.31 from five matches including the phenomenal fifteen-wicket turn against the Aussies seven years ago. The opposition are the South Africans, traditionally reckoned as poor players of spin bowling.

He came into the attack with the opening partnership motoring along nicely and promised immediately with flight and bounce off the track. The doosra was kept aside for the special occasion - and McKenzie was its first victim. The turn-and-bounce accounted for Kallis, and it was good to see Harbhajan getting rewarded for flighting the ball.

In June 2007, I had lamented the tragedy (yes, J Rod, I like using "tragedy") of Bhajji, and the situation has not changed much. But for a sprinkling of good performances (the last time we hosted Sri Lanka for instance), his career has not lived up to the expectations of his incredible show in 2001. Bhajji's been getting a bit of flak of late (for close to three years actually), not least from bloggers who have beamoaned his lack of form and is always taking punches from Sanjay "elephant" Manjerekar. Nine months back, I said Chappell had some explaining to do, because the decline in Bhajji's fortunes coincided precisely with his reign. And everyone knows how much of a spinner's efficacy comes from a supportive managment. Also, there must have been the initial period of resignation after realizing that there was scant chance of him displacing Kumble as first choice spinner.

Enough water has flown under the bridge. And if the series in Australia proved anything, it was Bhajji's contribution to the side, outside of the bowling department. One desperately wanted him to be able to completely justify his spot in the team. Getting Ponting out a few times was not enough to address the claims of Murali Kartik - of whom I am a huge fan, and would have loved to see him in the team ahead of Bhajji - and Piyush Chawla.

I may be calling it a little too early, but despite a clear lack of rhythm in his bowling, he was in a mood to attack and get wickets that was quite heartening. I will wait for the series to get over before considering whether Kartik can replace him when India play at home or on spin-firendly venues.

When did he learn how to do that?

From what I remember of Neil McKenzie's previous avtar, he used to be quite uncomfortable against spin, particularly that of Anil Kumble. In a few ODIs, at least, the only weapon he had against Kumble was the sweep. It may have worked on occasion, but mostly it was hardly promising. Today though, he showed he wanted to move deep into the crease or move forward and play the ball late as well. This innings will build on what is looking more and more like a spectacular comeback into the ranks. India have more than a job on their hands if more of the South Africans are going to be similarly surprise against spin.

Te pitch was flat, and the RP Singh and Sreesanth tried too many things. Still, very good batting.

24 March 2008

"To me, you're a waste of space!"

Harmison's smarting. Regardless of all the sense that he makes, and he does it with some style, someone should tell him that Boycott's doing what he is being paid to do, milking his celebrity for all it is worth. Maybe Harmison might want to try and do just that.

Not quite a crab.

What were the odds on the new Sri Lankan left-hand opening batsman turning out to be a crab? The good news is, he doesn't look like one - none of that exaggerated back and across stuff of Ashwell Shivnaraine Katich. And 53 is not too bad a strike rate for a maiden Test ton, is it? Of course, Suleiman Jamaal Benn is not the most threatening of spinners, so I will reserve judgment, while noting an obvious ability to run the quick single and caress the cover drive.

Battle Within The War

Recently, there was an excellent article in Cricinfo by Soumya Bhattacharya regarding the individual rivalries existing in international cricket. (The article can be read here). The article described that special joy which one feels when two champions go at each other. Reading the article, I was forced to think about what constitutes such a rivalry. What are the ingredients which elevate a seemingly insignificant contest to great heights? Here is my take on it.

To me, the primary criterion for an enduring rivalry is the skill of the individuals concerned. You want two men who are at acknowledged maestros of their respective crafts going at each other to bring the crowd to their feat. With all respect to their abilities, a Sunil Joshi having a rivalry with Andrew Hudson would probably enthral a grand total of zero. But, put Allan Donald and Sachin Tendulkar at opposite ends of the field and all of a sudden sport resembles war.
The next criterion ought to be the span of the test series. I feel that a minimum of three tests is essential for the antagonists to fight simply because it gives them ample opportunities to overcome any downturns in form. It also gives a feeling akin to having a great dinner after a good appetizer.
The last and crucial criterion is the playing conditions. Nobody wants to see a pitch which unduly
favours one of the contestants. A fair pitch which offers enough opportunities to all would add sparkle to the contest.

But, looking at world cricket it is sad that there are few genuine rivalries left- Lee v/s Tendulkar, Murali v/s Pieterson, a fit Flntoff v/s Ponting. But, another rivalry fit to stand with these three is sad to find. We are forced to look for the venom spouting variety of Harbhajan v/s Symonds and Sreesanth v/s Nel. A far cry from the 90's and early 2000's when Warne v/s Tendulkar, Lara v/s Murali, Mcgrath v/s Tendulkar/Lara, Inzamam v/s Kumble, Donald v/s Atherton, Waughs v/s Ambrose/Walsh thrilled the senses.

So, as South Africa and India take to the field, there is a genuine wish that we get some more rivalries - Steyn v/s Sehwag and Kumble v/s Kallis anyone ????

20 March 2008

Absurdly random statistical criticism for Sachin to swat away

In the last five years (starting 20 March 2003) , Sachin's batting average at home is a modest 33.15. In the seventeen home Test matches he has played during this period, the lone century has come against Sri Lanka. Only against Pakistan (56.80), does he average over forty.

Sachin, you know what needs to be done.

19 March 2008

Return of the Sree and other boring matters

Been a while since that war dance, the defining memory of that series, happened. Sreesanth had a fantastic tour of South Africa, though the batting frittered it away every time he and Zaheer had South Africa down in a heap. Boring, cautious batting from the two sides did not help the series though there was a result in every match - quite like the Eng-NZ zzzznorathon going on right now.

Sree now returns from injury to find a place in the team because of injuries to Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, to bowl under Anil Kumble's captaincy for the very first time. The recently concluded CB Series not only saw a much calmer Sree, (who incidentally, has attributed his new Zen state to Ayurvedic treatment), he was also modestly succesful with a few crucial wickets.

With such intense competition for a spot in the Indian fast bowling ranks, how Sree copes with the drudgery of bowling to Ashwell and Jaques, and the biffing to be expected from Grame Smith and ABDe could determine his future in the Test bowling ranks. Will he keep his cool? Unlikely. Will he be succesful? Perhaps. Smith, Jaques, Amla and co. are unlikely to have forgotten about Sree's wily ways. In any case, Sree will be part of an attack that might contain two left arm seamers.

Edit: Sree's rehabilitation though, is just one of many cataclysms that we have seen since that eventful tour of South Africa. Foremost among them is the end to those meandering days under Dravid, to a more purposeful approach under Anil and MSD. Dravid may have been a more astute strategist, but Anil and MSD are delivering more spectacular results.

Dada's return. If memory serves right, that tour was when he made his comeback, and things have been pretty rosy for him in the Test arena since then. With Yuvraj and Rohit Sharma barking at his heels, this series is no different from the previous few which have all started with his place under threat.

Pathan was sent home in disgrace from that tour, having lost his form so horribly since his brilliant hat-trick. Not only was he crucial in that win at Perth, but he has made himself pretty much indispensable to the balance of the ODI team. The pace and nip are not quite there yet, and it is forseeable that he may find himself in a restricting role, once the ball loses shine.

South Africa was also where Karthik was asked to open for the first time. Having impressed, he went to scale greater highs in England - not only as opener, but as general cheerleader-in-chief, before returning with a thud at home against Pakistan. Now he finds himself a back-up for the tireless MS Dhoni, Sehwag having claimed the opener's spot with aplomb in Australia. Unfortunately for him, it also looks like Gautam Gambhir and Chopra have somehow climbed higher up in the pecking order to replace Jaffer if that becomes necessary.

17 March 2008

The Unknown Ascension

The Indian cricket season rolls on. After the Australians, its South Africa which will do battle with the Indians. After the wide-spread buffet on offer in Australia, the battle with the Proteas look less appealing. But, for one man, this could prove to be the most important series yet.

I do not mean Yuvraj and his perennial quest to be a permanent fix in world cricket's most formidable middle order. Nor is this about Harbhajan and his tryst at becoming Kumble's designated successor. This write-up is about an opener who has been successful for his country.
I am talking about Gary Kirsten, that fine South African opener, who begins his journey as India' s coach against his own nation.

Gary Kirsten was one of cricket's unsung heroes. He was probably the most consistent cricketer of the Cronje era. The true value of Kirsten can be gleaned by the number of match saving innings he played as an opener. But, the sad fact about Kirsten was that his feats were more underrated than acknowledged. People were more prone to talk about Kallis and Cronje, about Pollock and Donald. They discussed Rhodes and Cullinan more than Kirsten.

But, it is this very quality which could lead Kirsten to success in his new job. Team India doesn't need a charismatic manager. With the kind of star power resident in the team, what they need is a back room engineer who will be more a guidance and a sounding board than a aggressive dictator. Having played with Ganguly, Tendulkar, Kumble, Dravid and Laxman, Kirsten shouldn't have any issues in jelling with the team. Hopefully, Kirsten becomes the next John Wright as far as Indian cricket is concerned.

Here is a word of prayer and a round of applause as the Unsung hero assumes the high profile job of Indian cricket.

Another Yuvraj choice

The Yuvraj-Test cricket dilemma will raise its head again, when the selectors pick the Indian team for the first Test against the vising South Africans, to be played at the M A Chidambaram Stadium. Unlike the selection dilemma prior to the tour of Australia, it is not the ascent of Yuvraj that is causing this. Then, unlike now, Yuvraj was threatening the cemented spots of VVS Laxman and Saurav Ganguly for a spot in the lower middle order. Now, after a poor display in three matches against the Aussies, there is absolutely no doubt that the selectors will consider him unworthy of challenging these two. Dravid's place is less certain than those of Sachin, Laxman and Ganguly, but there is no doubt that if he is fit, he will play all matches.

The challenge now for the selectors is to decide whether it is smart to carry Yuvraj in this Test squad, of his primary purpose will be to carry drinks. The challenge comes from the ascent of Rohit Sharma as not only a fairly reliable bat in ODIs, but also because, like Yuvraj, "he has a certain, what they French would call, I dont know what", that begs to be examined in the harsher light of Test cricket. Finding room in the squad is the first step. (TM, if you have anything to say, say it now, or forever hold your peace.)

Both have their strong points when set against each other. Rohit's defence is tighter, but Yuvi can clear big grounds with his power. It hardly makes sense to compare them as far as utility to the team is concerned. Both have shown the talent necessary to handle two spots in that hallowed middle order when the time is right.

Right now, for these matches at home against South Africa, it makes more sense to carry Rohit in the Test team. For one, it is an unmistakeable sign to Yuvi that he is not the only one chasing a spot and so should shape up - not just batting-wise, but also fitness-wise. Also, Rohit gets a sliver of a chance of showing what he is made of, against the likes of Steyn and Ntini. Even if he does not bat, he gets the chance to share a dressing room with VVS and Anil Kumble - an education that must not be denied to him.

13 March 2008

Bit of a history

Indian batsemn have not demolished left arm spinners in recent times. Giles, Vettori, Panesar, Paul Adams and even Boje and Michael Clarke have all been pesky at worst, and even threatening on the odd occasion. Will Paul Harris share similarly moderate success and tie the batsmen down like Giles, run through them like Clarke? Or will Ganguly be able to treat him with the same disdain he held Murali Kartik in?

11 March 2008

Except Sachin

We are Indian men.
We are uncontrollably lecherous.

07 March 2008

England are a yellow snail with black stripes

Watching England bat must have been a bit like watching this guy. You see the colours and you anticipate something spectacular, but after the hours of tedium that you spent plotting the murder of Pietersen and crying into your pillow for a swift death, you realize that it is still a f##kin snail.
Keep watching him. First session tomorrow, he is expected to morph into a giant genital.

The Forgotten Soldier

We have lauded Rohit Sharma, applauded Gautam Gambhir, praised Dhoni and revered Tendulkar in these last five heady days. Yet, we seemed to have missed out one man Virender Sehwag - The forgotten man of the CB series. The strongest argument has been whether Ganguly and Dravid should be slowly pushed to retirement. But, there is a more pertinent question - which seems to have been conveniently forgotten/ignored - should Sehwag be in the team?
From five matches, Sehwag has scored 81 runs and taken 1 wicket. Figures which do not suit a top player. Unlike short three match series, the CB sries offers you adequate opportunities to overcome a downturn in your fortunes. So, Sehwag has been the one failure of India' successful ODI campaign.
This is not to suggest that Sehwag has been a failure in the long tour to Australia. Absolutely no. To me, he played arguably the second most important knock of the test series, from an Indian point of view, at Adelaide. Next only to Laxman's knock at Perth, it was of immense value in ensuring that India didn't go 3-1 down in a series which should have remained 1-1.
But, the sad fact remains that Sehwag has been a highly unsuccessful ODI cricketer. An average of 31 from 183 matches suggests a cricketer bordering on the mediocrity. In an era in which averages touching 40 are more the norm, Sehwag seems to me a more refined version of Afridi, the batsman.
So, what lies ahead for Sehwag? Is it an early retirement from the ODI scene? Or another chance. Will he turn out to be an Anwar or an Afridi? It is upto Sehwag one feels. Hopefully, he will prosper and peform to the levels he should.

05 March 2008

20000 runs is the new elephant in the room

Nobody who ever saw this partnership is likely to forget it, least of all Murali, Vaas and co.
Anyway, now that Sachin has taken himself out of the elephant equation, there is a new one for Venx The Messiah and his Gang of Merry Men to consider. How do they put 20000 runs to pasture gracefully? These are two giants of the one-day game, and sad as it may be, it is good for Indian cricket that the more athletic Rohit Sharma, Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa stepped up so their absence was not felt in one of the most demanding of all ODI tournaments. Of course Dravid and Dada may still be able to contribute with the bat, and may be packed with the tactical mishmash that comes with 20000 runs, but we need to give the captain the team he wants. Having done so once, and all credit to Venx The Messiah, and may his loins bear a thousand lions, ans seen more than satisfactory results, we just need to continue doing so. Barely anything should be allowed to stand in the way of the development of Rohit Sharma, Uthappa and Gambhir. It will be unfair, not only to those three, but even to Raina, Kartik and Tiwary who have waited, to consider any sort of longish farewell for Dada and Dravid.
I don't know, but the moronically conceived Asia Cup may be the right opportunity. There is even a game against Hong Kong at Lahore.

Welcome to the PKFC

Which is not some strange kind of fried chicken with a tendency to support the five-five form of cricket.

The counters have been thrown open for membership to the Praveen Kumar Fans Club. You can register online, by singing praises for the-one-who-would-have-been-a-wrestler.
Honorary lifetime membership has already been given to Ian Chappel. That Praveen Koomah, he does swing it both ways.
Then there is shy Dhoni who believes Kumar is much more effective than the speed guns will tell you.
Me? To me, he is the new Dylan and Jason Bourne blended together. He's stoic, but not staid. Poetic, but not whiny. Swings it, bit not in a float-it-up-to-get-whacked sort of way, but in a I-will-sell-my-wife-to-get-your-wicket sort of way. Soul and spunk. If his batting also clicks, he can fill stadiums.

03 March 2008

Raise the Titan

It seems that the best way to get Sachin Tendulkar to perform is to taunt him by throwing some obscure stats at him. In a way, his , hopefully not, last tour of Australia has been his two fingered salute to his critics.
"He doesn't score against the big nations any more - 493 runs at an average of 70.
"Adelaide is his worst ground." - a majestic 153
"He doesnt score any runs chasing" - Two match winning scores in the most important games India played in the tournament.
"He is a failure in finals" - 117*(120) balls.
So, guys, criticize him, taunt him so that he breaks more barriers, creates more records and sets the stage ablaze.
Let us "Raise the Titan" again.

PS: - I seriously think I ought to do a lengthier article on Mr Tendulkar. But, that can wait as I wait for Tuesday.