Sunday, July 31, 2005


India started the Indian Oil cup on a rather bad note with the defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka. It is too early to criticise the coaching of Greg Chappel. I was not able to watch much of the match live since the cable operators did not want to pay for the hike in the subscription of Ten Sports.

The batting turned out to be the big disappointment with only Rahul Dravid and Venugopala Rao making some decent runs. Of course, Harbhajan, Zaheer and Irfan took the total narrowly past the 200 mark. The lack of a specialist 5th bowler proved to be very costly in the end.

Sehwag and Dhoni batted like billionaires being bored by their wealth while Yuvraj once again proved his detractors right. Kaif was surprisingly unable to perform in a tight situation. Raina was done in by a perfect 'throw' from the 'king of chuckers'-Muralitharan . In the next match, Raina might be asked to make way for someone else.

The think tank have erred in not picking Anil Kumble who could have created pressure on batsmen of a lower calibre like Mahroof and Chandana. Instead, he watched the match from the sidelines.

India appear to have an easy encounter in the second match against the Windies. But the newcomers from the Caribbean islands might want to establish themselves in the absence of players like Brian Lara.

There is some consolation from the match. After quite a while a player from the state of Andhra Pradesh-Venugopala Rao made a good entry into international cricket.


It is him once again to spoil India's hopes once again. I am talking of Sanath Jayasuriya who despite a dislocated shoulder stayed there to take Sri Lanka home after being in some kind of strife. Sanath has always shown a particular penchant for the Indian bowling. Javagal Srinath was holding the microphone in place of the ball but the result would have given him a sense of deja vu.

During the course of the past week, Arjuna Ranatunga was quite optimistic of Sanath returning to form with the prospect of having to take on the Indian bowlers. I donot have any intention of denigrating the talents of Jayasuriya but he always does good against the Indians. He has displayed streaks of brilliance against other teams, but against India his showing has been extraordinary. I feel that the Indians simply don't have it in them to shrug off the past demons. Suddenly, the bowlers appear clueless and there are dropping shoulders in the field.

Jayasuriya is the list of those players who have done exceedingly well against India. Saeed Anwar was one such player who on many occasions took the Indian attacks to the cleaners. There is another player-Shivnarine Chanderpaul who has always done well against India. This is something that Greg Chappel needs to work on.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


The latest bit of speculation relating to the Indian cricket team in Sri Lanka is the possibility of VVS Laxman partnering Sehwag at the top of the order. There is nothing wrong with such experiments but Laxman is not the guinea pig. Everytime there are one-dayers, there is a lot of talk about the inclusion or rather the non-inclusion of Laxman. I feel that he is too good a player with a proven record to be left out of the team.

I make a strong case for Laxman to be made a regular fixture in the one-day squads even when Sachin and Saurav are available. Let us not forget the knocks that he played in the VB Series on the last tour to Australia and also in Pakistan when the series was even.

I think Yuvraj is not the player he is made out to be. One good innings is sandwiched between numerous failures. His fielding is not a scratch when compared with the best. He sometimes gives the impression of making unnecessary dives when faced with simple catches. His bowling is not even of a club level variety. Far more deserving is the case of Mohammed Kaif who has always revelled in crunch situations be it the one-dayers or the test matches. He is someone who is most unsure of his batting position as the team management is very keen to accommodate Yuvraj. These days Yuvraj is far more preoccupied with matters outside cricket.

Laxman has the right to feel hurt over his omission from the world cup team of 2003. I have nothing against Dinesh Mongia but it was sad. Laxman should be given the position he likes the most and not being forced to open. Laxman has never failed to mention his disappointment on being asked to open in the test matches. The team man that he is, Laxman never shies away from doing something even if it does not suit him.

If there is anything that caused me pain over Saurav Ganguly's captaincy is the injustice meted out to Laxman and Anil Kumble. They have managed to overcome their frustrations with splendid performances and prove their detractors wrong.

The plea for the inclusion of Laxman arises not because I share two parts of my name with him and also not because we speak the language, but because he is a good player.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


The name Armstrong is something special to me. My first cricket bat had a sticker with the name 'Armstrong'. There are very fond memories attached to it. Then, of course, Neil Armstrong who was the first man on the moon.

Now, one more Armstrong has joined the list-lance Armstrong, the cycling great who ended his career on the road with a seventh consecutive victory of the Tour de France. What impressed me most was that the Texan has decided to hang up his boots while at the top. Such timing is very rare among modern sportspersons, especially with Indian cricketers. I can think of Sunil Gavaskar who called it a day after a masterly knock at Lords' in 1988.

It is truly remarkable to author such a script with rivals like Ulrich and Basso in the race for the big prize. Armstrong was the clear favourite before the tour and for a brief period in the early stages there were other pretenders to the throne. But once, he had the tour leader's yellow jersey, Armstrong never let it go off his back. Even a fall in the last stage when the road was slippery due to persistent drizzle, there was no doubt about the final outcome.

This is amazing to remember that Armstrong once had been diagnosed with cancer. Cycling had a similar hero in the past with a multiple tour winner Greg Lemmond who had a difficult time after being involved in a freak shooting accident.

In recent years, the sport of cycling-especially, the professional variety has taken quite a big knock with many riders and teams being put under the scanner for the use of banned performance enhancing substances. Almost every tour has seen some such incidents. Questions had also been asked about the involvement of Armstrong. We may never know the truth, but Armstrong never let these things to distract him.

Armstrong made it clear about his decision to leave the sport he loves the most. He seemed more than satisfied with the fame and fortune that resulted from his stupendous achievement. The finishing at the Arc de Troimphe was memorable with Armstrong having his family for company. His twin daughters were dressed in yellow.
Thanks Armstrong for the display of courage and humility that is so rare in these times.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


The first test started off with an unfamiliar display but shall end on predictable lines with the Aussies taking a 1-0 lead. The first day saw the English bowlers led by Harmison give the Aussies a real work out. It is not since the days of the West Indies pace machines, that the Aussies have been found wanting in terms of temperament and technique. It may appear that the batsmen got out playing irresponsible shots but the fact is the pressure generated by the English bowlers was too much for the liking.
The English were feeling top of the world with this masterly display at Lords' where their record against the Aussies has not been good. They had something to cheer about especially in the light of the blasts that rocked London(something that the English did never anticipate). Now all such fanciful thinking was given a big jolt by McGrath. Whatever do the commentators say about the uneven bounce or the lack of consistency in the pitch, the English batsmen were made to look like real novices. The English batsmen are highly overrated even by the standards of the British press, but this is the real deal-facing the best in the world.
In the last Ashes down under, Michael Vaughan appeared to be in a different class taking the might of the bowling. He had all the answers to the questions posed but since then he has not played an innings of note, especially in difficult times and climes. The only thing that he does now-a-days is to play a couple of his signature drive through the covers. The decision to drop Graham Thorpe in favour of 'attitude' in the shape of Kevin Pietersen is questionable. Thorpe has been a dependable batsman albeit without much flair or flamboyance. The selectors could have given the Surrey lefthander a chance-a final one in place of Ian Bell.
Pietersen is still there at the wicket but the task before him and the rest is impossible. The English catching, especially in the third innings was shoddy with Pietersen making a mess of really simple chances. The let off given to Clarke and the partnership between him and Martyn has become the deciding factor when scoring runs has been rather difficult in the match. Pietersen may after all score the runs but then the lapses have proved to be very costly.
The English still have something to look forward to-the rest of the series. If the weathermen are to be believed, there is still some hope in the first test with rains expected over London.

This was written in the morning and due to some technical problems at my end, it could not be posted then. The Aussies were not needed to wait for the fifth day to wrap up the match.

Saturday, July 23, 2005


The first two days of the first test of the Ashes have been very interesting with both sides landing and taking blows. The Aussies appeared to have been pushed to the wall with most of them smarting from the bruises to the body and most importantly to the ego. But the new found confidence of Flintoff and company was shortlived though, with McGrath renewing his liking for the slope and the air at the Lords'. In a matter of few overs, the English top order was back in the pavilion. In the second innings the Aussies showed their fighting spirit with Ponting, Martyn and Clarke making runs. Langer attempted an impossible single and the new 'English' hero Pietersen found the target. John Buchanan needs to have a go at Hayden. This is not the Zimbabwean bowling to let him score runs. Clarke distinguished himself with a sparkling knock and Martyn just let his reputation to grow. All the batsmen were beaten time and again by the bowlers but this was a better day for the batsmen. In the morning session, the English total was extended thanks to the blows of Pietersen. Jones also scored a couple of boundaries. Shane Warne got the wicket of Pietersen after being hit over the boundary. The English have to do something extraordinary to save the match from this point. With Katich at the crease, the Aussies would hope to put the match beyond the English. Has the contest petered out to a one-sided one or will any Englishman prove me wrong.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


History suggested that the Australians have mostly triumphed at Lords' but the present English team showed their mettle in the first session of the opening test of the Ashes. By the time the players went back to their dressing rooms for lunch, the visitors had five of their batsmen looking forward to the second innings. To add insult to the injury, three of the five received blows with the captain having to endure a cut on the cheekbone. Hayden, Langer, Martyn and Ponting fell to very ungainly shots. Of course, Ponting seemed to be shaken by the blow. Clarke has not added anything to his initial success. Now it is upto Gilchrist to stem the rot. He has on most of the occasions scored a 100 in the first test match of a series and that has helped the Aussies to have control right from the start. Will it be the same again? Katich has a lot to prove the selectors wrong.

The blows and the ducking and weaving of the batsmen before the four English bowlers made me think of the great pace quartets from the West Indies. I never got to watch them in full flight. Will Harmison and company do the same or will the Aussies be able to recover from the bad start.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Read with interest the lament on the lack of allrounders in Indian cricket(Wisden Asia Cricket, June 2005-'Whatever Happened to the Indian allrounder?') In the history of the game there have never been instances of quality allrounders purveying in large numbers; always it has been a case of few genuine players who could bat and bowl with authority and become match winners. Indian cricket is not blessed on this count, especially after Kapil Dev and Ravi Shastri. Manoj Prabhakar was the last of this category of unique players. He was a genuine allrounder in more ways than one! Of course, the other test playing nations have been blessed either. England have the services of Flintoff long after Botham became a regular before the microphone. Australia had the services of Steve Waugh for a while before he relinquished bowling. New Zealand had Richard Hadlee and then Chris Cairns. The all conquering West Indies teams of the 1980's did not possess quality all-rounders. It is Pakistan who are somewhat lucky to have players like Abdul or Abdur Razzaq to inherit the slot vacated by Imran Khan. Right now, South Africa have Jacques Kallis. Of course, there is a long way to go for the present generation to be compared with the likes of Kapil and Imran. I have a simple argument on the dearth of allrounders in general and in particular on the Indian scene. It is the batsmen who always hog the limelight and with the heroics of Sachin, Rahul etc., everyone budding cricketer dreams of making it big with the bat. Now we have allrounders of the quality of Yuvraj and Dinesh Mongia whose bowling shall not cause any alarms even to players like me. The young cricketers of today might never have gone through the exploits of greats like Kapil, Vinoo Mankad, Salim Durrani, the father and son duo of Lala Amarnath and Mohinder Amarnath etc. All they are good about is to think of becoming a good batsman. The young players start with the aspirations of being allrounders but then the physical stresses and strains put an end to them. Also, the present trend of instant gratification in every walk of life has deterred young players from taking the hard route to mastering the trade of an allrounder.. It is the lack of a fast bowling all-rounder that is often the difference between India winning or losing. The victory of India in the world cup of 1983 was not due to the batsmen or the bowlers, but because of all-rounders. It were the bowlers like Roger Binny, Madan Lal who were instrumental in Kapil going to 175 not out against Zimbabwe after being reduced to 17 for 5. It was Jimmy Amarnath who got important wickets in the finals and the semi-finals and also excelled with the bat. It is difficult for the youngsters since they have no role model to idolise and become good all-rounders. Kapil Dev was a freak in more ways than one. He was a fast bowler from the land of the Guptes, Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna, Venkataraghavan etc. Secondly, he could win a match either with the bat or with the ball. Thirdly, he was a good fielder at a time when Indian players in general were averse to run after the ball or stop the ball. All we now have is VVS Laxman improving his bowling skills to fill the vacant all-rounder slot at least in the one-day squad.

Friday, July 08, 2005


Australia once again finished as the losing side in the first of the three Natwest Challenge matches. England put up a commanding display to overhaul the total with 9 wickets and plenty of balls to spare. Trescothick led the successful chase with a century. But the victory was made possible by the superb effort of the English bowlers. They restricted Australia to a low score. Even with the Leeds wicket offering the assistance, McGrath and company could not make an impression.

The body language of the Aussies does not show the arrogance and the swagger that they are so proud of. Ricky Ponting appears as clueless as the boy whose candy has been snatched away. Is there now any credence to the argument that the Aussies have no worthy opponent to play! Matthew Hayden might post a large score against hapless bowlers from Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and then his supporters proclaim him as the best batsman in the world. Michael Clarke does not appear to be anywhere near the class of a good international player. It is a tribute to Indian bowlers that Clarke was allowed to score a 100 on his test debut. Now Justin Langer has become completely silent. Before the start of the tour, there was Langer who predicted the trashing of England.

Instead of making remarks against the English players, John Buchanan should be setting his house in order. The Auusies have been vulnerable in the one-dayers even though they won the world cup in 2003. Pakistan ran them very close in the VB Series before the batsmen blew it away. Even the Indians matched them on their last tour down under. No longer the English batsmen are worried over the reputation of the bowlers nor are they fazed by the batsmen of the opposing teams.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Indians have something to be happy about Wimbledon with Mahesh Bhupathi combining with Mary Pierce to win the mixed doubles title. Because of the rain, the duo had to play two matches on the same day, separated by less than one hour. That they did successfully is remarkable. After the win, Bhupathi talked about the chemistry that is so essential in doubles. Certainly, in hindsight one can say that there was a wonderful chemistry between Bhupathi and Pierce. It is a pity that Bhupathi and Woodbridge could not do much especially when the Australian was playing his last event as a professional. It is a tragedy that we get to see the team of Bhupathi and Leander Paes play only in the Davis Cup.

Keep the Indian flag flying Mahesh.

Monday, July 04, 2005



It was more of a display of a great show of a genius rather than a contest. It reminded me of the knockouts that Mike Tyson gave his opponents in his younger days. But here there were no bruises to the body. I am talking about the win of Roger Federer over Andy Roddick. There is no doubting the talent of the American but at this moment, he has to come only the second best. For three years in the running, he has been beaten by the same man who has went on to win the Championship.

Any thought of a good contest were wiped out early with the Swiss making the ball do the bidding for him. The tie-breaker in the second set was only an aberration as he was back in command in the third set. Federer is making Wimbledon seemingly devoid of any thrilling contests!I have this feeling that Federer reserves his best for the latter stages and for more famous opponents. Especially, when it comes to people like Hewitt, Roddick or Agassi.

If he continues to play in the same vein, then Federer can win the Wimbledon crown for many years to come. That is sure if the tennis authorities don't change the rules as did the Formula-1 people did to prevent one man from dominating the sport.

Sunday, July 03, 2005


The final between Lindsay Davenport and Venus Williams was reckoned by many commentators as one of the best in a long time. Davenport was keen to make the most of her last outing at the courts of SW19, while Williams attempted to keep the family flag flying. These two certainly fought a tough battle with Venus getting the famed trophy for a third time.

With three Grandslams of the year gone, there is no single Russian winner. So was the much heralded 'Russian Revolution' more of a media hype? Sharapova and her compatriots have time on their side and in future will win many events.


While watching Wimbledon I was surprised by a comment from Vijay Amritraj. Vijay observed that the area near the baseline was the most abused while the grass near the net seemed very fresh and lush. There was considerable wear and tear near the baseline.

This is a pointer to the style of tennis today. There are few grass court players today. Very few play the classic 'serve and rush to the net' tennis that has been associated with grass courts. Federer is regarded as the finest exponent of grass court tennis of this generation and he also hits a lot from the baseline. It is only that he comes to the net more often than the others. Hewitt believes in overpowering from behind the baseline. Nadal and other clay court champions play drop shots on clay but on grass they are rooted to the baseline.

I find this type of tennis on Wimbledon a total mockery. Perhaps, this is because of the times that I grew up in. The arrival of television in my part of the world coincided with the emergence of players like Becker, Edberg, Sampras and Ivanisevic.


It is a repeat of 2004 with Federer and Roddick to play in the final of Wimbledon 2005. Federer was expected to come this far although Roddick was not. Federer was simply magnificent over Hewitt while Roddick was stretched a little by Johansson in the semifinals.

Federer with his all round game has a definite edge over Roddick. The American has a great serve and has a devastating forehand. But can he handle the serve of the Swiss? Hewitt could not do much. Also, Federer seems to have the edge in the psychological side as well over players like Hewitt and Roddick. The American has to do what Safin did at the Australian Open early this year- attack Federer. Most of the players of today try to outhit Federer from the baseline. This is where Hewitt did go wrong and paid the price. Somehow, Hewitt simply avoided the net. Wonder, he was the Champion at Wimbledon a few years ago.

If Roddick is able to forget the past and plays well, there could be a contest. Otherwise, the result would be a foregone conclusion. There is a glimmer of hope for Roddick, though. At the Australian Open, Federer destroyed Agassi only to fall in the semis to Safin. If that were not an aberration, then Roddick has some chance.

Friday, July 01, 2005


Bangladesh was defeated by Australia in the last of the preliminary matches in the Natwest series. The result was expected. The Australians were in a spot of bother before recovering their composure. The lower order batsmen of Bangladesh helped their team post 250 after losing the first five wickets with only 75 runs on the board. Shariar and Mashud did a great rescue act. There were no heroics from Ashraful this time barring a magnificient six off Brett Lee.

That Bangladesh won only one match from their six matches, is a good indicator of the gulf that seperates them from the other two teams. However, there is no disgrace in losing to better sides. As the tour went off, the Bangladeshis started displaying talent and mettle. They have managed to raise the bar above the past displays and now the expectations back in the country must be very high. That is something the 'tigers' must not only match but exceed.


The last match of the one day series between Australia and Bangladesh was in no way going to determine the two finalists. As expected, the Aussies won, not without experiencing some hiccups on the way. Bangladesh made 250 after being reduced to 75 for 5 at one stage. Then Bangladesh made the Aussies bat all the way down to achieve the target.

It was good to see Gilchrist get runs but the bowlers that he is going to face for much of the rest of the summer are of a different quality altogether. Ponting scratched around but runs are runs. Clarke would have surely enjoyed the batting practice after sitting on the bench with an injury. Symonds has taken apart better attacks and his form continues to be good.

It is the Aussie bowlers who are not impressive. Even Lee went for in excess of 50 runs from his 10 overs. Kasprowicz does not get the skid and carry in his balls but Gillespie gave an imprived performance. The finals are going to be decided by the contest between the Aussie batsmen and the English bowlers.