Thursday, February 23, 2006


It is difficult to watch the Chamions League games live as the telecast is made well past the midnight hour India time. But then Barcelona managed to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It would take more than the loudmouth of Mourinho to defeat the Spanish league leaders who have a two away goal advantage. For the first time, Mourinho was realistic after the loss. Remember the last time? Mourinho was quite convinced that Liverpool was not the best team in Europe after their success. Add to it the controversy over the Barcelona coach having a talk with the referee.

Chelsea are on track to win the English Premier League for the second year in a row. But the rather poor showing on the European stage and the recent shock defeat in England have put question marks over the power of money in assembling a team. Incidentally, the man who is chased by Chelsea, Samuel Eto'o scored the winner.


(Photo courtesy

There were very few surprises in the Indian team that is to take on England. The injury to Yuvraj meant the inclusion of Kaif. He is a good player who on most occasions has delivered the goods. But, unfortunately, Kaif has always been on the fringes. Laxman looked out of sorts on the tour to Pakistan. Of course, to be fair, most of the batsmen looked like stoned during the third test.

Saurav Ganguly should have got a chance. Now since the selection is over, it is time the lefthander took stock of the situation. The whole world is up in arms against the inclusion of Ganguly. Everyone is fully behind the selectors and the powers that run Indian cricket. It is surreal and something that does not fully reflect the drama that is Indian cricket.

Cricket historians in time would remind us the intrigue that surrounded Indian cricket in general and Ganguly, in particular.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Saurav Ganguly continues to evoke strong reactions(Cricinfo Magazine,February 2006). Sadly, the performance of the Indian team in the one dayers leaves little room for the left hander to make a comeback. Paradoxically, a poor run in the limited overs version by the team could have made the clamour for his inclusion in the team a lot stronger. As an Indian, I don't want the team to lose to any team, and especially, not to Pakistan. At the same time, I cannot but scheme how to make Ganguly a part of the team once again.

I agree with the view that players with age on their side have to be tried out for the long term interest of the team. But it makes little sense to try someone just for the sake for trying. In the two innings that he played, Gambhir was not upto the mark. On any given day, Ganguly, is definitely a lot superior to the Delhi batsman. It was also not too long ago, that Saurav was replaced by Wasim Jaffer for the test at Ahmedabad and the Mumbai opener was made to warm the bench.

Ganguly baiters would cite the inability of the man to handle fast bowling especially, the short pitched stuff. But look at the way, the Indian batsmen collapsed to their feet, in the third test in Pakistan. The wicket was no way near to the Brisbane test where Ganguly made a ton on the great tour to down under. Few also remember the century scored at Leeds which resulted in a victory for India.

Clearly, this is a case of applying different criteria to different people. Suddenly, it became a fashion to whip Saurav, particularly after the incidents in Zimbabwe.

Whatever happens to Saurav, I am proud of his achievements. He was the one who made the entire country proud by standing upto his opponents.


The retirement of Narendra Hirwani from the Indian first class scene did not get the attention that it deserved. Few of today's cricket followers can talk about the achievements of the leg spinner. It was Hirwani who spun India to an improbable win at Chepauk, then in Madras over the mighty West Indies captained by Viv Richards. For the record, Hirwani took 16 wickets in his debut match.

Hirwani made leg spin glamorous with the sharp turn and the dark glasses. For many of my contemporaries, leg spin was something to gain cricket glory.Add to the cricketing exploits, the alleged romantic affair with a budding television actress. After the heady start, there was a decline in the cricketing fortunes of Hirwani. But he continued to make many a domestic batsman to dance to his spin, year after year.

In the same lines, Rajinder Goel of Haryana and Padmakar Shivalkar of Bombay and not to forget V.V.Kumar of Madras continued to serve their teams long after their hopes of playing for the country faded. Also, mention has to be made of Kanwaljeet Singh of Hyderabad and Ananthapadmanabhan of Kerala who played every season for a long time as if their survival depended on it. To this list of spinners, a medium pacer by the name of Zaidi has to be added.

It is these gentlemen who have made Indian cricket richer by the effort and the often ignored performance. Cynics may scoff that this reflects the lack of new players. Perhaps, they were not as lucky as the few who represented the country or that they were simply born at the wrong time.

Monday, February 13, 2006


The winter Olympics are underway in Turin. Indians don't have anything to look for. The Indian athlete Shiva Kesavan created a stir on the eve of the opening ceremony and finished 25th in his event. That is not the reason behind this post.

Remember 'Cool Runnings'? It was a movie that featured the attempt at glory by the bobsled team from Jamaica in the 1988 winter Olympics at Calgary, Canada. Yes, it is about a team from the sunbaked island of Jamaica where there is no possibility of any snow. Actually, three sprinters from the Caribbean island failed to make to the summer Olympics for the sprint events. The three then got hold of a fellow countryman to go to Canada. In the end, there was no medal for the Jamaicans but their attempt was highly commendable.

I was watching the sports bulletin on the BBC before the start of the compeition at Turin. It featured an athlete by the name Robel( forgive me for not giving his full name) form of all places, Ethiopia. You heard it right; he is from an African country. Followers of athletics know that Ethiopia is more famous for producing great middle and long distance runners. Now it came as a shock rather than a surprise to me hear about an athlete in the winter Olympics from an African country.

It does not matter if Robel wins any medal or not.

Any filmmaker from Hollywood interested in making 'Cool Runnings2'?

Thursday, February 09, 2006


The South Africans lost three matches too miss out the finals of the VB Series. They had to win just one to go to the finals. But it was Sri Lanka who are going to meet the host Australia in the finals.

Nothing went right for the Proteas despite all the big talk from the likes of their coach and captain. A few months back, the same captain was praised by the Indian media for his batting as well as his tactical acumen. Now, Smith proved to be a big failure on both the counts. There was a suggestion that the absence of players like Kallis and Nel was a big blow to the fortunes on the tour to down under. Kallis, though he has the statistics to boast, has never looked to win matches in the shorter version of the game. Nel is a good bowler, though makes most of his emotional quotient on the field to terrify his opponents. At best, he is lively bowler in the test matches.

Gibbs has the skills but did not show any application to threaten the rival teams. The best South African batsman was the wicketkeeper Mark Boucher. It came as a surprise when Boucher was not included in the team to India. The rest are just not upto the scratch when it comes to take the likes of Australia.


The recent success of Pakistan has made most of the players and ex-players of that country more expressive. Inzamam, is someone who is not known for his verbal skills. But the dismissal of the Pakistan captain in the first one-dayer has prompted a reaction.

Inzamam was declared out for obstructing the field. It is interesting to note that he was involved in a similar incident in the test series with England. In the match at Peshawar, Inzamam was well out of the crease and so there was justification for the appeal of the Indians. At this rate, all batsmen would make an attempt to stop the ball, thereby, surviving runouts. For someone so experienced, it makes little sense to blame the opposition for conduct unbecoming for a sportsman. If Inzamam is conscious of upholding the spirit of sportsmanship, then he should not cry over spilt milk.

Moin Khan is another who is afflicted with the severe case of verbal diarrhoea. He is in no position to talk about sporting spirit. Was there a sporting conduct with the Younis Khan appealing for bad light when the equation was in their favour?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


It was in the summer of 1984 that my father introduced us to The Sportstar and that probably explains the liking I have for Liverpool. Those were the days when there was no television and the newspapers carried black and white images of my favourite sportspersons. The Sportstar showed us the true colour of sports coupled with some of the finest prose we could lay our hands on. It was a habit that I shared with my brothers for weeks and years; for more than 20 years. My brother who is abroad, goes for the online edition week after week. I must confess that over the years, I have lost touch with this wonderful friend.

Each issue of The Sportstar was something that me and my brothers did not mind having a fight. Being the eldest, I had the final say. Also, I was the one who got it from the newstand. The initial issues were marked by the rise of a German tennis player called Boris Becker. Liverpool with people like Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush were the best footballers with the exception of Maradona and Platini. Golf gave us Ballesteros (hope I spell the name correctly).

Of course, the best coverage was with regard to cricket. The photographs were simply superb. There was a special centrefold photograph that gave me the opportunity to decorate the walls of my hostel room. There are still some photographs that are highly valuable for us.

R.Mohan and Nirmal Sekhar amazed us with their writing skills. There was also Robin Marlar for cricket and Peter Bodo for tennis. Then there is the peerless Brian Glanville talking sense of football. He was and still is aiming his guns or his pen at people like Sepp Blatter. I haven't touched a tennis racquet in my life but 'Stan Smith's tennis class' gave enough inspiration to go for a imaginary backhand shot down the line. It was much later that I heard the Dire Straits going full throttle with 'Sultans of Swing'. The Sportstar was the first to give the phrase 'Sultan of Swing' on a cover to mark the 15 wicket haul of Richard Hadlee in the Brisbane test. The special issues before a major sporting event and after were highly coveted.

In the later years, Sunil Gavaskar graced the pages and soon a number of former players joined the bandwagon. There were high quality articles interspersed with mediocre stuff. That, I believe started the slide. People like Rohit Brijnath continue to do the good work even today.

What really prompted me to write is the new look of The Sportstar. It was recently relaunched in a tabloid form. There are no longer any photos on glossy paper. The new look makes The Sportstar a very pale shadow of its former self. The newstand owner was sad to report the alarming loss of leaders. While 30 copies were sold in a week, this week only one copy was picked up by a reader. Change is needed, but not in this way.

Friday, February 03, 2006


After the second test that ended in a draw, Mohd. Asif was speaking to a channel. What hit me was the confidence of the bowler who was only two tests old. Asif caused problems to the Indian batting line-up in Faisalabad too. He was confident about the Pakistan bowling attack and opined that the Indian batsmen could face trouble on wickets assisting the faster bowlers.

Initially, this was something straight out of the books of Miandad, Moin Khan and others. But it turned out to be true as the famed Indian top order was blown away.


Before the last tour to Pakistan, it was Indians who appeared to be well prepared and well organised. It showed in the results when the Indians emerged victorious in both the test matches and the one-dayers. This time round, the hosts looked well prepared with some clear strategy in mind.

Javed Miandad was the coach of the Pakistan team. True to his habit, Miandad was full of sound bites. The most famous or most infamous line concerned Irfan Pathan. He observed that bowlers like Pathan were plenty in Pakistan. On the other hand, the Indian coach was John Wright who rarely caused any surprises with his verbal utterances. Miandad was sometimes behaving like the coach of a football team, shouting at his players or giving instructions from the balcony.

This time round, the roles have been reversed. Bob Woolmer does like to stay out of the limelight, preferring to work the strategy. On the other camp, we have Greg Chappell who rarely stays out of controversy, though sometimes not his fault. Miandad's role has been taken over by the likes of Raj Singh Dungarpur, though, after the start of the test series, the gentleman has rarely uttered a word in public. The actions of Sharad Pawar and Kiran More only added to the broth that is Indian cricket.

On the last tour, the Indian players appeared to be focussed while there was a chop and change approach to the Pakistan team. The Indians were riding the crest of a wave while there was tremendous pressure on the host team. There was very little sledging from the Pakistani side, except the Akhtar and Sehwag confrontation during the Multan test. But this time round, the players of the home team left no stone unturned to assert their confidence. Even a player like Afridi who was not sure of a regular place in the Pakistan team just a couple of series' ago, is now an important player.

There is something that is different this time. The Indians had a point to prove on their last tour and they were motivated. This time it is Inzamam and company who showed the hunger for success.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


(photo courtesy

The sight of Sachin Tendulkar falling to the ground after being bowled by Asif in the second innings of the Karachi test was depressing. Of course, it was not the first time that Tendulkar tried to give the impression that the ball kept low. That gave cue to the media that the ball which got the wicket of Tendulkar was a 'shooter'.

Anyone who has played a bit of cricket on the dusty turfs of India, knows what it is like to be confronted with a shooter. A shooter rarely has any upward movement; it just slithers to the wickets.
Tendulkar has not been brought up and bred on the hard and bouncy wickets of Australia.


Greg Chappell has the knack of showing his finger. The first time it was in Kolkata that was attributed to some kind of injury. Now the Aussie has pointed, not shown , his finger at the bowling action of Shoaib Akhtar. This comes at a bad time after India were trashed comprehensively in the Karachi test match.

That Akhtar is chucking is something that is visible to everyone. But the ICC and the wise men who make the laws relating to the game of cricket have allowed this type of chucking to take place in the name of 15 degrees. When the ICC and the Umpires have no objection to the action of Akhtar, there is very little that Chappell can achieve.

If Chappell wanted to achieve something good for the game in the long run, he should have highlighted the case much before the tour to Pakistan. The chucking controversy does not start and end with Akhtar.

With the kind of performance in Karachi, fingers are sure to be pointed at Chappell, even when the fingers do not require any medical attention


For a long time I am puzzled about the inability of the Indian batsmen when it comes to the short pitched bowling. This is because at the junior level, most of the wickets are matting wickets. The mats are made from coir-the fibre derived from coconut. The coir mats give pace and bounce to the ball. Balls pitched on good length also are extremely uncomfortable to deal with. With a fair bit of practice on such wickets one has to acquire some skills needed to face the rising ball.

The mats make ordinary bowlers appear lethal so much that on turf wickets they fail. The mats do not give any assistance to the spinners and so that in many ways explains the dearth of quality spinners in the country once famous for its 'spin quartet'.

In my humble opinion, the batting failure on seaming and bouncy tracks is a paradox. Suggestions resolving the paradox are welcome.