Saturday, April 29, 2006


Arsenal will meet Barcelona in the finals of the Champions League. Watched the two semifinals (second leg) live-something that I have done after a while, considering the timings for India. However, none of the two matches lived upto the expectations, with Arsenal and Barcelona playing it safe, protecting the one goal advantage from the first leg of the semifinals. It was a dull affair with players like Henry and Ronaldinho.

Arsenal were lucky to scrape through against a spirited Villareal. The Spanish team was unlucky to miss several chances, despite enjoying most of the ball possession. In the end, the Arsenal ‘keeper Jens Lehmann saved a penalty from a disputable decision.

Barcelona are on the verge of clinching the Primera Liga title and that raised the expectations. But Ronaldinho and his team could not go past the Italian defence.

In my opinion, Barcelona start as the favourites.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


I was going through Gideon Haigh's Game for Anything-Writings on Cricket where in the first section titled Past Masters, the author takes up the case of the West Indian great, George Headley. Headley was, among other things, called the Black Bradman, which in my humble opinion, does not do justice to the mighty contribution made to the game in the West Indies.. C.B. Fry, the English cricketer called Headley, 'Atlas' and Haigh follows suit. The tag was in reference to the heavy burden that was placed on the shoulders of Headley in the batting department.

Haigh writes,”the complications of a role such as Headley's must be understood as the most formidable in cricket. Great players usually play in good teams. This is the reason they become great, because they have the opportunity to bat with competent partners and in favourable circumstances, or to bowl with reliable backup and alert fieldsmen. The lot of the outstanding player in a mediocre team is disproportionately harder, not merely because of the absence of able support and the likelihood of losing causes, but because the scenarios encountered tend over time to distort one's natural game.”
Haigh writes how Headley was given a small opportunity to captain the West Indian side, inspite of his credentials. The only reason could be found in racial equations, as asserted by Learie Constantaine and C.L.R. James.

Haigh made me think about the Atlaslike figure of Indian cricket. For a while, I thought about the likes of Vinoo Mankad and Lala Amarnath. Then I turned to players who really made me take to cricket. This includes Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Vishwanath, Mohinder Amarnath and Kapil Dev. This is followed by the present 'superstars' with Sachin leading the list that also includes Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, and V.V.S. Laxman. But none of them actually can become the Atlaslike figure that Haigh conjures of Headley. I have my sound reasons for this. All of them have, at times, been members of great teams, savouring success. Most of them have also had the honour of captaining the Indian team. Vinoo Mankad, Mohinder and Laxman, could not become captains.

For a long while, Sachin carried the Indian batting on his shoulders. He was the only Indian to command the respect and admiration of the opposing teams. Rahul Dravid has taken the leading role now with Sachin taking the backseat. But both Rahul and Sachin have got the recognition and honour that they richly deserve. And so is the case with Saurav Gangluy.Laxman once again, misses the cut.

But my vote goes to Anil Kumble. He has remained the workhorse of the Indian cricket team, without actually getting the recognition of the cricket followers, commentators, or the selectors. Lesser peers of the Karnataka bowler have captured greater heights of public adulation, while Kumble has been seen the also ran. First the criticism that he was a spinner who could not turn the ball. There is nothing worse for an Indian cricket follower to come across a spinner who cannot make the ball turn. Then came all the talk with regard to the rather 'poor' record of Kumble on foreign pitches, that is, outside the subcontinent. Kumble has answered all the criticism in his own way, without, ever showing his anger or frustration in public when any news channel would have loved to show the soundbites.

There was a time when Kumble was trusted by the captain to bowl at the death in the shorter version of the game. But then, all of a sudden, he was shunted out of the squad for the team that played in the World Cup of 2003. The then captain and the coach also did not hesitate to keep him out of the test teams, when playing outside home. Things were not well for India in Australia until Kumble returned to the playing eleven. Kumble had a big role in the historic series win in Pakistan. But the selectors thought fit to rest him for the series in Bangladesh. The same selectors were not keen to rest a batsman named Sachin, who duly got hundred on that tour. Kumble has never blamed the ball nor the pitch for failures while everyone gives credit to these things whenever he takes wickets.

Kumble had never been considered a captaincy material, although newcomers like Sehwag and Kaif are considered future prospects. For a while, Kumble was made the vice-captain but he could not get the promotion with 'natural' leaders like Sachin, Ganguly and Dravid in the team. I still remember vividly the voice of the commentator who went ballistic against Kumble. The team lost a match in Sri Lanka and the margin was very small. What was the fault of Kumble? The commentator felt the shot played by him was 'irresponsible' since Kumble was the vice-captain of the side.

I fully agree with the words of Haigh about the difficulties of playing in a mediocre team. The perfomances of Warne are recognised because the sides including him are outstanding. The efforts of Kumble are not given the recognition even after getting more than 500 wickets in test cricket. Even now, there are critics who point out to the number of wickets taken on home pitches. In that case, why forget the role of Kumble in shaping the record of the Indian team on home soil?

For me, the most striking image is the sight of Kumble taking the wicket of the great Brian Lara, with a broken jaw. So Anil Kumble is my favourite cricketer.

This tribute may seem as unconventional and unglamorous as the leg spin of Kumble.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


Captaincy is ninety percent luck and ten percent skill”-Richie Benaud.

Richie Benaud is well respected as a commentator and as a good captain of his generation. The defeat of the Aussies in a one dayer after posting a record total and the decision of Rahul Dravid to bowl first in the Mumbai test after winning the toss, has reopened the captaincy debate.

Much is made of the man-management skills and the astuteness of the cricket captains of the present and the past. But as Benaud puts it, there is only a limited amount of skill involved, where the captain has to take the right decision at the right time.

What was Ponting doing when his bowlers were thrashed all over the park after he and his batsmen posted a total in excess of 400? Ponting allowed the game to be taken away from his hands and even as the South African batsmen threw their wickets away, they could win the game. Normally, Ponting is praised for his thinking and cricketing acumen, both of which were not visible on that day.

Conventional wisdom says that the side winning the toss has to bat first on the pitches of the subcontinent. Dravid went the other way and paid the price by losing the test to England. There were explanations galore after the defeat. But the wins in the one dayers have put the Indian captain on a higher plane for his captaincy skills.

If a matter as small as a toss can decide the outcome of the matches, then the captain should be asked to master the art of making the winning calls. With 'super' coaches like Greg Chappell calling the shots in matters relating to selection and the strategies, there is very little for the captain to do.



Australia have another test win and Ponting has scored another 100. Both these have become so common that there is nothing to be surprised about. But this win and 100 are different. The win has come over Bangladesh and the 100 went a long way in securing the win for the Aussies.

For the first three days, it was the home team that called the shots. On the first day, the batsmen of the home team scored more than 300 runs that had the likes of Brett Lee, Shane Warne, Stuart Clark and Jason Gillespie, on a comeback. The second leg spinner, MacGill took eight wickets that restricted the Bangladesh total. When the Aussies batted, it was the 100 from Adam Gilchrist that took them past the follow-on mark. The home team was in control of the match until the third innings of the test.

The batsmen of the home team did not appear as confident as they did in the first innings. The batsmen who played shots in the first innings, were too tentative the second time round. Probably, the thought of scoring a win over the best team was putting too much pressure on their bodies and minds. The Aussies were given a target of just over 300 runs.

Only Ponting, Hayden and for a little while, Hussey resisted the bowling attack. Hayden and Ponting forged a good stand, but it was the captain, Ponting who took his team home.

For a test which was expected to be over in under three days, the match went to the fifth. That should be something of an achievement for the Bangla tigers, but a win for the home team could have been the biggest upset in the history of cricket, especially, coming on the heels of the South African one day win.