Tuesday, July 31, 2007

ATROCIOUS AND OBNOXIOUS

In the second test at Trent Bridge, India is on the verge of registering only a fifth victory on English soil. Good batting by most of the batsmen and excellent bowling from Zaheer Khan has helped the visitors. But the bowling of Sreesanth was nothing short of atrocious.

The bowler from Kerala has been fined 50% of his match fee for shoulder barging the English captain Michael Vaughan. In South Africa Sreesanth waved the bat and showed some fancy dance steps in response to Andre Nel. That was something, which amused everyone. But the latest incident is obnoxious. This is similar to Roger Telemachus shoulder barging Rahul Dravid many seasons ago. In both the cases it was not an accident but deliberate.

On the first day, the bowling of Sreesanth was a parody. In his first over itself, he tried many variations. There were instances when the deliveries went so far as the third slip. Instead of concentrating on the bowling, Sreesanth took the path of a street bully.

I would have thanked the match referee Ranjan Maduagalle if Sreesanth were banned for the next test. That would have given another bowler a chance.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

ANOTHER LASHINGS IN THE MAKING?

When Subash Chandra (the promoter of Zee TV) announced the formation of the Indian Cricket League (ICL), there were many eyebrows raised. It was inevitable that Chandra would be compared with the audacious venture started by Kerry Packer (World Series) many years ago in Australia. By the way, it was a Packer innovation that has resulted in the use of coloured clothing and white balls in the one-dayers. It was also a Packer channel-Channel 9 that has since stayed at the forefront of live cricket telecasts.

Packer started the World Series as a response to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation(ABC) getting the exclusive rights to broadcast cricket down under. This was, despite Packer putting forward a better deal. The Indian scenario was no different. Subash Chandra could not bag the telecast rights. Matters went to the court and there was no relief to Chandra.

Packer roped in the likes of Tony Greig to persuade other players. Players all over the cricketing nations jumped in the bandwagon. There was, of course, no representation from India. The teams were nothing but test teams. The ICC was not willing to recognize this breakaway tour and so the players were promptly banned from international cricket. The records are still not included in the official first class records.

Kapil Dev has been the most visible face of ICL till today. Chandra hopes to do what Packer achieved through Greig. But there is a difference. Current players have not jumped at the idea and neither there is any chance of them doing so in the future as well. It is only a few retired greats like Brian Lara and Glenn McGrath who are supposed to have given their nods. Cricketers of today are paid handsomely and to a certain extent, the present players are not as rebellious as those who took part in the World Series. Will Ponting be like Ian Chappell or does any present West Indian player command the respect of Viv Richards.

The World Series made the cricket authorities in Australia to end the dispute and since then Channel 9 has had the telecast rights. This was mostly because the official test teams were being beaten and partly because the paying public was more eager to watch cricket played by stars in a different way. There is no possibility of it happening in case of ICL.
At least the formation of a parallel cricket body was expected to bring some sanity to the working of the BCCI. Going by the response of the players, it also seems farfetched.

The ICL may end up like another Lashings that ropes in famous cricket players of the past and the present for large payments. The only aim is to provide some entertainment and occasionally, contribute to charity. Lashings is no serious cricket club; it is like a cricketing version of the Harlem Globetrotters.

Subash Chandra is no Kerry Packer and it would be great if he were able to repeat the achievements of David Folb (the promoter of Lashings).


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TOUR DE FRANCE:A DOWNWARD CYCLE

It is not my intention to degrade the premier cycling event of the world. The controversy over who is caught for doping and who is not and what substances are used for the abuse is really taking the attention away from the cycling.

There was a cloud over whether Lance Armstrong used any performance boosting substances to win the Tour five times in a row. The German Uhlrich who was one rider to challenge Armstrong was found guilty. Then there was the Italian who admitted to doping offences and died very prematurely of side-effects.

The American Floyd Landis won the Tour in 2006 and was immediately touted as the natural successor to Armstrong. Landis is now spending most of his time in courts in the United States trying to clear himself from doping charges.

Most of the big names were absent from the Tour of 2007. Aleksandar Vinokurov of Kazakhstan was expected to be the winner. But it is the Kazakh who has been found guilty of ‘blood doping’ and his entire team has been pulled out of the race.

The current leader of the Tour and the holder of the yellow jersey, Rasmussen of Denmark is accused of not turning up for out of event drug testing on more than one occasion. There are bound to be doubts over his credibility if he manages to win the event.

An event that is supposed to be one of the ultimate challenges for a sportsman is now under a huge shadow.

Is the great Tour on the verge of becoming a farce?

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THE HEAT IS ON

Sachin Tendulkar was expected to score a 100 at Lords’. The second innings provided the perfect setting. India was chasing a big score and Sachin has never scored a century at the most famous cricket ground in the world.

But to the disappointment of all, Sachin fell early. The latest failure of the batsman from Mumbai has set the tone for a fresh round of debates and arguments. Kapil Dev has the view that Sachin has never done well in pressure situations. Sehwag feels that his one time teammate is not playing ‘explosive’ cricket these days. For a good measure, Sehwag argues for his style of play.

For a man who has played so many matches, it is difficult to turn in match winning performances in all. Cricket is a team game and only on rare occasions that one player is able to take his team to a win. There have been many occasions in the past when Sachin alone could not make India win.

But for the first time, things are real hot for Sachin Tendulkar.

This is what Glenn Frey sang

The heat is on, on the street
Inside your head, on every beat
And the beat's so loud, deep inside
The pressure's high, just to stay alive
'Cause the heat is on

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

KEVIN PIETERSEN-THE BATSMAN

Kevin Pietersen evokes strong feelings. His decision to play for England instead of his native South Africa led to shouts of ‘traitor’ from many of his countrymen. The tattoo of ‘three lions’ looked like an attempt to please the people of England. His coloured hair attracted a fair bit of curiosity as well as astonishment.

His recent autobiography was anything but appreciated. Peter Oborne calls it a “premature autobiography” and states, “this book is a study in narcissism, and should be avoided at all costs by people who care about the game of cricket”(Cricinfo Magazine, June 2007).

KP was roundly criticized for his recent utterances on ‘mental fatigue’. For someone who played little cricket, the talk of fatigue was really, surprising. Some critics point a finger at a model with whom Pietersen has a relation.

Mockery was made after KP claimed his mastery over Warne. In the worst Ashes in a long time, Warne proved to be the better player like the other Aussies.

But in the midst of all these events, Pietersen has performed magnificently. He has accepted the challenges thrown by all kinds of bowlers. Only Bradman had a better average in his first 25 test matches. The hundred in the first test at Lords’ was almost good enough to give his team a win over India. The series has only begun and things look ominous from India’s point of view.

KP makes a mockery of the opposition attacks, until something silly happens. Time and again, Pietersen tries an outrageous shot to be dismissed. This is a particular occurrence in the one-dayers and that is one reason why England does so badly in the limited overs contests. The confidence and the swagger come from the undoubted talent that the man possesses. He gives the impression of someone who gets bored very easily. That is something that does not make someone look cool.

Let us salute Kevin Pietersen the batsman, if not the man.






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TWO MANY WICKETKEEPERS?

The first test was saved thanks to the rain and some gutsy display from two wicket keepers, Karthick and Dhoni. But did the team management err in packing the side with so many batsmen?

Dinesh Karthick has put up a commendable show in the opening slot. Dhoni looked out of place in the first innings when he guided a ball into the hands of a fielder. In the second innings also, Dhoni did not inspire much confidence with the paddle sweeps and streaky shots past the slips. But he did stay at the wicket long enough to help India’s cause.

It can be argued that Dhoni and Karthick were crucial to India’s chances in the test match at Lords’. But one of them needs to be dropped to make way for an additional bowler. It is of course, difficult to dislodge a batsman of the class of Kevin Pietersen when in full flow. It helps to have another option when one bowler is out of depths. In the second innings, Sreesanth did not cover himself in any glory.

I am of the firm belief that Dhoni should be picked only for the one-dayers and for the test matches Karthick is the first choice. If the test matches are played on home wickets with no bounce or seam movement, then it is wise to have Dhoni in the playing eleven.

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A GREAT ACHIEVEMENT

Sanath Jayasuriya was the Man of the Match in the third one-dayer against Bangladesh. It is no big deal since the left-hander from Sri Lanka has demolished far better attacks and won many matches for his team.

During the course of the match, Jayasuriya accounted for his 300th wicket. This is in addition to his 12,000 plus runs. He has been an asset to the team for many years. Jayasuriya made his entry into the team as a bowler who could strike hefty blows in the late middle order. He has always been a safe fielder with a good throw from the distant parts of the ground.

A year and half ago, Jayasuriya was ‘dropped’ or rather ‘rested’ from the squad. This made his announce his retirement. It took the intervention of the Sri Lankan President to change the plans of Jayasuriya.

Over the years, the batting of Jayasuriya has always brought joy to the fans. But as a fan of Indian cricket, I never relished the sight of bowlers being carted all over the park by the left-hander.

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NO REPEAT OF 1990

Andrew Strauss was hopelessly out of form until the Indians paid a visit. He came good in the tour match and nearly scored a ton in the test at Lords’. It is always surprising that batsmen in general and left-handers in particular relish the Indian bowling when suffering from bad form.

Dinesh Karthick grassed a simple chance given by Strauss on the first day and the carnage of 1990 was on the cards. In that test match, Azharuddin won the toss and put the home team in. Kiran More dropped a sitter and the beneficiary was Graham Gooch. The English opener went on to score 333 in the first innings and also managed a hundred in the second innings. Till today, the combined score of Gooch remains the highest ever in a test match. India lost the test by a mile despite the efforts of Azharuddin and Kapil Dev.

But this time round, Strauss could only score 96 and India was left off the hook.

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THE LORDS' JINX CONTINUES

Sachin has scored a lot of hundreds and in different venues against all kinds of opposition. But a hundred has eluded him at Lords’. The master looked good in the first innings but a small score was the outcome. The second innings was expected to provide a special innings from Sachin.

India was chasing a rather tall order and Sachin was, on all counts playing his last test innings at Lords’. A well driven four on the off-side was followed by a defensive prod and the next ball Monty Panesar had him leg before the wicket in the second innings.

The latest dismissal is again going to spark a debate over the ability of Sachin to play left arm spinners. It is interesting to note that Sachin was also the first test match victim for Panesar.

Sunil Gavaskar could not score a test match at Lords’. It was only in 1988 that the Little Master scored 188 in the Bicentennial test between MCC XI and World XI. Now Sachin has to wait for a similar chance to correct the record.

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RAIN IS THE SAVIOUR

The test match at Lords’ was expected to give India a good chance in view of the absence of key bowlers in the England line up. The ‘experienced’ Indian batsmen were expected to pile up a big score and put the home team on the defensive.

The Indian bowlers were impressive except for the first day. They managed to restrict the English totals to manageable proportions but for the shoddy display by the Indian batsmen. The first innings lead proved to be decisive with only the rain putting a spanner into the efforts of Vaughn and his men.

Rain has in the past, put paid to the efforts of India. In the last home series against Australia, rain in Chennai led to a draw with Sehwag in great touch. That win would have leveled the series. In 2002, a test match in the West Indies could have been saved if only the Indians managed to stay at the wicket for a few more overs. This time Dhoni and Sreesanth stayed long enough to let the weather goods shower some blessings.

The rain has reversed a trend that has hurt India in the past. The team has survived the first test jinx. Of course, in South Africa, the team won the first test only to lose the next two and the series.

It is time for the big guns to fire may be for the last time on English soil.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

HAPPY TO BE PROVED WRONG

It is not a pleasant experience to be proved wrong. I take all the blame and happily too.

In the 42nd edition of the Copa America, Argentina looked the firm favourite, going into the finals against Brazil. The Argentines were unbeaten and all of their top stars were firing. On the other hand, Brazil was defeated in the first match itself. Besides, they did not have any marquee players in their ranks, except for the precocious Robinho. The absence of Kaka and Ronaldinho was expected to hurt the Samba Boys.

But the team coached by the ‘hard tackling’ midfielder Dunga delivered when it mattered most. Dunga was the captain when Brazil won the World Cup in 1994 after a gap of 24 years.

The football displayed by the Brazilians was not something that was pleasing to the eye, but it was effective. The change in the style and approach of Dunga was reflected in a statistic that is highly unlike of the past superteams of Brazil. In contrast to two yellow cards for the Argentines, the Brazilians got five.

The playmakers from Argentina hardly got the space and that ball to make the mark. To make things worse, Ayala pushed the ball into his own net.

Sport is a great leveler and many a prediction has been proved wrong.

I would be very happy if my predictions on the Indian cricket team are also proved wrong!

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

ARGENTINA LOOKS THE FAVOURITE

It is being billed as the dream final with Argentina and Brazil set to renew their rivalry. On form, Argentina looks the favourite, but sentiments root for Brazil.

With the stars striking form, Argentina are well set to avenge their defeat suffered at the hands of the Samba boys in the last edition of the Copa America. But Brazil has not displayed the kind of fluid football that we all expected. Brazil started the tournament with a loss and then slowly edged past the opponents to reach the finals. Dunga’s men have not been impressive.

With the lack of striking firepower, Brazil has to do a lot different to break the defence of Argentina. The likes of Riquelme and Messi can play havoc with the defence of Brazil. Defence was not the best even when Brazilian teams were in their pomp.

The Argentines don’t hesitate to play rough when things are tough, and this can only make it difficult for the likes of Robinho.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

WILL LAXMAN MAKE THE CUT?

This tour of England is going to be remembered for a long time in the history of Indian cricket. It is not because of the possibility of India emerging winners; it is because a number of greats are surely on their last tour of the Old Blighty.

Sachin Tendulkar made his mark and his first century in test matches in the course of a match saving innings in the company of Manoj Prabhakar. In the subsequent tours too, Sachin made runs at the most critical of moments.

Saurav Ganguly set the cat among the pigeons by scoring a hundred on debut at Lord’s. It was a knock that surprised all. The present Chairman of selectors was extremely critical of the then selectors picking the left-hander from Kolkata for the tour. Even in the last tour, Ganguly contributed significantly to the team cause. The hundred at Leeds after electing to bat on a seaming wicket was a truly captain’s knock. Even in the Natwest finals, Ganguly opened the innings in the company of Sehwag and set the ball rolling for a famous victory. However, in both instances, Saurav was overshadowed by his teammates.

It is difficult to speak on the achievements of Rahul Dravid. In his debut test, Dravid scored only 95. Those were the days when Dravid seemingly was unable to convert fifties into hundreds. But the last tour, Dravid made all the difference between the two teams as far as the test matches were concerned. The English bowlers could not breach the wall. The one-dayers also showcased the talents of Dravid.

V.V.S. Laxman has taken on the best of the bowlers with ease. But he missed out on the runs in the last tour. In between Laxman was not included in the squads for two World Cups and was ‘rested’ for some test matches. Never has been Laxman given the merit that he richly deserves.

In the match versus Sussex, Laxman made a half-century but there was disappointment in the first innings against England A. With Yuvraj and Karthick in the reckoning for a middle order slot, things are not rosy for Laxman.

It would be great for Laxman and for his fans like me if he makes the cut and scores runs. A failure would put a big question mark on his future in international cricket despite his enviable record.

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SAME OLD FAILINGS

The first day of India’s tour match versus England A was not something that offers joy to the fans in India. The home batsmen put up a good score and as usual the Indian bowlers were unable to take wickets. In the last match also Sussex players defended bravely to deny the Indians.

These kinds of bowling displays are not going to win test matches. Cricket, especially, the longer variety involves both the bat and the ball. In the past also, lower order batsmen of opposition teams could keep the Indian bowlers at bay and the matches that should have been won were on a number of occasions lost.

The continuing misery of Wasim Jaffer is sure to put the team management in a bother. Gambhir with the wishy-washy ways is not going to survive the swinging ball.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

CARRY ON SACHIN

In the recently concluded Future Cup in Belfast, India managed to beat South Africa. It was a creditable performance after the loss in the first encounter. Sachin was adjudged the Man of the Series.

Sachin scored runs in the first two matches and in the process went past the 15,000 mark as far as runs in one-dayers are concerned. Sachin was rather subdued in the first match but in the second match, it was the batsman we all loved to watch in the past. The two knocks came after the failure in the match against Ireland.

There was one noticeable thing about Sachin. After a long time, the master freed himself from shackles and that made all the difference. Sachin seemed to enjoy his cricket. The body language was there for all to see. The reaction after the umpire rejected a catch surely tells the story. Of course, it may appear ridiculous for an ordinary mortal like me to make such judgements.

It is too early to predict the performance of India in general and the success of Sachin in particular, as far as the tougher test against England. But with the evidence from Belfast, things are looking bright.

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