Thursday, November 22, 2007

WELL DESIGNED TROPHY

The Australians led by Ricky Ponting won the test series against the Sri Lankans with the score line of 2-0 in the two test series. With this, the home team captured the Warne-Muralitharan trophy in its inaugural series.

The Australians compete for the Border-Gavaskar trophy for test matches involving India. The Warne-Muralitharan trophy looks nice in comparison to the Border-Gavaskar trophy. The trophy named after the two spinners features the bowling hands whilst the Border-Gavaskar trophy features some circular objects place upon one another.

Even as Muralitharan would be disappointed with his bowling efforts, he at least would be happy with the design of the trophy.

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MISPLACED CONCERNS

I was reading a news report where it was mentioned that Shane Warne conveyed his thanks to the members of the Australian team. The leg spinner expressed his gratitude since Muralitharan was denied the opportunity to go to the top of the wicket takers list in test matches.

Was Warne really worried about Muralitharan? It is a known fact that the off spinner from Sri Lanka has never done well on Australian soil. So the concerns of Warne were really misplaced.

I believe Warne just wants to maintain relations with the Australian team.

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HOME ADVANTAGE!

Sreesanth and R.P.Singh shall miss the first test at Delhi due to injuries. This is not the news. The news concerns the drafting of Ishant Sharma into the playing eleven. Munaf Patel is also called as a replacement.

Ishant Sharma made his debut in the test series in Bangladesh when the Indian team was on a mission to avenge the defeat in the World Cup. By all accounts, Sharma is someone who didn’t look like a bowler suited the highest level of the game. Even when faced with the prospect of bowling at the Bangladesh batsmen, there were few deliveries that looked threatening leave alone wickettaking ones.

So what has made Sharma the chosen one? The reason is far simpler and obvious. Sharma happens to play for Delhi at the domestic level. Let the BCCI make it a policy to include at least one player from the local team in case of matches played in India.

Irfan Pathan has the experience and he is definitely the better choice. But at the present point of time, Pathan is unable to convince the selectors.

Munaf Patel has only played a handful of tests and he looks and bowls like a veteran bowler of more than 100 tests. The pace has dropped alarmingly and the body language does not speak well. Of course, Pathan’s pace also is something that cannot worry any batsman of some class. But then Sharma looked pedestrian even in his debut test.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

WHO WILL PLAY AND WHO SHALL TAKE THE REST?

It is going to be a difficult choice as far as the playing eleven for the first test is concerned.

It is certain that three spinners will be fielded with the hope that the result goes India’s way. It is also not misplaced considering Pakistan batsmen could not handle the spin of the South African. If the think-tank decides to have two faster bowlers in the eleven, problems would arise.

Wasim Jaffer is a certainty since he is the only specialist opener in the side. Dinesh Karthik performed admirably in England at the top of the order and so he might get another opportunity. The problem is with the fact that the team has another keeper in Dhoni. Even as the test credentials of Dhoni are not proven, the selectors would not like to invite hostile public reaction. Let us not forget that Dhoni is the current favourite of the nation, even without the long hair.

It is a no-brainer as far as Sachin and Rahul Dravid are concerned. These two are a must for the playing eleven. That leaves only one more slot to be filled and there are three contenders in the form of Saurav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman and Yuvraj Singh. Of these three the claims of Ganguly are the weakest. I am a great supporter of the left-hander from Kolkata, but he does not inspire much confidence. Laxman is too good a batsman to be left out while Yuvraj is in the form of his life brimming with confidence. It would be unjust not to give him an opportunity.

I have a solution. Since Dinesh Karthik is a wicketkeeper who also opens the innings, it would not be unwise to drop Dhoni. That would give the selectors the choice to pick Yuvraj and Laxman. If dropping Dhoni is not an option, as it seems, then a rethink should be made about the idea of playing three spinners.

Of course, the selectors can always spring a choice like asking Dravid or Laxman or Ganguly or even Yuvraj to open the innings partnering Jaffer.

It is a million bucks question as to who is going to be ‘rested’?

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

BANISHING THE GHOSTS OF A DEFEAT

I still remember that day like it was only yesterday. That was the time when my town did not have the television. To watch live cricket one had to go to friends who stayed ten kilometres away.

I and a couple of friends decided to cycle all the way to watch the 1986 finals at Sharjah featuring India and Pakistan. We chose a classmate who was having a colour television.

India batted first and made a score that was going to challenge Pakistan. Srikkanth and Gavaskar laid the platform and Dilip Vengsarkar scored a fifty. India lost wickets late in the innings and that prevented a truly big score. Pakistan’s innings mainly revolved around Javed Miandad. India was always in the match and just a couple of wickets away from a win. The last over was to be bowled by Chetan Sharma and Miandad hit the last ball-a full toss for a six to claim the win.

That one shot changed the equation between India and Pakistan on the cricket field in general and at Sharjah in particular. In most of the matches that followed, India finished on the losing side. Chetan Sharma became the villain. In those days, the issue of match fixing was not in vogue, otherwise, the public pressure would have forced the authorities to launch an investigation. Even when Chetan Sharma went on to take wickets in England helping India to win the series only for the second time, the tag stayed with him.

A couple of days ago while surfing the channels, I watched a programme titled “Remember the Titans” on ESPN or Star Sports. The programme featured Chetan Sharma’s exploits on the English tour of 1986. The tour is best known for the series win and the batting of Vengsarkar but the programme brought to the fore the invaluable contribution made by Sharma.

In a great coincidence, India secured a series win over Pakistan-the first in an ODI series on home soil in 24 years. Sharma is now an expert on Doordarshan. The win and the programme helped to banish the rather unforgettable pain of cycling all the way back home after the Miandad six when ten kilometres appeared a great distance.

Thanks a lot, Mr.Sharma for the win in England.



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A NICE JINX!

In recent months Sachin Tendulkar has been getting out without making a century. In the process he has the distinction of notching up the most number of 90 plus scores in one dayers. This has led to the belief that there is jinx that prevents Sachin from having his 42nd ODI ton. It is sad that Sachin has been unable to get beyond the 90s. But that jinx has not helped Pakistan with India taking the series.

At times the talk about the jinx becomes ridiculous. We are talking about a batsman who has scored thousands of runs and a lot of hundreds. So it cannot be question of nervous nineties. It is more of a coincidence. Any lesser player would be proud to become the owner of the 90 plus scores that Sachin is accumulating these days.

There was a time when Sachin scored a 100 but India was not able to force the issue with the opposition. So it matters very little whether Sachin scores a 100 or falls in the nineties. What matters more is the win for India.

I believe Sachin also gives a greater importance to the fortunes of the team than to his own.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

PEAKS BEING CONQUERED?

Sachin Tendulkar has been getting out in the 90s. He is unable to add to his tally of international hundreds. At the rate of the matches played by him and the 90 plus scores, there is little wonder that Sachin has the maximum. Fans and the commentators alike are anguished over the ‘failure’ of Sachin.

Roger Federer lost to Nalbandian and then to Gonzalez. In the season ending Master’s event at Shanghai where the top eight players compete, Federer lost to Gonzalez after taking the first set. His long time rival Andy Roddick was demolishing his opponents in the round robin event. Suddenly, there were some questions asked about Federer. Even if the Swiss master made it to the last four, there he had to go past his other great rival Nadal.

The failures of Sachin and the losses of Federer grabbed attention. There was a talk of the peaks being conquered.

Sachin has the maximum number of 90 plus scores in one dayers and he also owns the record for the largest number of tons. Any batsman would be proud to own the 90 plus scores and be called a good player. Similarly, there are very few players who can boast of a credible head-to-head record against Federer. Any player, who can match the accomplishments of Federer over the last two seasons in his entire career, would surely be considered as a good player. Such is the phenomenal record of the Swiss maestro.

In the fourth one dayer at Gwalior, Sachin looked at his best toying with the bowlers of Pakistan. Any doubts over the form of Federer were brushed off with disdain as was evident in the wins over Roddick and Nadal. As the clichéd saying goes “form is temporary, class is permanent”.

Sachin is in the final legs of a great career while Federer is someone who is till far away from the mid-life crisis of tennis professionals. There will always be moments when some opponent can score a point but there can no doubt over the greatness of these two players.

Mount Everest has been conquered many times since the day Hillary and Norgay set their foot on the tallest peak in the world. Flags of many nations have been planted at the top but Everest stands where it is. Sachin and Federer are setting the benchmarks for other players. Their achievements cannot be conquered while their records may be broken some day.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

HOMING ON THE FACTS

South Africa won their test match at the Wanderers in Johannesburg by taking advantage of the home conditions. The pace and the bounce proved too much for the visiting Kiwis. Home conditions played a role too in the win of Australia over Sri Lanka in Brisbane. The bowlers and the batsmen of the home team deserve all the appreciation.

England managed to beat the Aussies in the Ashes of 2005 and it was the English bowlers who proved to be the decisive factor. Call it reverse swing or not, the swing generated by the likes of Simon Jones proved to be the undoing of the Aussies.

New Zealand is always a tough proposition when it comes to playing them at home. Teams from the subcontinent are often at sea when it comes to the rising ball.

In their pomp, the West Indies bowlers succeeded everywhere and at home they were truly devastating. It is an entirely different story now.

But it is altogether different when it comes to the teams from the subcontinent in general and India in particular. The wins are never attributed to the skills of the players. The pitches are given all the dubious credit. Cricket analysts who are otherwise balanced seem to lose their judgment once the results go in the direction of the home team. Seemingly, it gives more delight to watch a batsman duck to a bouncer than be fooled by the spinning ball.

What is appalling is the fact that the local media also takes jibes at the pitches. The statisticians take delight in calling batsmen ‘fat track bullies’. It is quite another thing when batsmen from teams outside of the subcontinent fail to tackle the spin. The pitch is blamed. The spin bowlers are not at all given the credit. Of course, even a mediocre spinner like Ashley Giles is praised for his acumen when bowling on the wickets of the subcontinent.

Things have gone to such a pass that the cricket administration has appointed a committee to look after the pitches and produce wickets that are more suitable to the visiting teams!

Home teams have always taken the advantage of the conditions and this is something that is not peculiar to cricket alone. Of course, to be fair, good teams possess the talent and the skill to beat any opponent anywhere, be it at home or away.

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A WIN FOR SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa used the home conditions to their advantage and had a crushing win over New Zealand. The wicket at the Wanderers in Johannesburg offered pace and bounce and that did the Kiwis in. Dale Steyn took 10 wickets in the match.

It looked like a good test match when the hosts were dismissed for a small total in the first innings. But when the New Zealand batsmen found the home bowlers too hot to handle. In the second innings, Kallis scored big in the company of Amla. Kallis went past the 9000 run mark in test matches. Kallis had scored heavily during the test matches in Pakistan and the good form continues. Wonder how Kallis has not been a matchwinner for the Proteas in the one-dayers.

The Kiwis have been inflicted with a major blow for the rest of their tour. Their premier pace bowler, Shane Bond has suffered an injury that forces him out of the tour. This is not the first time that Bond has suffered an injury. I wonder if certain bowlers do not have the physical characteristics to protect themselves from injury.

South Africa decided to leave out Shaun Pollock out of the playing eleven. This is a continuation of the strategy employed earlier when Pollock played in the one-dayers during the tour to Pakistan. Pollock is the top wicket taker for South Africa in tests and at the Wanderers he has taken more than 50 wickets in 13 matches. I don’t know the reactions of the press and the fans in South Africa, but I am sure it wouldn’t have come anyway near the one triggered off by the ‘resting’ of Rahul Dravid in India.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

A NEW COLOUR OF SYCOPHANCY!

The third one dayer between India and Pakistan is to be played at Kanpur. That is not the news. A news channel reported that the UPCA (Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association) is likely to apply blue colour to the ground. It has nothing to do with the colour of the Indian team dress. The colour blue is associated with the ruling party in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

If this is true, then it gives a whole new dimension to the game of cricket. Instead of talking about the green of the ground, everyone shall be wondering about the blues! A real precedent is likely to be set. The different political parties ruling the states in India will surely want their party colours to be used for painting the cricket grounds.

With the state cricket associations dominated by politicians and shady characters and also government officials, it is no wonder that everyone wants to be in the good books of the party in power.

It is further reported that the UPCA has asked the BCCI not to give an invite to Shah Rukh Khan to watch the match at Kanpur. The official view is not to create any crowd trouble at the Green Park. I have an entirely different take on this. The authorities know very well that Khan’s presence could simply overshadow the presence of the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister.

Is this sycophancy at its best or at its worst?

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SAME OLD STORY

Sri Lanka made all the right noises about how to handle the Aussie might. But when it came to the actual cricket, the same old story continued.

Never did the batsman of the home team appear in trouble. There were three centurions. Phil Jacques scored his first test century while replacing Justin Langer at the top of the batting line-up. Ponting scored a fluent half-century and Andrew Symonds rounded off the innings with some scorching drives and cuts. In between Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey added to the total with their tons. It is only Matthew Hayden who failed to cash in on the insipid bowling of the Lankans.

Ponting wishes to deny Muralitharan the opportunity of going past the wickets tally of Shane Warne on Australian soil. Murali had the better of Ponting. Batsmen found Murali tough only in the early stages, but as the innings progressed, the off spinner could not exert any pressure.

While batting, the Lankans had nothing to offer with the pace of Australia being too hot. Marvan Atapattu laboured to a 50. I am of the view that Marvan is someone who feasts on lesser bowling attacks and that he reserves his best for home conditions. The absence of Kumara Sangakkara is a big setback in the batting department.
It is a foregone conclusion that the Aussies make a winning start to their summer

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

WHY SACHIN?

Sachin Tendulkar ended all the speculation about the captaincy. Sachin does not want to lead the test team for a third time. The refusal set off in motion all the rumour mills. It was alleged that Sachin was miffed over the ‘treatment’ meted out to the ‘senior’ players and as a protest did not accept the captaincy. As it is the habit, the BCCI came out with the denial of such an occurrences.

Ever since Rahul Dravid decided to give up the captaincy, there was a suspicion that the Mumbai lobby led by the likes of Sharad Pawar and Dilip Vengsarkar was behind the moves to make Sachin the captain. I wonder whether Sachin did not want these allegations to stick and hence decided to stay away from the controversy. It is hard to believe that Sachin decided not to just because the selectors were not treating the seniors fairly.

Whatever the case is, there is one thing that makes the whole thing appear wishy-washy. Rahul Dravid decided to give up the captaincy and informed Sharad Pawar about it. Now, Sachin has also followed the same route. The selection committee led by Vengsarkar was not in the know of the things. Earlier, it was Pawar who had talks with Ganguly when the Kolkata left-hander was dropped out of the team.

What makes Pawar a favourite and Vengsarkar a hated figure for the senior players? It is evident that Vengsarkar is someone who doesn’t believe in operating behind the scenes. He is proactive to the point of taking the attention away from the players. Pawar, on the other hand, is a politician who in the true Indian style is good at making compromises even at the cost of merit.

In the fitness of things, it would be better to hand over formally the powers of the selection committee to Pawar.


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Monday, November 05, 2007

INDIA TAKES THE FIRST MATCH

The first one-dayer of the Indian Oil Cup went India’s way. There were no big scores and batsmen had difficulty hitting the ball over the boundaries. It was not a match expected on the wickets of the subcontinent.

A score of 240 was never expected to trouble the Indians. With the bowling of Pakistan unable to exert any pressure, things became a lot easier for the Indians, despite the failure of Sachin. It was Shoaib Akhtar who took the wicket of Sachin.

Gambhir and Ganguly put a decent partnership where good shots were interspersed with streaky shots. Ganguly is simply not the batsman he used to be in the limited overs variety. Gambhir is simply playing in the way he is known to be.

Dhoni and Yuvraj strung a match winning partnership. There were few big shots from the bat of Yuvraj. Dhoni also played in a sensible manner. There was a mild excitement in the dying stages with the dismissals of these two.

Salman Butt started off nicely and his run out seemed to take the fizz out of Pakistan innings. Younis Khan and Mohammed Yousuf batted in the test match style and the total could not become a challenging one. Misbah and Afridi hit some lusty blows but by then the Indians began to feel comfortable about the chase.

The toss was the only thing that ought to have made Shoaib Malik happy after this match.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

A COUP OF SORTS!

The Australians and the Sri Lankans will fight it out for the Warne-Murali trophy starting with the first test on the 8th of this month. With this, a new trend has been set. This is the first time that a trophy bears the name of a current player.

The Sri Lankan cricket authorities have pulled off a coup of sorts. I use the term ‘coup’ deliberately. It is a well-known fact that the Aussie spectators do not like Muralitharan. A former captain of Sri Lanka Arjuna Ranatunga even advised the off spinner to give the tour to down under a miss. With the naming of the trophy, the authorities hope to take attention away from the disputed bowling action of Murali.

Is the naming of the trophy going to put all doubts over the action of Murali to rest once-and-for all? It was in Australia where Murali was first no-balled for ‘illegal’ action.

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THE ACTION STARTS

The first one-dayer between India and Pakistan kicks off in the northeastern city of Guwahati on Monday.

The press and the players want us to believe that a series between the traditional rivals has the potential to overtake even the Ashes. In many ways that is true. Given the rancour between the two countries, a victory in the cricket field is seen as a victory for the winning nation.

Players have made their reputation or have theirs marred in the past encounters between the two teams. Traditionally, it is Pakistan players who always seem to reserve their best for the Indo-Pak encounters.

Shoaib Akhtar has a lot to prove and that is certainly not good news for the Indians. On the Indian side, Sachin and Saurav have a lot on their hands after the ‘rest’ given to Rahul Dravid. The two captains also have a lot to prove. Shoaib Malik has to cement his captaincy after the losses to South Africa at home. Dhoni has to make his mark in the larger versions of the game.

I am a little unhappy over the timing of the series. With most of the matches on working days, there is little chance of following them. Of course, I am hopeful of my students giving the classes a miss.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

ANOTHER LOSS FOR FEDERER!

For a second time within a month, David Nalbandian has defeated Roger Federer. The Argentine was the winner in the Master’s event at Madrid. Now Federer has lost to Nalbandian in the Paris Master’s. Fans surely remember the win by the Argentine over the world’s best player at Shanghai last year.

It is three times that Nalbandian has beaten Federer in the Master’s series. This is an achievement that not many players in the ATP tour have.

I have a suspicion that Federer switches off when it comes to the season ending events and that he reserves the best for the Grand Slams. In the recent seasons, it is only Nadal and Safin who have stopped the Swiss master at the big events.

Despite the defeat, Federer is truly one of the all time greats. I take this opportunity to share with my fellow bloggers the comments of an Australian gentleman named Rod Laver. By the way, Laver is the only player to have won all the four tennis majors in the same year, twice.

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ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST?

Martina Hingis a former world no.1 and winner of 5 Grand Slam singles titles and 9 double titles announced her retirement at the age of 27. This is the second time that Hingis has called it quits from competitive tennis.

The retirement does not come as a surprise except for the stunning and shocking incident that prompted Hingis to make the announcement. She tested positive for cocaine during a drug test conducted at Wimbledon of this year.

Cocaine is not a performance enhancing substance. It is only used for ‘recreational’ purposes. Even then the consumption of cocaine is illegal.

Hingis denies the charges but does not intend to continue with the game and fight the allegation.

It is not the first time that a top tennis player is under the cloud of drugs. Petr Korda received a ban and a certain J.P.McEnroe confessed to the use of substances like cocaine.

Whatever is the truth, this is a sad end to a fine career.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

IN BAD TASTE

Navjot Singh Sidhu is the acknowledged master of gibberish. There are times when he exceeds all norms of decency. It is a wonder how a news channel that prides itself as ‘the best’ has made the worst choice. Are we getting the channels and the experts that we deserve?

Last night there was a discussion on NDTV over the Pakistan and India series that is scheduled to commence from the 5th of November. The issue of Younus Khan becoming the Vice-captain of Pakistan came up. The presenter of the show remarked about the number of players being made the Vice-captains since Shoaib Malik became the Captain.

This led Sidhu to declare that the culture of Pakistan was different from the Indian culture. Sidhu added rather sagely that since Pakistani culture permitted a man to have many wives, it was natural for the Pakistan cricket team to chop and change Vice-captains.

This remark is something that deserves to be condemned. It is time for NDTV to make a rethink. Such dirty and cheap remarks have no place at least as far as the game of cricket is concerned.

Sidhu always talks about things like commitment and loyalty. What was the case with him when he left the Indian team on tour to England?

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A REAL JOLT

The Pakistan cricket team has received a jolt even before a ball has been bowled in the series in India. Just as the team management appeared to rejoice over the return of Shoaib Akhtar, another pace bowler, Mohammed Asif has pulled out of the tour with an elbow injury.

Ever since Asif started with a bang against the touring Indians, he has been the bowler who looked most likely to take wickets. The Indians were ambushed by the swing and control of Asif and the hosts won the series

But in the short career so far, Asif has been dogged by injuries. The ban for the alleged doping offence also did not help the matters.

It is not Akhtar who is to be feared since it is not the nature of the bowler to be consistent for an entire series. Moreover, Akhtar is only moments away from a new brawl and injury. Umar Gul can be a handful on helpful wickets, but he is not in the same class as Mohd.Asif.

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