Saturday, December 29, 2007

Cricket Quotas

after the usual reactions to india's usual defeat against australia in the first test at melbourne, it's time for the business of the unusual. naturally, the person we first contacted for a take on what exactly transpired after the dream of the first day had passed was rahul dravid who, quite understandably, was not in a particularly chatty mood. and so, we quite inexplicably, left it at that.

dazed and confused by our reluctance to push the envelope and push the gent in the eye of the storm for a juicy quota, we stumbled into the path of anil kumble who was just as stunned and confused by the reluctance of his batsmen to push the aussies.

by the time we were able to rouse ourselves and our dictaphone to get a juicy quota from the stunned indian captain, he had turned his back and was making his way to the practice wickets for what looked like a spot of batting. poor fellow, we thought, not only does he have to take most of the wickets, he now has to also make the runs for his team.

a few metres away from where stood anil kumble, we spotted a bright light. drawn to it like a persistent journalist is to a low-hanging quota, we made our way towards the mysterious glow, which turned out to be brett lee's million-watt smile. we stopped and looked at him hopefully. he seemed in an obliging mood. we walked up to him, optimistically.

running around the munificent trees that line the beautiful streets of melbourne avenue, he warbled a sequence of polite noises that showcased his bollywood overtures more than any worthwhile quota for your benefit.

knowing better than to offend the filmy star-in-the-making, we masked our acute disappointment at his efforts and journeyed back to the days when we used to masterfully lyp-sync repetitive ditties of deceptive simplicity for the benefit of our doting fans who worshipped us like the twinkle-toed star we used to be.

our conversation with our not-so-distant past was interrupted by a loud, loud snore. we turned to where the intrusive noise was coming from and espied the indian think tank fast asleep in a corner of the playing field. finally, it all made sense. not much more needed to be said. give or take the summary quota. and so, here it comes: "Happy New Year" to everyone from everyone.

we'll be back with a fresh set of quotas after the sydney test. until then, you might want to practice your batting skills. especially, against the moving ball. who knows, very soon, you could well be called upon to assist the beleaguered indian captain and asked to open the innings. god knows, yuvraj won't.

Hidden Gems - Rahul Dravid, opening batsman

let's go back to the time when everyone was questioning the need for rahul dravid in the odi side. initially reluctant to take on the dual role of a wicket-keeper batsman, rahul was made to understand that doing so was, perhaps, the only way he could hold his own in the team. with no way out, the additional challenge spurred him on to become a fitter, stronger, more accomplished and much better batsman.

we believe, oftentimes, the lack of options can be a great motivator to scale unthinkable heights.

depending on how you look at it, unfortunately or fortunately, rahul dravid is at a stage in his career where he is now, fairly or unfairly, in some danger of losing his place in the test side.

but why? you might, as a hard-boiled dravid supporter, be compelled to ask.

fact is, yuvraj is not good enough to be an opening batsman. if forced to open the batting to keep his place in the side, yuvraj will, quite swiftly, be sorted out by new ball bowlers around the world and might well end up in a hole similar to the one sehwag finds himself in today. do we want that? especially, when we know that we have in our midst a batsman with just the kind of game and temperament suited to opening the batting? certainly not. exactly!

there's no question that rahul dravid plays the moving ball better than yuvraj. that rahul dravid handles short-pitched deliveries better than yuvraj. and that a more positive rahul dravid will be a very hard man to dismiss with the new ball. (we've already seen proof of that by way of the number of balls it took theis very good australian attack to get past his stubborn defenses in the just concluded test match.)

that apart, rahul dravid is not the kind of batsman who can be called upon to annihilate the old ball the way laxman, sachin, sourav and yuvraj can, lower down the order. the same line-up that failed so spectacularly in melbourne must be given a chance to come good again. a batting order with rahul, jaffer, laxman, sachin, sourav, yuvraj and dhoni makes for a formidable combination of solid defense, silken skills and blistering attack. better than anything else india can offer with a different combination of players. the caveat: rahul must persuade rahul that this re-alignment is good for him and team india.

of course, for all this wishful thinking to fructify, we need to go back in time and do whatever it is that was done to give india the new, improved batsman that the unexploited keeper in rahul dravid helped create. when the only way forward is to take the plunge, a person with all the strokes needed to swim will not sink.

Friday, December 28, 2007

India thrash India

dravid is thinking, "why should someone like me who has played the game at the highest level for over a decade be made to open the batting to accommodate a young turk who hasn't done enough to prove himself in test cricket?"

yuvraj is thinking, "how on earth am i going to prove myself as a test cricketer if i'm not given a fair chance to play enough of it, and why is my place in the side being questioned after i have made 169 in my last knock?"

dravid is thinking, "first, they got rid of greg chappell. now, they're trying to pack me off. this team didn't support me when i was captain. and forcing me to open the batting is the selection committee's way of spelling finis to my career as a batsman. come what may, i'm going to make sure i prove them all wrong."

yuvraj is thinking, "it's bad enough that we're playing the best team in the world in their own backyard. worse, people in my own team won't let me have the peace of mind required to do a good job. damn these old fogeys. why can't they just retire and let us young guns take over."

kumble is thinking, "if i support dravid's reluctance to open the batting, they'll say i'm pandering to the whims and fancies of an old friend and someone from my state. considering that i've been given the captaincy after so long, the one thing i must not blot my copybook with is to be seen as partial leader. even if it means being unfair to dravid."

sehwag is thinking, "why did they bring me to australia?"

munaf patel is thinking, "i hope they don't call me to australia. i certainly can't see myself going head-to-head with the likes of the fearsome hayden."

the bowlers are thinking, "why do they pay these batsmen so much more than us. every time we go abroad, they fail to give us the totals we need to bowl the opposition out twice. and yet, we, more often than not, do a better job than them. frankly, we're sick and tired of being treated as second-class citizens."

the australians are thinking, "do we really need to beat these guys? they seem pretty messed up in their heads to beat themselves."

and we're thinking how did a test match that started so well for the indians end up in a most demoralizing loss? (as an after-thought, we're also thinking we shouldn't really be surprised with the way things turned out.)

people who don't want to open the batting will never be able to excel at it; it's a hard enough task to master without having to also answer to the questions posed by the demons in one's own mind. india did not lose this match because they didn't possess the requisite skills to put it across australia. they lost the match because their batsmen weren't properly focused on the job.

cricket, in recent times, may well have evolved into a game dominated by the willow-wielders. but there are still a few things that make life as a bowler fairly encouraging. for instance, a bowler doesn't have to pay as dearly as a batsman for a momentary lapse in concentration. he can simply put it out of his mind and come back with a better delivery. and another one. and another one.

not something a batsmen has the benefit of.

if a batsman takes his eye off the ball for one second, it can mean curtains for him. and we saw it happening time and again to the indians in this test match - batsmen spending time in the middle, getting their eye in, playing well and then throwing it all away with a poor stroke brought about by a wandering mind.

of course the australians batted bowled and fielded much, much better than the indians. which is one of reasons they won the match by such a massive margin. but there's a bigger reason the aussies managed to do what they did to india: india.

on day one - perhaps the only day of the test match that the indians were totally committed to the task on hand - the aussies were packed off for their lowest first innings total in not-so-recent times. the indians need to go back and think about what they thought right on the first day. and, come sydney, they must make sure they aren't wasting their time thinking about all the things that got in their way on day 2 of the match.

it is our considered view that the indians were, first, beaten by the indians. and only then did they lose to australia. sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Will the Indians do a Sangakkara?

last month, sri lanka were set a massive 507 to win the second test match of their tour of australia. one man nearly took them there. after the abject surrender of his batsmen in the first innings, the indian captain will be more than happy if someone stood up and did a kumara sangakkara for him. and then some.

with two days to bat on a fourth innings wicket that isn't doing much and against an attack without the services of a world-class spinner, a target of 499 is gettable. that's assuming the indian batsmen - dravid and yuvraj, in particular - can exorcise the demons from their mind and put their heads down to the task on hand; ball by ball. session by session. day by day.

given that kumara sangakkara almost got the lankans to 500 with little by way of support from the other frontline batsmen, ponting can't have a very high opinion of these indian batsmen. and why should he? so far, they haven't given him any reason to. despite a pitch that's more south asian than australian in temperament, the indians capitulated for a paltry 196 in the first innings. despite an inspirational performance from their captain, which helped dismiss the australians for their lowest first innings total in over a year, the indian batsmen were unable to take a leaf out his book and rise to the occasion. despite, for once, winning the first day of a test match abroad, the indians meekly surrendered the initiative. no wonder ponting declared the innings as early as he did.

left with eight difficult overs to negotiate before the close of play, the indian openers - especially rahul dravid - did so with greater assurance than anything seen from them in the first innings. if they can continue in a similar vein and get through the first hour tomorrow, ponting might well be faced with a tricky situation on the fifth day.

in dravid, laxman and sachin, the indians have three men who are quite capable of emulating sangakkara's hobart heroics. better still, the three of them won't need to do quite as much for their team to snatch an incredible victory. they'll just have to make sure they all come to the party. especially dravid.


sorry, but is it too early to switch off and wait for the australian juggernaut to walk all over another bunch of losers? let's consider what the indians can do from here on to avert the ominous gaze of defeat staring them in the face.

for one, they've got to get that gary kirsten sidekick - the upton guy - or someone else to come over and have a chat with dravid. obviously, whatever it is that kumble told him before he came out to - let's say it once again - reluctantly open the innings didn't work. disturbingly for the indians, if his own state-mate and skipper is unable to get dravid out of the mighty depression he seems to have gone under with, he must be, how should we say this, jettisoned. the indians can ill-afford the negativity of their batting lynch pin to influence the rest of the side. even more so, against a relentlessly aggressive and clinically merciless team like australia.

when the team's most technically correct batsman plays a no-brainer of an innings at the very top of the order and meekly hands back a very hard-won initiative to the australians, it's time for a searching examination. when he does it for the second time in a little over 3 months - remember that 12 of a million odd balls he scrounged for against england at the oval - it's time to get his head sorted out.

tragically for the indians today, the man in the eye of the storm and the cause of the strife over dravid's place in the batting (and pecking) order looked to be almost as weighed down by the proceedings as the 'pasha of pressure', dravid, himself. not that yuvraj can be blamed for it. all this talk centered around who will open the batting and who is willing to do more for the team and who does and does not deserve a place in the side can't have done the protagonists in this on-going saga any good.

the way things look, what the indians need is to consider opening the batting in the second innings with yuvraj and jaffer. if that doesn't work for yuvraj, they must seriously contemplate roping in sehwag for the second test. which still leaves the question of what to do with, probably, the best batsman in the side who can be happily included only if their best young batsman is not. things are not looking good for india. not just in this test, but also for the rest of series. let's hope, against hope, for the sake of a much-needed contest that rahul dravid finds his mojo in the second innings and re-invents himself as an opening batsman. (right.)

evidently, we're back to doing what every team confronting the aussies is forced to: hope and pray for the best. (and, that the australians will be well off their best.) quite clearly, the expections of a ripper-of-a-series were wildly optimistic. sadly for the indians, one bad day for the australians does not an indian summer make.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Kumble rocks Australia

in this world full of cricket headlines monotonously lauding yet another dominant australian performance against yet another hapless comer, it's refreshing to come across the few that go the way of the googly.

look hard enough through the sports pages of any self-respecting paper and you're likely to find, at the most, one or two standout performances per month against the baggy greens. a fortnight ago, it was sangakkara's twin strike in a foregone conclusion. a week later, the kiwis had nothing to show other than their red faces; and not all on account of john bracewell. today, it was kumble's turn to remind the ponting's team that there remain a few pockets in world cricket that are still intensely resistant to the steamrolling ways of the aussie juggernaut.

all put together that's 3 good performances in one month of cricket against the best cricket team in the world; out of which two - by the brilliant sangakkara - were in lost causes. it remains to be seen whether kumble's team can take inspiration from their captain's early heroics and give the aussies a run for their far-from-hard-earned money in this test. (we know, we's a state of affairs that's disheartening, to say the least, for fans of competitive cricket.)

it's a measure of the towering dominance exercised by ponting and his machines that a score of 330-odd for 9 is celebrated as a minor victory for the team that has managed to achieve the seemingly herculean task of snapping up more than a handful of australian wickets in a full day's play. (note: this is the first time in over a year that adam gilchrist has been called upon to bat on the first day of a test match.) india, today, played their best test cricket in recent times and still didn't do enough to put themselves in a dominant position to dictate the course of this match.

the depressing fact of the matter is, anything above 350 is going to be a tough ask for a batting line-up that - despite its bounty of experience and past achievements - is vulnerable against quality fast bowling. kumble, with his cerebral performance today, has shown what is required to keep the series alive. the bowlers have paved the road ahead and all that's left for them to do is finish the job, minus their customary struggles to polish off the tail. after that, it's up to the indian batsmen to put a mountain of runs on the board that kumble and the other bowlers will need to take that unthinkable 1-0 lead in a test series against australia. (hey, there's no harm in dreaming, is there?)

but before that, the indians will have to find the answer to the one question that has been hounding them for over 20 years, and which will decide whether their team will go the distance in this match. the question: who will open the batting? will it be dravid? yuvraj? laxman? sachin? sourav? or, maybe, it'll all come down to kumble. jokes apart, it'll take many more than a 5-wicket haul by the skipper to shake these aussies off their perch.

Hidden gems - Mhd. 'the Pocket Rocket' Ashraful

in a cricket calendar choc-a-bloc with matches from around the world being beamed down to every cricket channel - sometimes, even non-cricket channels like sab tv, which is where we caught ourselves breathlessly taking in the magic of ashraful today - it's virtually impossible to watch everything that's worthwhile. and that's why you need people endowed with special skills that enable them to know exactly when something out of the ordinary is taking place and catch it. people like, who else, but yours truly. today was one such day.

fresh-eyed and hungry we awoke ourselves from a fitful slumber readier than an eager beaver to accompany india doing battle in the boxing day test against australia. but when ponting won the toss and elected to bat, our face fell. (or should that be our 'faces' fell? oh well, never mind.) and then, the first session began to pan out in a manner depressingly familiar to every seamer recently tested against the aussies. in next to no time the openers, hayden and jacques, had raced off to a solid start and things were looking far from good for india. in other words, business as usual for yet another pretender looking to challenge the hegemony of the mighty aussies.

luckily for people like us evolved enough not to pander to our partisan sides, we had no qualms turning our attention away from the unfolding carnage at the mcg and to the dazzling fireworks' display at eden park, auckland from the captain of the bangladeshi green hornets, mhd. 'the pocket rocket' ashraful.

if you yearn to see the kind of strokes that only the great arvinda d'silva in his heyday could play with unrivaled panache and some regularity, all you need to do is tune in to the pyrotechnics of ashraful. yes, we know. high praise, indeed, for someone so young and so raw. and that's why, that said, here comes the downer. ashraful is certainly no arvinda d'silva. and bangladesh not a patch on sri lanka. but, they're both getting there. or, at least, have shown that they have what it takes to swim with the sharks. for now though, neither of them has demonstrated the ability to go the distance.

what we're seeing of bangladesh in recent times is similar to what we used to see from the players of the island formerly known as serendib when they were the minnows of international cricket. time and again, the lankans of the 70s and 80s fed the world with many little morsels of delicious brilliance that rarely, if ever, added up to a balanced, fully-satisfying meal. instead what we got were many sporadic performances of ephemeral brilliance that flattered to deceive. it took the emerald islanders close to 25 years to perform as equals.

fortunately, and on the basis of some stunning bangladeshi performances in 2007, we're quite certain that it won't take the 'green hornets' that long. in fact, much less.

we think it will take around 10 years for bangladesh to graduate into the big league and become one of the top 5 teams in world cricket. but for them to come close to achieving that, they'll need kids like ashraful, tamim iqbal, aftab and mashrafe to go on and play the nurturing role that the likes of arjuna ranatunga, arvinda d'silva, jayasuria and vaas did for sri lanka in the 90s.

cameos studded with deft placements, cheeky singles, outrageous paddles and pulls, sparkling cuts and which add up to little more than 70-run blitzes of the kind we saw ashraful rattle the black caps with today will not do the trick. all they'll do is leave us hankering for more. much, much more. and their fans hoping that a time will come when the sting of the green hornets will leave their victims with more than just a mild allergy.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Cricket Quotas

fosters in hand (thank you for the cheque, fosters), sony dictaphone in the other, we walked into the football-stadium-sized dressing room that kumble described in his column with a well-known paper we'll never be sober enough to write for. who needs them? we're here. only because only we can get you the best cricket quotas in the universe. straight from the players who won't know we've been there listening to them and having imaginary conversations that lead to them spilling the beans because nobody ever aknowledges us. good. it helps when you want the best cricket quotas to be that way, in nobody's way. so, let's see what we got from the gang on the eve of the boxing day match.

"it's not like we're confused even though we may be so what if we don't know who's going to open the batting for us we know who it ain't going to be and that's not a bad place to start seeing that we're so confused. you want to open the batting?" beleaguered captain kumble still looking for an opening batsman to parter wasim jaffer. we politely declined citing our important job of delivering the freshest news to our devoted audience.

"all i need is one good innings to find my touch. though, i think dravid's the best guy to open with jaffer. bumping into virender sehwag and his bowling machine...perhaps the only bowler in the world of cricket who still hasn't figured out the way to dismiss him.

"it's not like i have a problem opening the batting for india. i just don't fucking dammit bastards don't want to do it! why the fuck should i be the fall guy after being the best fuckking batsman in the fucking side!" too petrified to wait and apologise to rahul dravid for bumping into him and who seemed a bit miffed with being, again, thrust the onerous task of opening the fucking indian batting...erm, apologies. we...kinda...sorta...feel for the senior pro.

"how do i look? you think they'll make me captain soon? did you say the way i hit my off-drives in that innings of 169? i looked so good enough for a double hundred, didn't i? how do i look? i think i'll go in at, 6. never mind. i'll make up mah mind on the day of the match. yeah, tomorrow." yuvraj doing a shoaib akhtar while waiting for his god-given place in the indian middle order. just then, from the corner of our eye we see dravid walking very quickly towards yuvi. contemplating the possibilities of a juicy exchange of quotas, we retired - not yet hurt - to a corner of the dressing room the size of a football field waiting for the explosion to happen and the hurt to follow.

some silent minutes later: it really was an extrvagantly endowed dressing room the size of a footy field with a corner so far that we were unable to hear anything at all of the spat that took place between yuvi and rahul. we did though hear the sms we recieved on our good old motorazr (thank you moto for the cheque) from kumble saying he was very disappointed with us for having hurriedly declined his gracious offer of a place in the indian side as an opening batsman. so disappointed in fact that he had decided to take matters into his own hands and partner jaffer at the top of the order.

yuvi, meanwhile, is getting used to doing a shoaib akhtar. rahul is waiting for yuvi to decide so that yuvi doesn't come after his own place in the batting order. sachin is practicing batting better in the 90s. dhoni, looking assured as ever, is drinking milk, eating biscuits and dreaming of his honey. then there's an australian guy sitting in the corner of the football-field-sized dressing room - but of course beer in hand - painting the scene. sure that his masterpeice would show up on channel 9 to be hawked as limited edition cricketobelia, we proceeded to invest the next few minutes of our time into painting a sign. see you, tomorrow morning. look out for a wild-eyed guy holding up a beer and a hand-painted, limited edition, up-for-sale signboard that says, what else, "please read TPR".

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Listen up, Yuvi

we've had enough of your tantrums. yes, you're good. yes, you deserve to find a place in the test side. yes, your father must be appeased. yes, you might even become the living legend. but for that, you're going to have to work just a wee bit harder. you might be the best odi batsman in the indian side but that doesn't make you good enough to displace one of the best batsman india have ever had from his place in the batting order. a senior player like dravid cannot be shunted around like this. you, yuvi, need to earn your stripes. you, yuvi, need to take responsbility. you, yuvi, might well be in line for an out-of-turn promotion. you, yuvi, need to pay attention to us. and you, dear reader, must send this out to seven people after we're done. and before the boxing day test match. for this massively important missive must reach yuvi. and now, in the interest of narrative complexity and the need for greater authority, we shall switch in and out of third person. yes, yuvi deserves a place in the boxing day side. but he must be tested sternly for it. we must respect the reluctance of dravid to open the batting. consider how insulting dravid must find our disregard for his unarguable stature as one of the best india has ever produced. a bitterer and sullener dravid could be disastrous to india's chances in the series. yuvi, you don't want to be responsible for that. what you want to be is more responsible. you want to open the batting. you want to shelter a nervous sehwag and give him one more test to get used to being back in the scheme of things. you want to show the team that you're ready to don, with dhoni, the mantle of the future face of indian cricket. you want to send a signal out to dravid that you are ready to take over from him. you want to quietly remind sachin you are doing something even sachin won't do. besides, opening the batting for india in this time of crisis will send a much-needed message to your detractors. the ones that think you're immature. spoiled. pampered. tantrum prone. too big for your boots. and have the temerity to try and push rahul 'the untouchable' dravid around. you're young. you're strong. you're a demi-god. you're adonis. you're the crown price of indian cricket. you're yuvraj. you can do anything. yes, even open the batting for india. and clatter the bowling. the bowling will be fast. you can be furious. there'll be yawning gaps in the field. you can shred them to bits. the aussie dingos will be snapping at your heels. you can leave them in your wake. the gods will be on your side. you can become one of them. we're certain you'll emerge with flying colours. and if you don't, you have nothing to lose. and much to gain from the experience. the admiration of your beleageared team members and the blue billion. the sigh of relief from an out of fuel, think tank. the fawning articles of praise the highly regarded mouthpieces of the world will write extolling your act of great bravery and selflessness. the knowledge that you have crossed an important milestone in your development as a test player, team man and leader. that you've done your father proud. do it. open the batting. grow up.

PS: please keep this appeal going. pass it on to seven people you know and so on and on that it eventually reaches yuvi. (it's the only way anything we say ever will.) every seven people you send it to will get you closer to millions of dollars of unclaimed funds lying in frozen bank accounts in nigeria.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

First look - India vs. Australia 2007/8

if the indians bat well, they won't lose the series 4-0. if the indians bowl well, they won't lose the series 4-0. if the indians bowl and bat well, they might lose the series 2-1. if the indians bat, bowl and field well, they might not lose the series. but no matter what the indians do, they will not win the series. unless...

the last time the indians were in australia, rahul, sourav, laxman, sehwag and akash chopra played out of their skins. sachin scored a double hundred without attempting the cover drive - which had contributed to his dismissal in the previous three innings - at any time during his knock. agarkar bowled like a man possessed - and not at all like the ajit agarkar we know. anil kumble did something he hadn't done for a very long time in his career up until then: consistently took wickets in a series outside the sub-continent. the captain and the coach got along with each other. heck, the captain had a coach. what do the indians have this time?

in a land which demands that batsmen always be at the top of their game and possess the most quicksilver of reflexes at all times, we have an ageing quartet of batting legends with waning skills and little more than the hunger to top their last performance down under with an even higher peak - a tall order, like no other they have so far encountered in their illustrious careers. in other news, the indians this time do come armed with a bowling attack less experienced but more talented than the one they challenged the australians with the last time - admittedly a big plus. unfortunately, what they don't come equipped with - and what they did during the previous tour - is an opening batsman with a iron-cast defense solid enough to see off the likes, and dislikes, of lee and company. (and that includes the delectable wasim jaffer.)

sehwag's technique - even in the best of times a bit iffy - nowadays betrays more gaps than a bad set of teeth. dinesh kartik hasn't scored enough runs in the most recent of times to back his copy-book skills and guarantee himself a place in the side. rahul dravid continues to be a reluctant opener. and as great as yuvraj might be, he's definitely not good enough to see off the new ball. all these things considered, it'll be a miracle if india manage to get past 450 every time they bat, which is the minimum they will need, to somewhat test the aussies.

luckily, this team has more than a handful of men bloody-mindedly determined to make a point or three; something they'll need to overcome the mighty australians in their own backyard.

rahul will be out to prove the chairman of the selectors wrong, and a few things to himself again. sourav would like to bury the ghosts of guru greg and australia in this his last tour of a country whose people don't exactly have a very high opinion of him. laxman will want to live up to his standard issue comment that he relishes the extra challenge of facing up to the relentlessly aggressive australian bowlers - we'll have to wait and see if he still relishes it in the evening of his sparkling career. yuvraj and dhoni will be raring to go on and establish their claim as the future of indian cricket. harbhajan, of course, has gone on record saying he'll "give it back" to the aussies. (along the way, he might also like to re-establish himself as the now-forgotten 'turbonator'.) above all, kumble must be eager to use this opportunity to remind people that he should have been made the captain of the side a lot earlier in his career.

man-to-man, the two sides look far from evenly matched. the aussies, clearly, have the aura of a superior unit. but cricket, like life, is a mind game. to a large extent, it is the inability to demonstrate adequate mental strength that has, so far, prevented india from conquering the australians in australia. it should come as no surprise that the closest the indians have come to doing so was when led by two of their toughest captains: sourav ganguly and sunil gavaskar. this time, in kumble, they have a similarly endowed skipper. how far kumble and his indians are able to maintain a high level of intensity in the face of the in-your-face ponting juggernaut is what will help them turn a most likely lost cause into an unlikely and historic series victory.

put not so simply, the way forward is to ignore the sorts who kick matters off with a negative mindset and words like 'a lost cause'. thank you for not paying attention to us sorts.

Friday, December 21, 2007

First look - Testing times for test cricket

since the general consensus among the cricket chatterati over the issue of test cricket under lights is startlingly similar to what they had to say about it in coloured clothing, one can safely ignore the 'knee-jerks' and make a little time to consider this, a marginally more considered take on the same matter.

the great thing about adding to a topic the world has already had their say on is, you pretty much know the places you don't want to go to; because someone else has already dealt with it well enough - or badly - and there's obviously little merit in doing so again. the bad thing about coming late to the party is you're not left with anything startlingly different to contribute. (unless, you happen to be us.)

happily enough for us, years of consistently going zag while everyone else goes zig means we're more than prepared for the uphill task on hand. so, here comes zag.

tpr is quite keen to see test cricket under lights. for any sport to survive, it has to make money. and test cricket is not making money. in fact, everywhere it goes, it's losing money faster than a bad gambler. indeed, cricket in whites is as sacrosanct as, for instance, the dress code at wimbledon. unfortunately for cricket, it takes about 20 times longer to complete a test match. and there's only this much of tradition that non-cricket writing people with real jobs have the time and stomach for.

when sport - the primary purpose of which is to entertain - ceases to be engaging enough, something needs to be done to rejuvenate it. which is where the australians come in.

time and again the folks from down under have proved themselves to be masters at adding oomph to cricket. had they not introduced the day/night version of the game played in coloured clothing, one day internationals wouldn't have been anything as popular as they have turned out to be. but for the culture of continuous improvement in channel 9, cricket would not have become the huge tv sport that it is today. left to the english and the traditionalists cricket would have remained the elite sport that it started out as.

darwin's theory of evolution posits that incremental change is the chosen way forward. if test cricket doesn't respond to the demands to make it commercially viable, it will, at best, be reduced to little more than a curiousity. (or, at worst, go the way of the dodo.)

happily for the proponents of change, cricket is no longer a white-collar pastime in which the elite call the shots. of course for this latest development in the world of cricket to take place, someone is first going to have to come up with a coloured ball durable enough to survive the course of a test match. or else, neither will test cricket.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

And the unaward goes to...

welcome to the first edition of the pitch report christmas unawards (PRCU), an annual feature that's likely to cause about as much of a stir as the news of another cloudy day in london.

few teams have worked harder than pakistan to lower the standards of fielding in world cricket. nothing epitomized this better than their performance in the just concluded series against india, in which pakistan came to the party with one and a half bowlers, a handful of batsmen and 11 fumblers.

should it be ravi shastri for his testosterone addled attitude? should be dilip vengsarkar for his petulance? should it be daryl hair for his self-righteous manner? perhaps it should be daryl hair for his stand-out services to the cause of cricket umpiring. not. there was one man who called more attention to himself than even hair. (no, not rameez raja and his hair.) for providing us with an unending supply of newsworthy stories and for drawing more attention to himself than a peacock in heat, the honour goes to shoaib akhtar.

to shane warne for not giving adam gilchrist his due in his list of top 50 cricketers of his generation. all because the aussie selectors overlooked warne for not just the captaincy but also the vice-captaincy of the australian side.

to the once-mighty west indies for continuing to enrich world cricket with the one quality so essential for great entertainment: tragedy. as we all know, there can be no drama, no excitement and nothing to lament about without a great tragedy.

mandira bedi for proving, once again, that men will be men and women will be decorative pieces.

handed out to people who have performed outstandingly in their role as coach, the john buchannan unaward for the year goes to john bracewell and greg chappell for proving to be even less useful than a transportation vehicle to their respective teams.

this unaward goes to the just-recovered munaf patel for being asked to go back to domestic cricket so that he may work hard enough of his fitness and make yet another comeback next year.

to all the cricket writers of the world that the players strenuously insist they never read but make it a point to cultivate to get puff pieces written about them.

to the australian team that was waiting eagerly for sreesanth only to find out that the speedster has been ruled out of the tour down under on account of injury.

to the indian team for having managed to come away from the test series against pakistan without a 3-0 result in their favour; despite the pakistanis doing everything they could to make things easy for india.

all the teams in world cricket that line up for their turn at being thrashed by the aussies.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cricket Quotas

so we're back from an invigorating whistle-stop tour to the far corners of the earth. and what do we have to show for our travails? what else, but yet another set of cricket quotas from the people who don't know how to keep their mouths shut when they ought to. for if anyone wants their innermost thoughts to be aired for the benefit of nobody at all, all they need to do is drop their gourd...sorry, guard in our presence.

from post-bangalore test reactions to pre-india down under bluster, we have it all for the benefit of you, dear readers. cooked up with a generous pinch of salt guaranteed to make your blood pressure shoot up to stratospheric levels.

"if i had jaggu dalmiya and the rest of the selectors under my thumb, i'd have achieved much more as a captain." sachin tendulkar giving a fitting riposte to sourav's whine about how much more he might have achieved had he batted higher up the order in tests.

"if i had not become complacent i'd have achieved much more as a cricketer." sourav ganguly, as is his wont, letting his guard down now that he has booked his place in the indian team for another year.

"if i had not become chappell's captain i'd still be the captain of india." rahul dravid in a reflective mood after the indo-pak series.

"it's my turn to prove chappell wrong." virender sehwag in an optimistic mood after being picked for the tour of australia.

"i'm sorry, but i'm not fit to answer that question." munaf patel being munaf patel in the face of the demands being placed on him as an international cricketer.

"i'm sorry, but i won't answer that question until the camera is turned towards me." shoaib akhtar being shahrukh khan.

"i was told that i have a shoulder injury. i'm still trying to find it." gautam gambhir's reaction when asked for a reaction on being left out for the tour of australia.

"i'm really happy to have made the cut for the trip to australia." left-arm spinner murali kartik showing off his googly and dismissing us with his plans for the tour of australia, as a commentator.

"we're thinking of asking braces to pad up and face tait." daniel vettori on how new zealand plan to counter the pace of an enraged tait and a hare-brained john bracewell.

"it's disgusting that someone is trying to do to tait what we have all along been doing to murali." ricky ponting reacting to the questions being raised about tait's action.

"look at me." rameez raja to rameez raja when he isn't with other people.

"look at me." rameez raja when he is with other people.

"i'm going to find myself a godfather and ask him to improve his bowling." indian medium pacer, ranadeb bose on how he plans to improve his bowling skills, and make it back into the indian team.

"my target is to get fit enough and bowl faster than anil kumble." the rapidly slowing munaf patel on how he plans to resurrect his floundering career.

"i'd be quite willing to captain the test side." the ever-entertaining younis khan once again declining to be captain of the pakistani cricket team.

and with that, we come to an end to this round of cricket quotas. we'll be back sooner than a cloudburst with more from the only program that gives you all the news that doesn't make the news.

Modi bats for Parthiv

under intense pressure from a host of political opponents and the press for exhibiting dictatorial tendencies, the gujarat chief minister and chief goonda, narendra modi has, in a masterstroke that is sure to put his detractors on the backfoot, jumped onto the cricket bandwagon.

after being repeatedly accused of displaying a marked tendency towards megalomania of the kind that the late, not-so-great india...we mean indira's congress used to specialise in with the 'india is indira and indira is india' statements, the chief goonda of one of india's most communally sensitive states has come out with his strongest rebuff, yet, to his crickets...err, we mean critics.

seeing that his election campaign for control over the state of gujarat was in dire need of a fresh impetus, modi - obviously taking a leaf out of king 'abs' khan's promotional book - has come out strongly in support of the 'select parthiv patel for the indian team' brigade and launched the 'parthiv is gujarat' (PIG) foundation.

"the PIG foundation's is an uncharitable trust whose role will be to bring to the notice of the selectors the the injustices being meted out to all the fine cricketers from my gujarat." he said. when asked why parthiv and other cricketers from 'his gujarat' were, in 'his opinion', being discriminated against, he said, "you journalists never talk about the good things that are taking place in the state of gujarat. the development projects, the health-care initiatives, the industrialisation, the performances of parthiv patel...none of these things make any difference to you. all you want to do is criticise me and my gujarat."

not quite sure how to react to this unrelated tirade in response to what we thought was a fairly innocuous question, we scurried off to locate parthiv patel and find out what the baby-faced stumper had to say about the PIG foundation.

stumped by this latest show of support from the chief minister of his state, parthiv reiterated that his job was to keep performing and leave the rest to the advertisers...erm, selectors. stifling the instinct to yawn, we soldiered on in pursuit of a more newsworthy quote. obligingly enough, the former india wicket-keeper batsman added that he also hoped the always innovative australians would suggest yet another way to enliven test cricket by sending out four opening batsman to kick off every innings of a test match - as that was the most likely way he saw himself making a comeback to an indian team in which the only vacant slots were at the top of the batting order.

wondering what the people of gujarat were smoking to be able to conjure up such wonderfully outlandish thoughts we walked into munaf patel, half-heartedly holding up a placard that said 'Mr. Modi, Munaf is Parthiv!' carelessly oblivious to the possible ramifications of attempting to get to the bottom of this, we looked askance at munaf only to discover that he was, yet again, unfit to answer to any of the demands placed on him.

relieved to not have been assaulted by yet another round of gujarati logic but at the same time determined to get to the bottom of this matter, we went back to the man who claimed to know the pulse of every gujarati in the world. "it's quite elementary, my friend. munaf is a patel. parthiv is a patel. and so munaf is parthiv." realising - most likely from the expression on our face - that we weren't following any of this, he triumphantly added, "see, only a gujarati will understand these matters and that is why i am gujarat!" concluded a smug-faced mr. modi.

reminding ourselves that in future we must restrict ourselves to quizzing mr. modi about development, industrialisation and healthcare, we checked our cellphone for any messages from the various stars clamouring to share their thoughts with us on various matters of earth-shaking impotence. (for the uninitiated, that's gujarati for importance.)

not surprisingly, there was one, more, from king 'abs' khan. demonstrating a remarkable mastery over the intricate goings-on in world cricket, geopolitics and modern history, his message to us said, "the easiest way for parthiv to get back into international cricket is to re-invent himself as a fast-bowler and move to pakistan. after all, many a patel is from pakistan. call me. i want to talk cricket. and promote my next film."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Unlucky Sehwag makes the cut

after this and this from two of the more highly regarded cricket writers in the business, it's time for this: Sehwag should consider himself very unlucky to have been picked for Australia. yes, you may gasp audibly. (much in the manner the scribes apparently did when the name 'Virender Sehwag' was mentioned in the list of 15 selected for the tour of australia.)

ever the contrarian, we're of the opinion - contrary to popular belief, of course - that sehwag will be ruing his luck that he didn't get a chance to pad up (and pad his averages) in the just concluded run-fest against pakistan. instead, he has been handed the - mostly - unwanted and unequivocally unenviable task of facing a bowling attack that few batsmen in the world relish the prospect of going up against; and more than a few of the widely read mouthpieces in the world of cricket writing consider 'frighteningly fast'. indeed, so truly blessed must be the bloke who is told that his career depends on how he tackles one of the toughest assignments in world cricket.

we'll tell you what we think is really 'lucky'. 'lucky' is being asked to open the innings against an attack that is so docile it ought to be called a 'defense'. 'lucky' is being secure in the knowledge that the guys behind the wickets waiting to snaffle any of your edges will, most of the time, not manage to do so. 'lucky' is when as an opening batsman all you have to do is see off one quality bowler who will, more often than not, do the job for you by giving up after a few overs of trying. 'lucky' is dinesh kartik who somehow managed to score a fifty when the pressure was off. 'lucky' is sourav ganguly who just about managed to get through the kotla test and lived to fight another day. 'lucky' is every indian batsman who is given an opportunity to play in india. 'lucky' is not sehwag.

fortunately for sehwag - and this is lucky - his first test will not be against the 'fremantle doc', australia and the fast waca wicket in perth. it will be in melbourne - one of the happier hunting grounds down under for india. we're well aware of what virender sehwag did to the australians the last time he played against them at the mcg. and on that upbeat note, here's our proposed XI for the boxing day test match: jaffer, sehwag, dravid, tendulkar, ganguly, laxman, dhoni, kumble, harbajan, pathan and zaheer khan.

here's wishing sehwag a verry merry x'mas and all the luck he now deserves. unfortunately for him, he's been asked to prove himself against australia. in australia.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Proposed SAARC meet to discuss wickets

in a move clearly aimed at restoring relevance to an august institution of regional development that has had nothing significant to do since the time of its inception, the south asian association for regional co-operation (SAARC) has called for an urgent meeting to discuss the state of the wickets in the sub-continent.

the BCCI has reacted to this newest challenge to its hegemony by launching the south asian association for regional non-cooperation (SAARNC) and, furthermore, banning anyone who decides to play for SAARC. on being politely informed that SAARC was not a new cricket league but, rather, another group of self-serving individuals with nothing better to do than...well, non-cooperate, the BCCI swiftly revoked the ban, instantly dissolved the still-unborn SAARNC and decided to reach out to the SAARC on common grounds.

in another related development, bollywood has issued a statement wholeheartedly supporting this coming together of SAARC and the BCCI because it firmly believes that without lively wickets, cricket becomes a dull sport, which means fewer opportunities for their own stars to advertise their set of wares to a captured audience. shahrukh khan, in particular, has requested that he be allowed to attend the SAARC-BCCI summit meeting so that he may promote his most newly developed body part. it is believed that the BCCI and SAARC have politely discouraged him from doing so because they feel his presence will hamper their continued efforts to do nothing at all.

meanwhile, the south asian wickets curators association (SAWCA) have requested that they be sent the minutes of this most important summit meeting. simultaneously, they have also promised to constitute a sitting committee on the matter to ponder the future course of inaction.

the parties most affected by the state of the wickets in the sub-continent, the players, are adopting a wait and watch attitude to these latest developments in the hub of cricket. off the record, though, the batsmen are believed to be somewhat unhappy because it promises to change - for the worse - the one part of the world they could safely pad their batting averages in. the bowlers,on the other hand, are thought to be enthusiastically pessimistic about these latest round of initiatives because they know full well nothing much will come out of it.

but the last word on this matter must go to the dodos who have forwarded an ever-growing list of extinct species to all the parties concerned with the promotion of good cricket, urging them to consider using analogies other than 'dead as a dodo' to describe the state of wickets. misinformed sources tell us that the shirt-makers of the world (SOTW), too, are considering sending in a similar petition to combat the preponderance of the 'flat as a shirt-front' comparison.

finally, in another opportunistic attempt to promote himself, shahrukh khan has urged the BCCI, SAARC and the highly clannish association of cricket editors and writers (HCACEW) to seriously consider the use of the metaphor 'this is a wicket that's as flat as king khan's abs' to solve the dodo and the SOTW's problem. last we heard, the members of the BCCI and SAARC - wholly in keeping with their illustrious record - have postponed the proposed meet until people cease to further notice.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Let's wrap

since we're making grand plans to go on a holiday longer than anything a workaholic like us might make the time to even consider, we thought it best to share some of our parting thoughts on the year 2007 that was for indian cricket.

in an unfair world, the year would belong only to sourav. but since that would mean an unacceptably short review for the powers-that-be who pay us our peanuts for monkeying around in the hallowed precincts of this rag, we're going to have to be a lot fairer and take stock of all the people who bothered to make their mark in 2007 - mostly for the right reasons.

towards the end of 2006, all eyes in indian cricket - and, to an extent, even australian - were on one man. eyes that were trying to reconcile with a doubting mind harbouring sobering thoughts on whether the ageing body of this man could still call upon the skills required to keep pace with his never-say-die spirit. one year later, that man has provided an answer more conclusive than any of us thought he was anymore capable of delivering. with almost 950 runs at an average of over 60 runs per innings, sourav ganguly is our mega-star for 2007. (and no, we will not qualify it with uncharitable comments on the dubious quality of some of the opposition bowling attacks he made these runs against.)

in other people who make it to this much-anticipated and widely dissected annual, global and world famous news bulletin: we have wasim jaffer who has taken huge strides in his journey towards cementing a place at the top of a star-studded batting order in which nobody had the moxie to step forward and do the most difficult job of opening the innings with him. which is an all-important reason our next star of the year 2007 is the little dinesh karthik.

living in a country of a billion people who stoically tolerate an acute paucity of opening batsmen, fast bowlers and time for those who haven't been touched by the much-ballyhooed 9% rate of growth in gdp, it behooves us to make a little space for...a man who is so hungry to be in the indian team that he is willing to do much of the dirty work that far more established players have blithely turned their backs on. for his can-do spirit and not-so-inconsiderable skills as a batsman - that were on display for the most part of 2007 - we rate dinesh karthik as an 'outperformer'.

the other players whose stocks have risen through 2007 would be the 'almost very very special' laxman, gautam 'very intense' gambhir, irfan 'comeback' pathan, zahir 'comeback' khan, robin 'the mouth' uthappa, rohit 'the kid' sharma, rudra 'dreamboat' pratap singh and the devsaab of indian cricket, sachin 'evergreen' tendulkar. very honourable mention: anil 'tireless' kumble for bailing his country out of a tight spot and taking on the poisoned chalice of the indian test captaincy.

taking...erm, stock of the picks we have put together so far, we're wondering who we might have left out? immediately after doing so, it dawns on us that we haven't done what we're best unknown for: taking the laggards to the cleaners. well, there's a very good reason for it. seeing that we're so happy with the way things have panned out for us the past year, we didn't want to leave 2007 with any kind of negative bias. and so, we won't.

there's one or two things though we will say before taking the high road out of these parts. ms 'nothing to do with bill gates' dhoni and yuvraj 'my father's dreams' singh were, for us, the two people who kept the established 'stars' on their toes, the young guns in high spirits and the demanding advertisers coming back for more. without them the indian cricket circus of 2006-07 might only have been remembered for the world cup debacle, the utterly shambolic, depressing, tragicomic shenanigans of the bcci and a certain greg chappell, mbe, vec (very emotional coach). that said, dear unreaders, we're off.

ps: you may violently disagree with all or many of these carefully calibrated assessments we've taken little trouble to cobble together for your read. but for that you'll have to read, at least, some of our drivel. good luck. (you'll need it.)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

First look - Ishant Sharma

first things on first look, this boy should go back to domestic cricket. he's too frail in the head and body. they say, you underestimate today's youth only if you like being made to look like a fool. (or some such thing vaguely foreboding.) but what we have to say about him - which is a lot more than what we think of him - thankfully, has less to do with his age and more with his inabilities - mental, technical and physical. maybe we've already said too much.

that all said, where should we start? there's so many things about him we could rip apart. but we won't. because we're telling ourselves don't. because it helps to be tall if you want to be a fast bowlers. it helps to be able to bowl at 130 kph even when doing it all wrong. it helps to look like something out of the ordinary to make an impression. it helps to make a physical impression if you're a fast bowler. that apart, we don't want to break him. fortunately for the brittle-looking fella, there's no chance of that ever happening. (you see, nobody reads us.)

happily we live in a good time for cricket. by which we mean we live in a time when all the reputed writers of the game - us not included - that people avariciously consume - again, us not included - like hungry refugees, are level-headed and compassionate enough to understand that they should go easy on this boy. that he needs more time. that he could do with a stint at the mrf pace academy - a long stint. so enough about the lad. which is not to say the less said about him the better. though that, too, wouldn't be too far off the mark.

time now to dexterously wrap it all up like a well-balanced shawarma and leave you with this nugget of a punt, the ponting in us says ishant sharma has a 50/50 shot at becoming the right-handed bruce reid of indian cricket. (with hair by jason gillespie.) which, all put together, might be a mixed blessing. but considering the perennial shortage of quicks in india - not counting the fearsome duo of amoebic dysentery and diarrhea - we'll more than settle for that. and, at this stage, so will pakistan. (right now, they'll take anything.)

(hatchet-)job done, time now to get all the blood off our hands and body with a much-needed showerma. (in a word and more, end of shameless self-promotion.)

Australia pick Sreesanth

in another round of the targetting the australians are so fond of indulging in before any series, they announced they would be going after the aggressive indian speedster in the coming series. (only not much later than a malfunctioning alarm did it dawn on us what they really meant by this.)

when the hosts were gently informed that sreesanth wouldn't be gracing their shores with his presence on account of an injury, they were most upset but quickly recovered and responded to this unexpected googly from the indian think by swiftly embarking upon the unprecedented step of inviting sreesanth to join the australian team. (perhaps in retaliation to the bcci's move to buy out their mercenaries...erm, players for the ipl.)

flummoxed but never hastily dismissive of anything australian, we wondered what the not-so-obvious agenda behind this radical step might be. and that's why we contacted their mole in the indian camp.

"oh, if you ask me that fella buchy is behind all this. after his latest idea of letting australian players play in teams from other countries to help make for a more level cricket playing field was firmly dispatched to beyond the boundaries of the ridiculous (only to be replaced with australian players selling their souls to the ipl), this must be his way of weakening the australian team and subtly levelling the playing field, which, happily enough, also makes for better tv rating points and higher sales of bizarre australian cricketing memorabilia. basically, once the world realises how much more entertaining this business of mixed teams is, they'll understand this is the way forward for cricket."

noticing that the mole was getting overly attached to his own enlightened spin on all things and overlooking simple facts like john buchanan was no longer the coach of the australian team, we thought it best to make for the door and save ourselves any more of this mental disintegration. on our way out, the mole rushed towards us and thrust a business card in our hands. it said, 'Greg Chappell, MBE, VEC, Very Emotional Coach.'

we looked at the respected gent and waited for one of his famous parting shots. he didn't disappoint. shooting from the hip, he said, "has sourav been taking batting lessons from gary?"

not feeling quite right about walking out on a man who was suddenly playing misty-eyed on us, we called upon all the reserves of compassion we weren't in the least bit aware we had in such abundance and asked him, "the seniors are going to retire soon. do you think you'll ever go back to coaching the indian cricket team?"

to which, smiled and said, greg chappell, MBE, VEC, "now you know why i came back to coach the lalit modi's state team."

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Loin of Punjab and Bengal Tiger feast on Pakistani lambs to the slaughter

admittedly, tpr is not too keen about the excessive length of the headline. (much, much longer than the five or six word limit that's considered proper by the important people who decide on these things.) but, as our time in the badlands of advertising falanas and dimkanas has taught us, less is not always more. even more so, when there exist a profusion of punning opportunities that we're sure our highly literate audience will most definitely appreciate.

and so, pleased as a skilled minesweeper for having deftly side-stepped our way out of a potentially tricky issue, time now to dig into another one of our characteristically unmeasured takes; this time on the incandescent brilliance of the two princes of indian cricket who lit up the four corners of chinnaswamy stadium with an array of chops that would have done a masseur proud. and, in the process, consigned the moral victory achieved by pakistan at eden to the forgotten reaches of short public memory.

on a day when - in the grander scheme of things - almost everything went swimmingly well for india (save for gambhir's continuing inability to nail down a place in the test side), the pakistani bowling attack, once again, looked more toothless than a gummy geriatric. shoaib akthar's consistent inability to bowl more than a handful of overs at express pace on the first day of two of the three test matches in this series has meant that the indian top order has never had to tackle anything like the questions that might have been thrown at them in a more evenly matched contest. (that a gentle trundler like yasir arafat still managed to reduce the indians to 61-4 is something the australians will have gleefully made a note of.)

that said, the first day's play was not about shoaib's latest injury worries. it was not about gambhir's inability to, yet again, find a better way negotiate the so-called 'corridor of uncertainty' outside his off-stump. it was not about jaffer's mildly disturbing penchant for getting himself out without offering a stroke - in our memory, he has done it three times in his short career so far. it was not about vvs laxman's not-so-special habit of playing half-cock and exposing himself to the vulnerability of being bowled or leg before wicket more often than not in the early part of his innings. it was about the two princes of indian cricket who provided a fitting riposte to their naysayers.

the pressure on sourav - who hasn't ever, at least, in our memory, followed up a big score in a test match with more of the same in the next - to keep his place in a middle-order bursting with resources must have been immense. and the conditions to do so were far from ideal. probably, the prospect of playing his 100th test match on boxing day in the backyard of the old enemy - australia - must have fuelled an appetite for runs in sourav we have rarely had the privilege of seeing. sourav was always a captain with a cast-iron stomach for combat, but it is in his 'post-greg chappell avataar' that the former captain and prince of calcutta has considerably tightened his defenses and buckled down to concentrate harder on the business of scoring runs. and it showed.

while the youthful heir apparent yuvraj scored faster, more attractively and more, it was the mature dada who looked the more assured and at no time in any great danger of losing his wicket. so will sourav get it right this time and go on to score a double hundred? if his near flawless performance on the first day is anything to go by, we would bet on it. we'd also be very interested in watching how dinesh kartik rises to this occasion. considering how stiff the competition is for the one or, maybe, two available batting slots in the side and how ravenously everyone is competing for them, day two promises to be a most revealing one.

will dinesh kartik, with his superior batting technique, strengthen his case for inclusion in the side as wicket-keeper batsman at the expense of dhoni? should india pick a regular opener like gambhir or sehwag or, even akash chopra, to partner with jaffer in australia? who in the middle order will make way for yuvraj in the next test match? will it be dravid? can they afford to leave out dravid against the likes of lee and company on the fast australian wickets? and in the midst of all these india-centric issues, shouldn't we spare a little, eensy-weensy thought for the delightfully-eccentric younis khan?

indeed, we must. the beleaguered skipper was - on a first day wicket fresher than anything seen so far in the series in a test match pakistan had to win - forced to fall back on the likes of salman butt and yasir hameed to buy wickets. in all the years of consuming cricket, never have we been witness to a series in which the indians have regularly taken the field with a more potent new ball attack than that of pakistan's - something the think tank would do well to factor in while preparing for australia.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Guess Who - An Auld Game

it would only be a marginal inaccuracy to refer to our man as a 'saucy or impudent girl'. except, this person happens to be rather more disciplined, almost as straight-laced as a victorian corset and plays in a manner that can hardly be described as saucy. even the nickname given to him by his team-mates is boringer than watching grass grow on a dead wicket. so much so, one of the two most conspicuous things about him is his name. the other of course is his first-class record before he got his break as an international player with an appetite for large constructions. no, he was not born in zimbabwe. and no, he does not flinch from genuine fast bowling. so that should straightaway eliminate many comparisons with other players who had illustrious, longer-than-usual domestic careers to go before their initiation into the big, bad world of test cricket. speaking of late bloomers, there's much about misbah that reminds us of this man - no, not misbah's comedic running between the wickets. rather, it's the quiet, systematic and calm way in which they both go about establishing their presence in the middle. (come to think of it, our conundrum for the day happens to be one of the finest runners between the wickets.) in other news: it took him 166 days of test cricket to beat andrew strauss' world record. actually, from just the looks of it, strauss and he share a fair bit in common. going forward, captain kumble and company would do well to spend a little time reading up on him. for they can be sure as his front and back foot play that he'll be eagerly awaiting their arrival shortly. though not quite in the same manner as we shall for the arrival of your non-existent answer in comments.

The Guess Who - An Auld Game

marauder, master-blaster and butcher make for unlikely but perfect epithets to describe the way this shy, unassuming man plays his cricket. after the great sir isaac vivian 'neena gupta' alexander richards, our man has got, perhaps, the most famous, and most fearsome, forearms in contemporary cricket. interestingly enough, both - viv and he - played a crucial role in numerous matches with their dangerous but under-rated bowling skills. when it comes to their batting, though, none of their opponents ever made the mistake of underestimating them, and the often benign indian and english attacks - against whom they've both played knocks that will proudly stand the test of time - were among their two most favored whipping boys. considering that he has more than a few things in common with the great richards, it needs to be stated here, right off the...err, bat, that their personalities are as different from each other as are opposites. well, actually, when it comes to the public image they choose to cultivate they are opposites. that said, they both come from islands of cricketing excellence. for someone who shares so much in common with viv richards, it seems only right that he has something to do with the other richards too. and he does. in fact, he is like barry richards. in passing, we'd like to point out that in and around deep backward point was an area our man preferred to do a bulk of his scoring in; mostly in flat 6s and ferocious 4s. that aspiring opening batsmen today don't think a copy-book technique is a necessary condition to do the job has much to do with this man. what they don't realize is that his unique, club-like forearms had much to do with the way only he played. can you, dear readers of this not-at-all-esteemed cricket rag, tell us who we are trying harder than a prehistoric rock not to reveal the name of? answer in comments.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Cricket Quotas

and we're back sooner than a premature ejaculation with another edition of cricket quotas. this time, it's from our tripping around with the indian team after their moral loss to pakistan in eden. the clinically described 'studious looking' captain first.

"i'm xyz/m+n% certain that there's absolutely no such thing as a moral victory."
when asked to comment on murali's world record.

"i'm xyz/m+n% certain that there's absolutely no such thing as a moral victory."
when asked to comment on harbhajan's 5-wicket haul.

"i'm xyz/m+n% certain that there's absolutely no such thing as a moral victory."
when not asked anything at all!

"how do i look?"
ramiz raja, asking people even when nobody is there to ask.

"what did my fellow commentator say?"
siva, when asked for a comment on the eden test.

"what did the women say?"
shaz, when asked for a comment on the eden test.

"i'm putting in my papers!"
'look at me' vengsarkar, when asked for a comment on the eden test.

"arre, bangalore is my hometown. we have nothing to worry. i'm xyz/m+n% certain that there's absolutely no such thing... "
reverting back to his motivational mantra...we scooted before kumble could finish; wondering why we bothered at all. and then we spotted looking quite dapper and unapproachable. and so, the hardworking stringer that we most truly are, we approached him.

"don't bother me. people are looking at me!"
'look at me' lara, when asked for a comment on the eden test.

by now we were utterly confounded by the number of people we were being urged to look at and so proceeded to abandon our quest for any further quotas from the 'look at me brigade', only to fall into the wily arms of 'don't look at me' sharad pawar staring down at us. this is what he had to say on the eden test.

"tell vengsarkar we have contacted his ghost writer and we know how much he pays him. it's better if he concentrates on selecting the team and accepting what we deem is right for a selector."

pleasantly surprised by this thoroughly unexpected dispensation, we ignored the foresight to look ahead of us and bumped into a frowning gent and a pale shadow of another person's former self. they turned out to be, who else, but the colonel's ghost and writer walking around with newspaper clippings containing the preposterous figures vengsarkar quotas he earns from his newspaper columns.

discreetly noting their troubled presence, dicta phone in hand bursting with quotas on just about everything except the, obviously inconsequential, eden game, we scurried away from the possibility of encountering any further quotas.

Cricket Quotas

"why don't you ask warne."
murali, when asked how it felt to break warne's world record.

"chuck it."
warne, when asked how it felt to be broken by murali.

"i'm saving myself for the icl."
jayasuria, when asked to comment on murali's world record.

"the fucking terrorist got another wicket!"
deano jones, when asked to comment on murali's world record.

"stay invested."
pc chidambaram, when asked to comment on murali's world record.

"murali is not the terrorist who has invested large sums in the indian stock market. but he is an assassin."
cricket fan, word player and indian finance minister, pc chidamabaram, when asked to comment on murali's world record.

"how do i look?"
ramiz raja, when asked to comment on murali's world record.

"how do i look?"
shahid afridi, when asked to comment on murali's world record.

"how do i look?"
shoaib akthar when asked to comment on murali's world record.

"look at me!"
greg chappell, when asked to comment on murali's world record.

and finally, it's only fair that we give the last word to the new world champion bowler muthiah muralitharan, "why don't you ask warne."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Pakistan seal moral victory

the great thing about moral victories is that while they might feel a bit unsatisfying they do leave you rather hungry for the real thing. what's more, they also infuse you with the confidence to believe that you have turned the corner and are ready to taste success. after getting out of what - against a better bowling attack - might have looked like their alcatraz of this tour of india, pakistan and, in particular, their makeshift captain younis khan will be waiting for bangalore as eagerly as andrew symonds and company will be awaiting the arrival of sreesanth. to think it all started with one unlikely atlas holding the fort in almost lost cause.

right from inaugural edition of the t20 world cup, which is when he first laid his eyes on the indian attack, misbah has developed an affection for them that ought to make them blush. what he started in the delhi test - but couldn't quite finish - he brought to fruition, appropriately enough, in the garden of eden. and from the looks of it, it needed misbah - and, of all the distinguished batsmen, a sami - to knock sense into the rest of the pakistani batters. so that even though the atlas from mianwali, for once, failed to settle in for the long haul, the two Ys were rejuvenated enough to remind the indian bowlers what they might have to deal with much more of when the gladiators reassemble in bangalore; of course, with help from the inspirational misbah. (if his yousufesque record against india is anything to go by, now that he has failed once, he's due for a big one.)

on reflection, it's quite obvious that india, yet again, missed most the services of an aggressive bowler like rp singh or sreesanth. munaf, notwithstanding his startling dismissal of misbah in the second essay, didn't look like much more than a hardworking trundler. at 150 for 5 in the first innings and down for the count, india needed a better bowler to rattle the likes of akmal. and, crucially, the stumps. for the next test, we believe either rp or sree or, even, the shrewd pathan deserve a look in. in fact, we're not quite certain why pathan - with his ability to out-think the batsman, which would have proved invaluable during periods in the kolkatta test when it looked like the indian attack had run out of fuel and ideas - was not given the nod over munaf in this game. the vote of confidence would have done pathan a world of good in the run-up to the tour of australia - for which, we're convinced, he should be selected. and what about munaf? more about him in another piece.

speaking of pieces, kumble in his post-match piece said moral victories mean nothing to him. perhaps the studious-looking skipper has a point. (because as a studious-looking sort he must.) but we'd like to point this out. without a moral victory, india might not have gone on to win the recently concluded test series in england. without a moral victory in the test series, nasser's flintoff may not have gone on to win england the odi series and bare his chest. and without moral victories, cricket would not be a mind game. but it is. that's why when a team that needs nearly 300 runs to stay in the series does so, in some style, with the help of only one top order batsman and one out-of-form wicket-keeper fighting for his place in the side, it's not just a moral victory. it has all the makings of a momentum shift, the repercussions of which are likely to go some way. maybe all the way down to india's tour of australia.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Misbah rocks the casbah

he came. he saw. he conqured. he remained unconquered. but has the 'flaky' misbah done enough to save pakistan? let's, quickly, consider how much the maestro from mianwali has toiled to keep the men from his side of the wagah afloat in this match...and the series

today, he played more than half the number of deliveries bowled during the entire duration of the pakistani innings. he was at the crease for over 80% of the time the pakistani first innings lasted. at the end of it all, he wasn't dismissed. he rarely looked in any kind of trouble. and we won't say we told you he was going to be the next inzamam-ul-haq. we'll leave that for the other more well-known mouthpieces. all this to say without misbah, this series would have by now been decided in india's favour. that said, it still looks like it's going that way.

just when it looked like india had dropped the ball, lost the plot and handed back the initiative to pakistan - despite, shockingly enough, having scored over 600 runs in the first innings - kumble, laxman and the gods of cricket conjured up a moment of magic to add to the glittering array of memories and stars this wonderful match has throw up for our entertainment and enrichment. rarely have we been witness to a match with more brilliant performances. jaffer. dravid. sachin. laxman. sourav. dhoni. bhajji's 5 wicket haul. kumble's tireless spell. misbah. akmal. sami. jaffer again. the return of a refreshed, radiant but sadly luckless shoaib in the second innings. and we've still got a potentially gripping final day's play to come.

as is often the case after a team scores big...very big in the first knock on a wicket with only marginally more life than in a fossil, it's up to that team to make more things happen. so far, that team - india - have held the initiative for most part of this match....with a little help from a lackluster display by the pakistani top order batsman. come tomorrow, it'll be up to the indian bowlers, and fielders, to better their largely average first innings performances with a series of superior, decisive knock-out punches. Ys or no Ys, they can be certain as sunrise that one man will be calmly waiting for them. misbah.

Misbah-ul-Haq to Captain Pakistan

after younis khan declined to be, even, the makeshift captain for the third test, despot dictator general mushy stepped in to solve this latest crisis and appointed misbah-ul-haq as emergency skipper. in a very brief follow up address to the nation he barked, "in pakistan emergency is the answer to all crises."

immediately after, the vastly experienced cricket scholar, dr. shahid afridi added that misbah-ul-haq will have to be more aggressive as a captain. when the respected pundit was reminded that this is exactly what he had said to the former skipper, dr. shahid afridi promised to be more aggressive in his next set of statements.

in his first press conference after the appointment, captain misbah appointed sami as his vice-captain. he said, "sami is the one guy i have spent the most time with. i trust he will return the sentiment." in his first press conference after his appointment, sami flicked back his lustrous locks and politely returned the favour. it is believed the newly appointed captain misbah - being so used to doing everything to save pakistan - is considering taking on the responsibility of the vice captaincy too.

on the flight back to australia geoff lawson, the former coach of pakistan, said he had learned a lot during his stint with the pakistani team. when pushed for a quote, he said he had learned to keep his mouth shut.

in his second press conference after being made skipper, misbah-ul-haq cited family commitments meant that he regretfully wouldn't be able to take over the additional privilege of captaining pakistan. seeing that the next in line for the job would, logically speaking, be the vice captain, general mushy, fighting back tears, invited the vice captain misbah-ul-haq to take over from captain misbah-ul-haq as captain of pakistan. vice-captain misbah-ul-haq has asked for some time to consider the offer.

on that gripping note about the behind-the-scenes happenings from the world of crocket, this is tpr signing off with wink and a smile.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Akmal keeps the faith

we're not quite sure what gets into their heads but there is definitely something about pakistani wicket-keepers that makes them play out of their skins against india. the pakistani think-tank needs to be commended for persisting with a man whose neck has, for some time, been on the chopping block.

yesterday, akmal did to the indian attack what he has done just as brilliantly a couple of times in the past, most memorably, at mohali and karachi. and akmal is not the only pakistani keeper the indians have had trouble against.

during the 80s, the feisty salim yousuf often reserved some of his better performances for india. then, there was the inaugural match of the short-lived, poorly conceived asian test championships in which pakistan were reduced to 6/26 on the first morning only for moin khan to kick-start one of the greatest rearguard actions in the history of cricket and give his team the much-needed fillip to come back and win the test match.

that match, though, is most remembered for a young shoaib akhtar's double strike to castle rahul dravid and sachin tendulkar of consecutive deliveries - oh, how the mighty have fallen - and the disgraceful reaction of the eden crowd to a disputed 'sachin run-out' in the second innings that resulted in the match being completed in front of empty stands. will we see more of the same if kumble's indians contrive to somehow lose this one? in the current climate of commendable bhai-chara and neighbourly love we seriously doubt it.

anyway, the whole point of this trip down memory lane is to...well, point out that such are the problems indian teams have historically had against keepers from across the border. in the light of which, it seems only right that akmal delivered a long overdue big one. after all, it's rare for an indo-pak series to be completed without a notable contribution from a pakistani wicket-keeper.

truth be told, we're glad the simple, unassuming akmal, finally, decided to make his presence felt in a series that was rapidly turning into a terribly one-sided one. thankfully, for the jittery indians, he didn't take it too far. (had india not managed to get rid of akmal just before close of play, they would have had a bit too much to think about.)

the way things stand, it looks likely that india will go on to dismiss the pakistanis for less than 416 and enforce the follow on. (will they? we think yes.) and if they do, the question most indians will be confronted with is what if the two Ys and the ever-consistent misbah fire together? and what if akmal is still not done? will india be left chasing a tricky target on a crumbling fifth day wicket? thanks to akmal, misbah and india, the second test looks poised for a thrilling finish.

the eden crowd, meanwhile, holds on to its projectiles, and hearts, with bated breath.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Ball in India's court

only one team can save this test match. and while this might sound odder than a chinaman to the untrained ear, that team is not pakistan.

after being fortunate enough to have won the toss and batted first on a wicket flatter than a permanently pressed bespoke shirt-front, the home team have left the visitors with the mammoth task of scoring over 400 runs to save the follow-on and the series.

and yet - if only for the purposes of re-iterating how clever we are - it'll be down to india take 20 wickets and save us from enduring a high-scoring snorefest. but for that, they'll have to get past some historically troublesome ifs and Ys.

in the two Ys, younis and yousuf, pakistan have masterful players of spin bowling who, rather surprisingly, missed out at kotla and will be determined to partake of the run-feast the indians have gorged themselves on.

apart from his monumental 267 in bangalore to set up a series levelling win during pakistan tour of india in 2005, younis also made 147 at Kolkata and a pair of centuries during India's trip to Pakistan in 2006. as is clear from his record, his will be a wicket kumble and company will fervently hope they can snaffle soon tomorrow.

yousuf hit nine centuries in 2006, which is a world record for most centuries in a calendar year and also equalled bradman's record of scoring six centuries in successive Tests – although it took him only five matches to do it. he was also among pakistan's top run-getters in the just concluded odis.

it would be foolish on india's part to expect these two big match, big knock badshahs to be as generous as the profligate pakistani bowling attack has been so far.

in addition to the two Ys, regular readers of our views will already know how high an opinion we have of salman butt, who's still there. sadly, for us, our other favoured young guns from pakistan, shoaib malik and shahid afridi are not. good on india.

all this to say, it'll be captain kumble who'll have to do muost of the running in order to find ways to put it across some formidable obstacles that still stand in the way of a series clinching win for team india.

kumble has often said that he finds it much easier to take wickets once the batsmen have put runs on the board. well, we'll see how easy. his batsmen have played their part. it's now up-to kumble, and the other bowlers, to take this match by the...umm, balls and turn it. for if they don't, the two Ys are quite capable of batting their way to what might be a face-saving, series-turning draw.

if pakistan do manage to bat their way out of the hole their half-baked attack has dug them into, they'll go into the next test on a huge high. and we all know what younis khan did the last time these two teams met in bangalore.