Monday, May 19, 2008

Coming soon! Sachin 20.20

If the IPl has proved one thing (apart from the fact that money is sexier than country), it's that the 20-20 version of the game is not beholden to reputations. In one way or another, every one of the 'icon players' has struggled to deliver the goods.

Rahul Dravid has turned out to be an uninspiring leader and a far from fluid presence at the crease. Laxman too has been a diffident captain, a laggard on the field and served up only one good innings for our viewing pleasure. Sourav might well have upped his fielding a notch or two but he has utterly failed to assert himself as a batsman. Plus, he continues to be a very poor runner between the wickets. (Yes Sourav, the selectors are watching.) His captaincy too has come in for some criticism from within his own team. The jury on Sachin though is not yet out. Which gives me an opportunity to do what I enjoy most: take a punt on the road ahead.

I believe Sachin will be the only 'icon player' not to disappoint his fans. And franchise owners. Certainly, what we have seen from the great man so far is not what makes me say so. Far from it. The reason I think Sachin will do more than what his fellow 'icons' have is he brings to the table a set of skills that all the other icons possess only when considered together. In other words, Sachin is three icons for the price of one. Blasphemy? No, stay with me.

Laxman's unquestionable artistry makes him an invaluable presence in any 20-20 team, but his extremely limited fielding skills make him a conspicuous liability. Sourav's best days as a batsman are clearly behind him. His audacious strokeplay has deserted him, alongwith his youth. His bowling is, more often than not, pure cannon fodder. And, of course, he's only marginally better than Misbah when it comes to running between the wickets. Sadly, Sourav the one-day player is but a pale shadow of his youthful, feisty self. His utility as a Test player though is beyond doubt.

Oddly enough, the two great qualities of grit and determination that epitomise Dravid and make him a great player are exactly what make him unsuitable for the shortest form of the game. I believe a batsman like Dravid still has a role to play in the 50-over game - assuming it still survives. But the shortest version of the game needs players who are dynamic, flexible and often cheeky. Not qualities you would easily attribute to a player like Dravid. But I certainly would to an icon like Sachin.

For one, Sachin still has that massive bat and those almost Jayasuriyaesque forearms that allow him to play the lofted shots with a greater degree of ease than any of the other three 'icon players'. Two, he continues to be an excellent judge of the quick single and as a consequence a solid if not spectacular runner between the wickets. He's certainly fitter and faster than both Laxman, Sourav and perhaps even Dravid. Unlike Dravid, Sachin is also a willing and eager player of unorthodox, inventive shots. He can 'tip-and-run'. He can belt the ball. He can caress it through the gaps. He can paddle. He can sweep. He can reverse sweep. He can scoop it over third man. He can even make a mean pasta with a bat. (Well, okay, maybe he's not that hot on the reverse sweep.)

Most of all, no matter how impure the version, Sachin simply enjoys a game ... any game of cricket. And that's why I don't think Sachin will be like the other under-performing assets of the IPL. (Pardon the business language, but like it or not it is a business.)

After a few failures during the last one day series in Australia, they said it was time for Sachin to retire from the 50-over version of the game. And then he went on to win India the finals of the Benson and Hedges series in Australia. They're now saying he's unsuited for the 20-20 version of the game. Bet?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

"Test cricket will hurt IPL" Modi

Feddup with all the talk about how his baby was going to kill Test cricket, Lalit Modi, Commissioner, Dictator and Cheerleader of the IPL launched an inventive broadside against the traditionalist by declaring that 'their' cricket was the one threatening the future of his baby.

Pretending to be not quite sure how this was so, one of his plants in the press box - one of the many granted access by him to ask him questions that make him look good - chirped, "We agree with you, Sir, Lord and Master ... and we know exactly what you mean, but could you please tell the rest what you mean?"

"Oh, it's quite simple," said Modi. "Test cricket is the real thing and the only thing that truly tests a player's temperament,technique and the other 'T' I can't quite recall right now. The more people are fed the longest version of the game, the less they will appreciate the IPL."

"But people don't watch Test cricket, Sir, Lord and Master," squeaked another one of his minions. Looking pleased as punch with this, Modi said, "And we must make sure it stays that way. The less Test cricket they watch, the less they will know what they are missing. It's like what Coca Cola and Pepsi are looking to do ... replace the goodness of natural water with the manufactured crappiness of sugared chemicals.

If you make water easily available and affordable, nobody will want the toxic crap dished out by cola companies. But intoxication is addictive. My cricket is the cola of the cricket world."

Stunned by the marketing genius of Lalit Modi, we trooped out of the press conference meekly sipping the free bottle of Pepsi we were given instead of the glass of water we asked for. Sure, Test cricket will hurt the IPL. But only if it can stop Pepsi. And we all know how slim the chances of that happening are.