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Friday, December 03, 2010

Just noticed that this season's highest run-scorer in the Ranji Trophy Super League is Wasim Jaffer, 32, with 617 from eight innings. Sridharan Sriram, 34 and representing his third state in his 18th season of cricket, is at five in the list. And then, at No 16, but just 120 runs shy of Sriram's 440, is Pankaj Dharmani, 36 and captaining Punjab in his 19th season. A spot below him is Delhi's Mithun Manhas, 31. Connor Williams, 37, is a few places behind Manhas with 291 runs at 48.50. Hemang Badani, 34 and now playing for Haryana, follows with 263 at 43.63 from six innings. Domestic stalwarts Sanjay Bangar and Amol Muzumdar aren't far behind.

Each of these men has been around for a long time; Dharmani would have seen each make his first-class debut and blossom as players. Manhas and Muzumdar aside, each has been called up to the national side. Williams never played an international, but did make it to the Test XI for a match against South Africa which was deemed unofficial as a result of the Mike Denniss row. Dharmani played a solitary ODI in 1996, hardly three years after his Ranji debut; Jaffer got 31 Tests and two ODIs; Sriram eight ODIs; Badani four Tests and 40 ODIs; Bangar was tried for 12 Tests and 15 ODIs.

To see Jaffer still going so strong is a sign of his dedication, ability, experience and perhaps lack of bowling talent. But that would be a disservice to Jaffer's work ethic. His hunger is phenomenal; the Marathi manhoos in him is legendary. He recently said that he could be in the fray for a recall if he kept churning out runs, but we all know that won't happen. The latter, that is. Runs will continue to flow from Jaffer, who now wears a thick beard ala Mohammad Yousuf.

Sriram has gained in years and around the waist, but what he brings to an inexperienced Assam side must be very valuable. Muzumdar has also joined Assam. Lets hope the youngsters around them benefit from the presence of a such domestic veterans, and that Assam as a team progresses up the ranks. Same for Haryana, with Badani a major presence in the middle order. Manhas knows he will never play for India, but still he turns up day in and day out to lead Delhi with dedication. Williams' best days are behind him but the Baroda giant has much to offer his team-mates. Ditto for Bangar, who any domestic veteran will tell is you is one of the most sincere and dedicated players on the circuit.

The day isn't far when some of these names, who I grew up reading about and watching, will hang up their boots and pass on the mantle to the next generation. Hope the journey was worth it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Watching England post 517 for 1 in their second innings at the Gabba showcased that this England could bounce back from adversity at a venue where historically most touring sides have shown a propensity to wilt, but it also further drove home the fact that this Australian team does not have fast bowlers who can deliver under pressure. By the time the players shook hands as the Test ended in a draw, Peter Siddle's six-wicket haul, including a hat-trick, on the first day was completely out of the memory. Instead, images of Siddle, Hilfenhaus, Watson and that most over-rated of fast bowlers, Mitchell Johnson, with their hands on head or hip, looking forlorn, where what remained strongest. Cardiff, Mohali, Melbourne and now Brisbane. Four instances where an Aussie attack failed to take wickets when they had to; each ball and each over resulted in the opposition's confidence increasing and the Australians' falling.

The first man to attract criticism would be Johnson. He seems likeliest to be dropped for Doug Bollinger for the second Test. An 18-ball 0, a dropped catch, and match figures of 0-170; his first wicket-less Test in 39 opportunities. I've never been a big fan of Johnson - look closely and many of his wickets have come off not-so-good deliveries - and he isnt' express pace nor is he as good a swinger of the cricket ball as many point him out to be. His waywardness is too frequent. He vacillates between being good and horrible (last summer, anyone?) but now he just seems confused as to what role he's supposed to be playing: flat-out quick to rough up the batsmen, swing bowler to try and work out the opposition, or defensive bowler?

Johnson drifted the ball onto Strauss and Cook's pads too often, as if off stump were the plague. The bouncer was more tennis-ball fair which the two lefties could pull with ease. There was no movement, and Johnson's pace was well short of what he's capable of.

Ricky Ponting has always backed Johnson, but what does he do now?  Shane Watson said it was silly to focus on Johnson as all the bowlers had struggled for consistency, but Johnson's last five Tests have produced 11 wickets at 55.36. You can always argue that numbers don't define a player, but Australia's management has some serious thinking to do ahead of the Adelaide Test. They need their strike bowler tearing in and hustling the batsmen, repeatedly producing breakthroughs, not kicking the turf in frustration and loping back to his mark.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Is Gautam Gambhir really out of form? The question is being asked, and a few people - MS Dhoni, Gary Kirsten, and Gambhir himself - have spoken about it without really offering any answers.

In 2009 Gambhir amassed 727 runs in five Tests at 90.87. That included four centuries in four Tests. Then he made a silly decision. He opted out of the third and final Test against Sri Lanka at the Brabourne. He had just hit 114 and 167 in the two previous Tests. In 25 Tests leading up to that decision, Gambhir was averaging 77.

Since opting to skip a Test match for his sister's wedding, Gambhir has averaged 24.41 from eight Tests (he's yet to bat in the current Test in Hyderabad). On return in January this year, he began with 23, 116 and 68 against Bangladesh, but since then has scratched around for just 86 runs in five Tests. I understand he picked up an injury during this period as well, and struggled on comeback from that injury, getting out twice in the first over in Galle, but is there something ominous about that decision taken in November last year?

His was the first instance I've heard of an international player skipping a Test to attend his sister's wedding. Sunil  Gavaskar went an entire tour of the West Indies without seeing his son Rohan who was born while he was on tour in New Zealand. Many cricketers have gotten married during the off season. Death, illness and paternity leave, have been accepted in this era. But a sister's marriage? That is unacceptable. We live in an era where even the BCCI, for all its shambolic management, announces dates for matches well in advance; at times even a year in advance. You're telling me Gambhir and his family couldn't have scheduled the wedding after the third Test? And would Gambhir have missed an IPL match to attend his sister's wedding? 

This sets a dangerous precedent. Gambhir wasn't injured, he wasn't fatigued. Test cricket is supposedly the ultimate, but seeing a player skip a match was unpardonable. Forget the injury. The reason for Gambhir's drastic dip in form is a change in mentality. He thought he could do that because there was no one else available to challenge his place in the team. Now he's struggling for runs and has M Vijay, with a century in his last Test innings, looming in the background.

Anshuman Gaekwad, speaking to Mid-Day after Gambhir's decision, had this to say: "Anything can happen in this game. When you are in form - and Gambhir is in great form - it is very dangerous to take a break, however small. You never know... the guy who takes your place might just score a big hundred and you'll struggle to get back."

And that, as they sail, is the proverbial nail on the head. 

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

I quite enjoy not having to to office anymore. I get my work done, and I have some free time to watch cricket (the odd day of a Ranji match, an ODI or Twenty20 live on TV, as well as highlights of random games).

The ODIs in the UAE were exciting, and a great advert for the 50-over game, but I doubt the Tests will be. A two-Test series in the UAE of all places just seems a bit odd. We don't know what the tracks will be like, but we can expect high scores. South Africa v Pakistan is hardly one of the most engrossing rivalries in Test cricket, primarily because there have only been 16 Test matches between the two, with South Africa the dominant side. In fact, of all current Test-playing countries, Pakistan have the worst record against South Africa. In 16 Tests, they've won just thrice and lost eight times for a success rate of 37%.

I jogged my memory trying to recollect some memorable moments in Tests between these two teams, and most of what I could remember were South African highlights. Here are the few that I could recall, and with the help of some scorecards and stats, unfurled a few nuggets that Pakistan fans won't remember too fondly.

1. Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs' monstrous partnership of 368 in 69.2 overs at Newlands in 2003. The two first broke all the possible partnership records for South Africa against Pakistan before passing the 260-run South African first wicket partnership, between Bruce Mitchell and Ivan Siedle against England at the same ground during the 1930/31 season. Next to fall was the 341-run highest South African partnership for any wicket, that set by Eddie Barlow and Graeme Pollock against Australia in Adelaide during the 1963/64 season.

2. Gibbs' 228 from 240 balls in that Newlands massacre is South Africa's highest individual score against Pakistan. He's not playing, and those who remain the Pakistan squad will probably think that a good thing.

3. Fanie de Villiers had a thing for Pakistan batting line-ups. It isn't the best individual bowling analysis in an innings (that record belongs to Paul Adams and his 7 for 28 at Lahore in a losing cause in 2003), but it is perhaps the most memorable. "Superficially, Pakistan looked even more powerful going into the final Test," wrote Wisden in its verdict of the third Test of the 1999 season. Instead, Pakistan imploded and South Africa leveled the series with some ease. Starring was de Villiers, in what he said was his final Test, with his best figures, 6 for 23, to make it 8 for 48 in the match.

4. Not only does he have the best individual bowling analysis for South Africa against Pakistan, de Villiers also has the most for a Test. In a one-off Test in 1995, de Villiers inspired South Africa's biggest ever home victory in terms of runs, while Pakistan surrendered their record of at least one Test victory in their inaugural series against each of their opponents. His 6 for 81 skittled Pakistan for exactly half South Africa's total, and after Cronje chose not to enforce the follow-on, de Villiers was at it again with 4 for 27 to complete a crushing 324-run success.

5. Its not the javelin thrower who leads the way in South Africa v Pakistan wicket-taking prowess, however - its Shaun Pollock (45 at 21.35 apiece), then Ntini (41 at 24.07) and Donald (27 at 22.37). Polly's finest hour against Pakistan came in the third Test at Faisalabad in 1997, on a pitch which Wisden said "looked positively emerald by Pakistan's standards". By bundling Pakistan out for 92 on the fourth day, South Africa took the series stunningly. At stumps on the third evening, Pakistan were 4 for 0 needing 142 in two days. The next morning it was all Pollock, and a thrilling win was sealed quite against the run of play. Wisden described it thus: "Then Pollock, bowling with impeccable discipline to a specific plan for each batsman, took four in seven balls. The batsman played like rabbits but Pollock became the headlights which paralysed them. Lunch was taken at 79 for six - "I don't know how they felt," said Pollock, "but we couldn't eat a thing. We all just sat, staring at the clock, willing the minutes to go by. . ." "

6. One of the most frustrating innings against Pakistan has to be Pat Symcox's only Test century, at The Wanderers in 1998. Symcox became the first No 10 batsman to score a Test century for 96 years, and with Mark Boucher he put on ninth-wicket partnership to 195, a Test record, on the second day of the first Test. Symcox, 37, and Boucher, 21, - the oldest and youngest members of the side - beat the 190 set by Asif Iqbal and Intikhab Alam for Pakistan against England at the Oval in 1967. As if facing Symcox bowl wasn't boring enough, Pakistan had to watch him bat his way to a century. Those present during that match probably don't remember it too fondly.

Friday, November 05, 2010

The most intriguing aspect of tomorrow's play will be how Brendon McCullum applies himself. He's done really well to get himself to 38 from 75 balls at stumps, but with New Zealand needing to avert the follow-on, he's going to really have to outdo himself. Having given up wicketkeeping in Tests to concentrate on his batting, he really has no option but deliver. Touring India is tough, and given that he's never played a Test here before, and the psychological impact of the 4-0 hammering in Bangladesh, McCullum has his work cut out.

McCullum, at 29, is something of a father figure in the squad, but needs to perform like one. Having given up wicketkeeping to concentrate on increasing his batting average, McCullum has to deliver no matter where he bats. His naturally aggressive ways haven’t always worked, most noticeably in Sri Lanka last year, where a little over a year ago, sitting in Colombo, I wrote this about McCullum.

Since then, he's averaged about 50 in Test cricket batting at No's 6 and 7. Now, after requesting he be shunted up the order, McCullum has a chance to prove he can deliver as a senior statesman on a very difficult tour. He also has to shed the image of a dasher. To succeed in India you have to get down and dirty. That's the key. The most successful non-Asian batsmen here have been those with the ticker for battle: Andy Flower and Matthew Hayden in 2000-01, Damien Martyn and Michael Clarke in 2004, and Michael Hussey and Strauss in 2008.

McCullum needs to become patient and rein in his attacking instincts. Too often he's been guilty of throwing away his wicket with an over-ambitious shot. Too often it appears he's done that not because of an inclination to dominate, but because of poor judgment when he's getting carried away. McCullum's technique is not set up to block, nudge and accumulate but he has to evaluate himself on this tour, and tomorrow could dictate the course of his series.

In the subcontinent, overseas batsmen have often been found wanting in proper footwork against spinners. Having to stretch far forward to try and suffocate the turn, coincidentally having to be prepared to rock back and cut, is a tough task and then there is the need to produce the sweep shot. McCullum cut and pulled well today, and his defense was also very impressive. He's shown patience today, but tomorrow the real challenge will be to curb his natural game for a longer period. Not so much that he bats in a way that is alien to him, but enough to show his team-mates and critics that he's not going without a fight.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Poor attack aside, Virender Sehwag's 199-ball 173 today was a masterclass on how to bat on a slow and low wicket. It was an innings that Sachin Tendulkar would have been proud of, having played many such gems the first half of his career. But it was so very different from any Tendulkar innings.

Its been so long since people viewed Sehwag as a Tendulkar clone. In his early days, from the time he batted alongside the master in his debut Test, Sehwag was labeled The New Tendulkar. His idolization of Tendulkar aside, the stance, grip, backlift and shot selection was eerily similar. When they opened together against England the ODI series of 2002, many found it difficult to differentiate. There was even a chase in that series when the pair seemed to be trying to outdo each other, shot for shot. If Tendulkar drove on the up past extra cover, Sehwag repeated the shot with more ferocity. If Sehwag clipped off his toes, Tendulkar outdid him for sheer panache and placement as if to say hang on, that's my shot.

Sehwag is an artist as much as Tendulkar is, but today there are differences in their styles. Tendulkar innings are studies of character. Sehwag's innings are studies of plot. Indeed, you could say he's an artist of plot.

This is both Sehwag's brilliance and his weakness. Sehwag can frustrate as much as he can thrill. In the same match he can scythe through an attack on the opening morning en route to a rollicking century. In the second innings he can flash at the first ball and nick to second slip. His centuries are most often like a madcap Glasgow pub crawl: it makes you elated in the moment and sorry when its over. His oeuvre encompasses the gamut from sublime to suspect, and there is much to be frustrated about. There is no denying his extreme popularity the world over. He is the most fascinating cricketer going around today. His willingness to laugh at himself only adds to his likeable character.

Sunil Gavaskar, on air today, said he thought Sehwag often got bored after crossing a quick century and that he should put his mind to sorting out ways to play the short delivery better. I disagree. Sehwag's beauty is that independent-minded aesthetic; he wants to entertain. Any ideas that pop up about his technique or conditions or the bowler running in are secondary.

To see him signal a free hit today after Chris Martin overstepped, and then nonchalantly drive the next ball for four, was to appreciate him for what he is. A maverick, a free spirit.
Have uploaded PDFs of my recent interview with Daniel Vettori, published in the November issue of ASM, which is now available at news stands across India.

You can view the article in three parts ... here, here, and here. Sorry its not in one PDF. I'm a bit technologically challenged.

Comments, etc welcomed.      


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

New Zealand are in the country after a 0-4 ODI whitewash in Bangladesh, and they're not carrying a lot of confidence or numbers going into the three-Test series. Apart from the sheer weight of experience, runs and wickets that separates India from the tourists, what stands out is the ability to bat in pairs and to do so for long periods. A glimpse at the two teams' records over the past 12 months is enough to suggest a lop-sided contest. 

In the past 12 months of Test cricket, India's record of batting partnerships is outstanding. Twenty times have pairings crossed 100 and eight have passed the 200-mark. Once even the 300-run threshold (Tendulkar and Vijay's 308 against Australia in Bangalore) was passed.

The two men most likely to feature in a century-plus stand is Tendulkar. Not surprising, given the form he's been in over the last 12 months. Of the 20 century-plus stands, Tendulkar features in eight. Sehwag has had a hand in seven such alliances, Laxman five.

The bulk of these partnerships are clustered around the third, fourth and fifth wickets, which is very encouraging. That shows the strength of the middle order, and the ability to deliver on the occasion when the top order hasn't done a whole lot. The four century-plus opening stands have predictably been dominated by Sehwag. An unbeaten 259-run stand between Dhoni and Laxman, India's second best this past year, came for the seventh wicket. Sufficed to say, batting in pairs isn't a real concern for India.

Compare this to New Zealand. There are just five century-plus partnerships - three for the sixth wicket and one for the seventh. McCullum features in four of the five: 339 for the sixth wicket with Guptill (New Zealand's best stand over the last 12 months), 176 for the sixth wicket with Vettori, 164 with Vettori for the seventh wicket, and 126 for the sixth wicket with Vettori. That's three times that Vettori has had to bat deep for his team's cause. None of the top five collaborations have come from the top of the batting order. New Zealand's best opening stand was an unbeaten 90 between McIntosh and Watling against Pakistan in Napier when a result was improbable. The best for the second wicket was a paltry 50 between McIntosh and Ingram against Bangladesh in Hamilton, while the highest for the third wicket was 117 between Guptill and Taylor against Pakistan in Dunedin.

India's top ten partnerships weight in at a hefty 2374 runs as compared to New Zealand's 1357. That's a whopping 57% more.

Individually, over the past two years India are also streets ahead of New Zealand. India have scored 34 centuries as opposed to New Zealand's 13, with three double-centurions compared to Ryder's 201 against India.

I'm particularly interested in following Tendulkar against New Zealand, against whom he managed just 71 runs in four innings when they toured here seven years ago. He's got a good record against New Zealand (1,406 runs in 19 Tests at an average of more than 52) and in 2010, Tendulkar has scored 1,270 runs in nine Tests at an average of 97.69. If you want some spending money for Vegas, have a little wager on Tendulkar scoring that elusive triple century in the month of November.

India's top 10 partnerships in Tests: Nov 2009 - Nov 2010

Tendulkar & Vijay       308      vs Australia (Bangalore)
Dhoni & Laxman         259*    vs South Africa (Kolkata)
Raina & Tendulkar      256      vs Sri Lanka (Colombo)
Sehwag & Tendulkar   249      vs South Africa (Kolkata)
Dravid & Sehwag        237      vs Sri Lanka (Mumbai)
Gambhir & Sehwag     233      vs Sri Lanka (Kanpur)
Dhoni & Dravid          224       vs Sri Lanka (Ahmedabad)
Dravid & Tendulkar    222*     vs Bangladesh (Dhaka)
Sehwag & Vijay          221      vs Sri Lanka (Mumbai)
Sehwag & Vijay          165      vs Sri Lanka (Colombo)

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Spent a couple hours at the MCA ground today watching the Ranji Trophy match between Mumbai and Saurashtra. About the only moment of excitement was when Rohit Sharma, after a long session at the nets, took over a photographer's camera and began shooting shots of us journalists sitting in the press enclosure.

The cricket, to say the least, was mind-numbingly dull and that is because of the nature of the wicket. How can Indian cricket survive when the curators are happy to produce such benign surfaces? Ajit Agarkar, will all due respect to his batting prowess that earned him a Lord's Test century, and 20-year-old left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdulla, career batting average of 21.64, with a previous best of 30*, should not have been able to bat like Ponsford and Woodfull. Abdulla was steering, cutting and deflecting with such ease and regularity. There was nothing in the wicket for the bowlers, and Ravindra Jadeja deserves a medal for managing four wickets on that track. Abdulla was unbeaten on 150 - 150!! - when Mumbai declared at 580 for 9.

Why can't Indian curators lay pitches that provide a fair degree of bounce? Ask anyone in the know and their response will most always be unsuitability of the soil and interference by captains and host associations. But how long will curators offer these excuses? Why are there but three sporting five-day wickets in the country? To me, the root of the cause is that typical 'sab chaltha hai' attitude. So deep is the malaise that now few can attempt to change anything. There is no other excuse. The BCCI isn't short of money. Is the pitches committee such a threat to administrators of state associations? How can state associations demand wickets of their own liking? 

One suggestion, not a solution, would be to scrap the home and away system currently in place. This has been suggested by others at the highest level but to no avail. This should be done for both the Super and Plate leagues. Have matches at neutral venues where pitces are not doctored according to the preference of a captain, coach or board official. 

In most grounds across the country, the honorary curator is an elected position within that respective state associations. Many are qualified, but not all. It is those who lack the necessary experience or skills that is killing domestic cricket. In countries such as England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, the curator is a professional position; the individual has graduated to level of education in cricket pitch management.

The BCCI and its various state associations need to implement a structure in which new curators are trained. The legion of geriatrics in existence need support and ideally need to be replaced. A system is in place, of that I know, but the pitches committee needs to work harder on formalized training of junior curators. The system must run deep.

What kid today will want to become a bowler if he watches the kind of cricket that was on view at the MCA ground today?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Gimme a D!

OK, so India jumped on the disco train a few years late. But Bappi Lahiri and Mithun made up for it. This was the era before cable television and the internet, and so granted it took a while for LPs of Abba and the Bee Gees to reach Bombay and into Bappi da's fat, gold-laden fingers. Once he did, the 80s were never the same. And his crowning glory was 1982's Disco Dancer, with Mithun in his career-defining role.

Awesomely bad songs with even more awesomely bad choreography. Everything glitters and flashes. In case you weren't blinded by the excess silver and white costumes, the "chew chew chew" laser effects sure did. Even Liberace would have hid for cover. Flashing lights, mirrors, shiny disco balls, skintight (male and female) costumes and stiletto white boots are the norm here. Only Mithun could make Disco Nite an event where men and women aged 18 to 88 could all clap and sway in unison while he dazzled them with his headgear and footwork on stage. Is your eight-year old daughter bored of the usual Saturday evening routine of Snakes & Ladders or Antakshari? Well then come on down to your nearest auditorium and let Jimmy put a smile on her face and a twist to her hips? And don't worry, even Nani and Nana can join in for some wholesome family entertainment.

If you've seen Disco Dancer, you know what I'm talking about. If you've not, you're missing something. If you're hesitant, here are 18 (the age this film will make you feel again) reasons to go get a copy of this movie, apart from the obvious - that Mithun can dance, that Bappi da's music rocked, and that disco will never die.

1. An aging and overweight Rajesh Khanna grimace his way through 'Goro ki naa kaalon ki' and the kid playing Mithun as a kid strumming that miniature guitar like there's no tomorrow while lip-synching  to Usha Mangeshkar. (I have to add here that sitting in a little seafood joint in Galle after covering a day's Test cricket, and looking up to see this very song dubbed in Sinhalese comes very close to a liberating experience, but the original Hindi version is the best).
2. Mithun's Jimmy dancing down a bridge and getting discovered by Om Puri's David Brown, who just happens to be standing under a streetlight waiting for the next dancing sensation to hot-step into town.
3. Tun Tun as the Catholic bride about to marry a little person. About the only intentional comedic scene in the film.

4. Kim, that vintage 80s bombshell who was never far from Mithun's arms and who became Danny's woman.She definitely ain't Lil and she most definitely ain't no Kardashian, this desi dhamaka. Note the scene in which, smitten by our hero's humility rather than his song and dance routine, she comes to reconcile. "Autograph book kahan hai?" asks Jimmy, to which Kim puts a finger to her rosy red lips and pouts suggestively. Or the scene in which, clad in very short denim shorts, she helps Jimmy start walking again on the beach. Medical marvels be damned, those legs could have made crippled men leap into the Bay of Bengal.
5. The West Side Story-inspired snap-fight scene. Dude, don't ever smash Mithun's guitar. He'll snap-fu your ass right there.
6. Jimmy, in a daze because of Guitarphobia (best medical jargon in Hindi cinema since lymphosarcoma of the intestine. Any coincidence that Kaka was in both films?) on stage in a poncho. A poncho. Yes, a poncho. No, really, a poncho.
7. Om Puri as David Brown. Still can't figure out what he was doing in this film. Must ask him someday.
8. David Brown, after Sammy throws a glass of wine in his face, wiping himself and telling an apologetic Nikki: "Its alright, kid." Listening, Mr Bogart?
9. Karan Razdan's Sammy - on debut - and Kalpana Iyer's Nikki gyrating to 'Auva Auva, Koi Yahaan Naache' - a blatant rip-off of 'Video Killed The Radio Star'. Shiny silver costumes? Check. Shiny headbands, male and female, to match? Check. Pointy silver boots, male and female? Check. Awkward dance moves? Check. Fans going wild? Check. All that glitters is not gold, let me tell you. Bang Bang!
10. Sammy cutting a phone call between Nikki and her father David Brown by pressing down on the receiver with his toe. Umm, now that's a moment in world cinema, Vidhu Vinod Chopra.
11. Jimmy in that garish winged costume dancing to the tunes of 'Krishna Dharti Pe Aaja Tu', sung by the one and only Nandu Bhende. It took a while to grown on me, but what a trippy song. Salaam.
12. The scene just after the 'Krishna' song where David Brown shouts: "Jimmy, YOU HAVE DONE IT!" and Bombay is instantly consumed with Jimmy fever: Jimmy ice cream! Jimmy chocolate! Jimmy fabrics! Jimmy T-shirts and perfumes!
13. As part of the same montage, the scene where a husband and wife are shown lying in bed. The husband, thinking his wife, is asleep, turns around and from under his pillow takes out a picture of a bikini-clad bimbette and kisses it. The wife, waiting until the husband closes his eyes, takes out a picture of Jimmy and kisses it. A true WTF moment.

14. Good ol' Bob Christo's entrance. Hired Goon 1 is sitting with Nasty Rich Father. Looking toward the bar, HG 1 says to NRF: "Oberoi sahab, yehi woh aadmi hai. Saala saath khoon kiye hai London mein. Aur ek bahut bada singer hai. Apan ko uska naam nahin maloom. Uska bhi issi ne khoon kiya. Saala top ka criminal hai." NRF pulls on his cigarette and looks ahead very intently. Cut to Bob, who turns around from the bar, scotch in hand, dressed fully in skintight black (turtle neck, mind you) and shades, and walks into the frame.
15. Bob's legendary "Iski taangein tod do" line. You'll go weak in the knees.
16. The world-famous in India "Internationalntie Of Dance Competition" (Yes, that's what the sign says) at the climax where, drum roll, the superbly named "Disco King & Queen Of Africa," who appear to be a Kenyan law student with loose motions and a stoned air hostess.
17. The scene in which NRF sees his heroin-injecting collapse son Sammy at his feet and doesn't so much as flinch. Instead he mutters to the camera as it zooms in, vowing that he won't let anything happen to Sammy. Bhai, baap ho toh aise.
18. The Guitar of Death. I won't say more, except that it's a shocker. No pun intended.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

'Tis the season of XIs, with the pick of the lot being Andy Zaltzman’s list of an attractive but useless XI, which you can have a chuckle over here . With a bit more time on my hands now that I’ve quit my job, I’ve put some thought into an XI of random cricketers who grabbed my attention but ultimately ended up being, at best, footnotes in the glorious game’s history. You may argue that a few on this list don’t even deserve a footnote tag, but this was done primarily through the veil of nostalgia of a time lapsed by. And who doesn’t like reminiscing?

So, here we go …

1. Ali Naqvi I was in my junior year of high school and following the first Test between Pakistan and South Africa in Rawalpindi through the daily reports in the newspaper. The reports of a 20-year-old debutant batsman, Ali Naqvi, were very promising. This was the first batsman to score a Test century on debut that I had the opportunity to follow from the start, and I read up whatever I could on Naqvi. This was 1997 and the Internet had yet to properly arrive at school in Mussoorie, mind you. The reports in the papers, and later Sportstar, described a technically correct batsman who played nice and straight, and who stood up to South Africa’s pace attack where others failed. He batted 353 minutes for his 115, apparently playing mainly off the front foot and with a range of handsome strokes. I was happy for the guy, especially because he’d hardly played any first-class cricket. But then he failed to cross 30 in eight innings and was never turned to again. Last heard, Naqvi was enjoying himself in the obscurity of Thatcham Town in the Thames Valley League.

2. Gagan Khoda You just had to feel sorry for Khoda. Heaps of runs at junior level; a century on Ranji Trophy debut; loads of runs on the domestic scene. Then he was called up as replacement for an injured Tendulkar during a tri-series at home in 1998, scored 89 against Kenya, picked up the Man-of-the-Match award, and was promptly dropped. I watched that entire 89 and it wasn’t a flashy innings. But it was composed and he handled pace and spin well, so there was evidence to suggest he had it in him to succeed. But nope, that was the last we saw of Khoda in blue.

3. Mathew Sinclair When I logged onto Cricinfo a couple days after Christmas 1999, the main story was of a debutant New Zealand batsman who had taken a double century off West Indies. I didn’t get a glimpse of this phenomenon called Mathew Sinclair (dull name, keeping with New Zealand tradition) until he had collected another double ton and a 150 in his first 12 Tests. He wasn’t nearly as commanding or fluent as I had imagined he would be, perhaps because at this stage he was creaking from the burden of expectation, and he was a walking wicket against Australia in 2001. Thirty-three Tests over ten and a half years say a lot. 

4. Rob Key More than a cricketer, especially a top-order batsman, Key looked like that fat kid from fifth grade that nicked your tuck and was always hanging around at the baker’s stall. But there was also something endearing about a rosy-cheeked, roly-poly batsman who didn’t emote much at the crease. I watched his debut series against India and then followed his career over the winter when he was part of the Ashes tour. He didn’t do much at home or in Australia, but there was a sparky 47 in another lost cause that forced Steve Waugh to comment: "He doesn't give a shit about much and is real relaxed. I like that in a bloke; it stops him getting overawed." When I next saw Key he was biffing West Indies all over Lord’s for a pretty sweet double-century, but six Tests later he was gone.  And with it the last portly batsman of the modern era.

5. HD Ackerman Long before he moved to Grace Road and began churning out runs in county cricket, Ackerman debuted for South Africa against Pakistan in Durban in February 1998. Son of the former Northamptonshire batsman of the same name, he plodded forward efficiently for much of his debut innings of 57 from 155 deliveries from No 4. I watched most of that innings on a tiny TV in the Himalayas, interspersed with a few eight-over tennis ball matches outside, and what I remember most is how at ease Ackerman looked just keeping bat and pad together in monotony. There was the odd square-drive off Mushtaq Ahmed, but overall it was a resourceful innings of patience and grit where Ackerman didn’t offer a stroke. Facing Muttiah Muralitharan turned out to be an altogether tougher situation, however, and Ackerman’s international career was over three weeks later.

6. Gavin Hamilton Who doesn't have a soft spot for the underdog? Having rooted for Hamilton's Scotland during the 1999 World Cup, I was happy to hear that he'd been included in England's Test squad to tour South Africa. This was a major achievement for an Associate player, and I was very interested to see if Hamilton would be picked for one of the Tests. Sure enough, he got his debut. And it was a horrible one. Hamilton bagged a pair and was never even remotely considered for England selection. Not even remotely.

7. Chris Read Has one freak dismissal ever haunted a man more? Sitting in Mussoorie, I watched Read duck into a slow yorker from Chris Cairns and get bowled, and shook my head in disbelief. Countless replays later I still wondered what the guy had been thinking, and to this day Read probably does too. He came into the England team with a lot of respect for his wicketkeeping but somehow never convinced with the bat. Read’s glovework really was, and still is from whatever I see of him in county cricket, smooth and at times brilliant to watch. It all seemed so easy when he was behind the stumps. Singled out by Duncan Fletcher as a flawed ‘keeper – after no less than Rodney Marsh rated Read as the best English stumper he had seen since Alan Knott - Read has barely warranted a mention since his last Test, in 2007.

8. Niroshan Bandaratilleke His name, Mapa Rallalage Chandima Niroshan Bandaratilleke, was enough to get me taking a good look at this slow left-arm spinner when he made his debut. New Zealand were touring Sri Lanka and I was discovering the joys of ball-by-ball commentary on the Internet. MRCN Bandaratilleke had the Kiwis in a fix in just his second Test, spinning out nine wickets. His picture appeared in the Hindu during one of those five days and I saw a scrawny little chap celebrating a wicket with much gusto. I didn’t hear much more of him thereafter, except that he was the middle wicket of a Wasim Akram hat-trick during a Test in Pakistan the following year. Not much was heard of MRCN later.

9. Franklyn Rose I won’t forget Rose decimating India at Sabina Park. He was raw alright, but he was quick and mean. At that time it took some skill to clean up Tendulkar, but Rose did it during his 6 for 100 on debut, which earned him the Man-of-the-Match award, and backed that up with seven wickets in the third Test. This was when Ian Bishop was dwindling through injury and so it was genuinely believed that Rose was the man to take over from Walsh and Ambrose. But alas, that was not the case. His dip started soon after his feats against India, in the form of a fine by the WICB over an outstanding hotel bill, and by 2000 Rose was forgotten.

10. Dean Headley Sharing a birthday has nothing to do with my interest in Dean Warren Headley. This Headley, son of Ronald Headley and grandson of West Indian legend George Headley, came into prominence at around the time I took to following England seriously. He had the height (6’5”) and decent pace, and after a remarkable eight wickets on Test debut it seemed England were onto something. This was, after all, the decade in which England’s assembly line of fast bowlers included Neil Mallender, Mark Ilott, Peter Martin, Steve Watkin, Paul Jarvis, Martin McCague, Joey Benjamin, Tim Munton, Alan Igglesden, Paul Taylor, Neil Williams, Mike Smith, Neil Foster, Simon Brown, Phil Newport and David Lawrence. Sitting in Dhaka of all places, I watched Headley decimate a strong Australian line-up in the fourth Test of the 1998 Ashes, and it was truly an astonishing display. He was almost unplayable, and just seemed so perfect in that role. Given his talent, it is a surprise that he did not play more than 15 Tests (60 wickets, strike-rate 50.4) for England. But full marks for trying.

11. Anthony StuartAnthony Kaun Hai?’ wasn’t about this man, but it would be an apt name for a film if ever it were to be made. I spent many a winter’s morning waking up to watch cricket relayed from Australian summers, and of the many Carlton & United Series matches I watched, the most abiding memory is of a beanpole Anthony Mark Stuart taking a hat-trick against Pakistan at the MCG. And then I never saw him again. His run-up was smooth, the release almost mechanical, and on this particular day his pace and bounce did for Ijaz Ahmed, Moin Khan and Mohammad Wasim. The Wisden verdict: “As a teenager, he was a wicket-keeper, but found his niche in bowling history when Moin Khan edged a perfectly pitched leg-cutter to slip, and he finished with five for 26.” They forgot to add that Stuart never played for Australia again, and that within 12 months was released by his state side.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Shane Bond's new book is due out. Worth reading, I'd imagine. I only saw Bond play once live, in a poor Champions Trophy match against Sri Lanka at the Brabourne in 2006. He didn't bowl very well, and Sanath Jayasuriya played a couple trademark whips and flicks off him, even as my father, seated next to me, grimaced and urged Stephen Fleming to keep a square third man for Jayasuriya.

That disappointing day did nothing to take away the effect of the man. I had followed his career from the time I read he was a former constable, and when I first saw him on TV it was evident he was fast. And that he could move a cricket ball. Swing has always fascinated me and seeing Bond make the ball talk against a struggling Indian batting line-up on a blustery Wellington morning was something special. The way he ran in, all fluidity and grace with that purist's action, was mesmerizing and a bit frightening. And I was sitting in the US watching it on the Internet. The yorker that did for Dravid was outstanding.

Most of my Bond viewing was during college and on the Internet. I will never forget his World Cup achievements (17 wickets), and that awesome display at Port Elizabeth, a match New Zealand had no business losing. Ball after ball, over after over, Bond ran in and terrorized the Aussies. Hayden, Gilchrist, Ponting and Martyn were hopping, missing and nicking. Bond always saved his best for Australia.

Shame that Bond missed twice as many matches as he played for New Zealand. Could have been one of New Zealand's greats.

While in Sri Lanka last year, I had written this diary entry on watching Bond bowl in the nets on the eve of his New Zealand comeback. It is a memory I will always cherish.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Cricket is at first and foremost a dramatic spectacle. It belongs with the theater, ballet, opera and the dance." So wrote CLR James. James never got a chance to see Virender Sehwag bat, but if he had, he would have decreed Sehwag's batting as one of the greatest pieces of evidence for that statement.

Another channel-flipping session last night. Of the lot, Sehwag at the MCG in 2003-04 was by far the best. Audacious innings. Sehwag is a spectacle. There is no better word to describe him. He provides the theatrics day in an day out, be it by slicing a short ball over third man for six in the first half hour of a Test match, pinching a frenzied single to move to 93 in the over before lunch, or by moving to 300 with a six. A twinkle-toed drive off a spinner through extra cover is to behold beauty. A similar shot against a fast bowler, on dancing feet, is to submit yourself.

Sehwag isn't all ferocity. Even in picking up a single he can be audacious. But it is his nonchalant determination and ability to score in any condition that sets Sehwag apart. His batting against Sri Lanka, albeit on a flat track, at the Brabourne in late 2009 was of a different world. My father, who sat in the stands during that phenomenal innings, said it was the best batting he'd seen live since Tendulkar's double-century for Mumbai against the Australians at that same ground in 1998.

Ian Chappell, who once termed Sehwag "the greatest destroyer since the U-boat", has his three S theory of Sehwag, others have created a terminology. In 2008 Sehwag's Test strike rate was 85; in 2009 he scored his Test runs at over a run a ball. After Bradman, only Sehwag has crossed 290 more times in a Test.

"The moment I hit two or three boundaries in an over, they spread the field. If you are lucky, if I make a mistake, then I will get out," he said in that customary matter-of-fact manner during the Sri Lanka Tests this past summer. 

Today, a typical field for Sehwag will include a deep point, fine leg, square third man and leg gully. The ball will be banged in at his ribs. He will hop across and work the ball of his hips. Most times it will fetch him runs. Sometimes he will find the man at deep square leg. Many time she will upper-cut the ball deliberately in front of that deep point fielder.

There was a time when Sehwag didn't get that left foot across in the line of the ball. He would go hard at the full and inswinging deliveries on middle and off or thereabouts. He would most likely stay beside the line instead of getting behind it. Today he gets inside it a lot more. He isn't as susceptible outside off anymore. He plays a lot more on-side shots. He admits he isn't a good hooker or puller, but he's made his own ways of scoring.

That he puts away length deliveries on the rise, with disdain and regularity, is another matter. Sehwag doesn't hurry to get to the ball, rather he hangs in his crease with a bit of a movement back. His bat speed is terrific, much like Adam Gilchrist's and Mark Waugh's, and it is that lack of footwork that actually allows him to negotiate reverse swing. Rarely is he cramped when going for the ball. If he is, he relies on that same bat speed and ferocity of wrists.

Sehwag has had to battle a few demons along the way. He has had his ODI woes and short-pitched woes. But he has always come back hard, worked on his shortcomings, and trusted his instincts. Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka have most recently tried all sorts of tactics. At times they have succeeded, but most likely Sehwag has come out on top. Most recently he was the target of a bouncer barrage in Bangalore and fell to the trap, but it made for fascinating viewing. And you know Sehwag will have his revenge of Australia. That's what is so endearing about the man. He won't give in.

When he knows its going to come at him short, Sehwag goes deep. He doesn't shy away from pulling in front of square. There will be days it doesn't come off. But that's the rush of watching Sehwag bat. Technique is irrelevant.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Of technique and television

Indian television is great for cricket. Not if you're typing the ball-by-ball commentary for Cricinfo and an ad cuts off a bowler's celebration after a wicket, but in terms of how much cricket it shows and how consistently. Yesterday afternoon, flipping through channels, I was able to choose from highlights of an ODI between India and Australia  in Indore in 2001, another between South Africa and Zimbabwe from last week, Dravid and Laxman batting India toward victory in the famous Adelaide Test of 2003-04, Sri Lanka beating New Zealand at the Brabourne in 2006 (an ODI I happened to watch live), Somerset's facile win over Derbyshire in last season's Twenty20 Cup quarter-finals, and Matthew Wade's maiden limited-overs century against Western Australia in a Ryobi Cup fixture from over the weekend. An overdose, surely, many would say.

But flipping through every format of the game, with different teams going at it in different countries and conditions, allowed me the chance to see so many different styles and techniques within the span of a few clicks.

 There was the masterful: a Tendulkar straight drive between the bowler and mid-on and a flick over backward square leg. There was the orthodox: Dravid and Laxman crisply driving and flicking the feared pace duo of Brad Williams and Andy Bichel, interspersed with the odd shot of a water-tight forward defensive. There was the ugly: Graeme Smith stabbing at the ball violently and inside-edging Shingarai Masakadza past square leg. There was the effortless: an in-form Hashim Amla punching length balls on the up past cover. There was the modern day orthodox: Craig Kieswetter making room and lofting spin inside-out over extra cover for six. And there was the totally unorthodox: Wade paddling a fast bowler for four and Trego connecting hard on a reverse sweep.

I've always enjoyed watching the different techniques on view, especially the more unorthodox. Sehwag and Trescothick are my two faves. They are testament to the fact that footwork counts for little when you are blessed with amazing hand-eye coordination, sweet timing, and a whole lotta self confidence. My main gripe with Trescothick's otherwise endearing autobiography, Coming Back To Me, was that he didn't allow the reader into his style of batting and how he honed it. Would have been fascinating to find out whether he was coached on his batting, or if people tried to correct his footwork. But that's another story for another day.

After Sehwag and Trescothick, the most successful current batsman not to have great foot work is Graeme Smith. How he has scored so many runs despite a problem with the moving ball delivered from left-handers - especially Zaheer Khan - and such an ungainly approach is a bit baffling, given he isn't nearly as sweet a timer of the ball as the aforementioned duo. He doesn't bring the bat down from second slip, as the coaching manuals want you to. Instead he brings it down from gully, and then relies on his wrists to jab at the ball and work it away anywhere from square leg to mid-on. He manages to keep the bat face straight very regularly as well. Its makes for fascinating viewing, especially when Smith bats for long periods.

As I flipped, I came across Fleming, another left-hand batsman who didn't bring the bat down in the more accepted way, and who also looked a bit awkward at the crease. He had a higher back lift than Smith, and used to get out a lot of times lbw to left-armers, most noticably Chaminda Vaas. In that Brabourne match, the commentators were talking of how many times Vaas had nailed Fleming and, as if on cue, Fleming walked across his stumps and was out for 10-ball duck. Same routine: the bat came down angled instead of straight and as Fleming tried to stand tall and on-drive he was late and beaten by the movement. Bringing the bat down from somewhere near point once again got him in trouble.

It was a fascinating half hour of flipping back and forth and seeing a range of batting techniques. Yes, I need a life, I know.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Class will out?

The last post on unfulfilled talent lead me to think about the small and select band of Indian cricketers who lorded over the domestic circuit but never played for their country.

Here’s the list I came up with:

KP Bhaskar With more than 5000 runs at an average of 52.84 in 95 first-class matches, and being the Indian Cricketer of the Year in 1989, Bhaskar was perennially close to earning the India cap. Between 1983 and 1989, he averaged close to 70.00 with 13 centuries. But, as he once told me, he just wasn’t destined to play for India.

Rajinder Goel In a domestic career that began with Punjab in 1958-59 and ended with Haryana in 1984-85, Goel took a record 640 wickets in the Ranji Trophy. Apart from one unofficial Test against Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1964-65, he never represented his country. His 640 wickets from 123 matches at a stunning average of 17.15 is a record unlikely to be broken.

Amarjeet Kaypee With 7,623 runs and 27 hundreds in Ranji cricket, a Ranji record for nine years, Kaypee retired in 2000 without once being called up to represent India.

Amol Muzumdar Another domestic giant, Muzumdar broke Kaypee’s Ranji record on November 6, 2009. That he wasn't wearing his beloved Mumbai cap when he did so tells his tale. Muzumdar was one of the many middle-order batsmen born in the wrong era, that of Azharuddin, Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly. He began his first-class career with an unbeaten 260 and stacked up runs for Mumbai season after season, winning seven Ranji titles.

Padmakar Shivalkar Like Goel, the Mumbai left-arm spinner, was unlucky to be bowling in an era when India’s Famous Four. Even 589 first-class wickets and several Ranji Trophy titles couldn’t get Shivalkar into the national side.

Uday Joshi Another spinner to be completely overshadowed by the great quartet. Took 577 first-class wickets for Saurashtra, Gujarat and Sussex.

Sarkar Talwar The former Haryana offspinner’s first-class career spanned 21 years and he is a very respectable name in the league of Indian spinners, being the second highest wicket-taker in Ranji cricket.

Ashish Winston Zaidi Domestic cricket’s own Amar Akbar Anthony consistently delivered over his first-class career as a pace bowler for UP yet was always overlooked. His 348 wickets were second only to Madan Lal’s 351 for pace bowlers in the Ranji Trophy.

Anand Shukla One of only a few domestic players with over 3,000 runs and 300 wickets in Ranji cricket, he looked on as his brother Rajesh played one Test.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Limitless talent? Limits of talent?

This post on Cricinfo about Owais Shah and the limits of talent made me chuckle. Another hero has fallen. Or so another cricket romantic would like you to believe. The Brits, in particular, like to talk (a lot) about sports and can talk about practically any player, match, manager, coach, physiotherapist, ball boy, bus driver and ticket vendor with equal ferocity and passion and disbelief. I have read, seen and heard this on many an occasion. Brit sports fans love to dissect and analyze, but most of all - apart from wallowing in their room temperature beer and feeling sad about themselves - they like to romanticize the failed genius. There is no greater example of this than Mark Ramprakash. The batsman, not the dancer.

Each April, as the winter gives way to spring - well, not spring, but a somewhat overcast and gloomy summer - and the bats and balls come out, talk of Ramps reaches a crescendo. How many centuries this season? Will he help Surrey avoid relegation? Surely, now that he's past 40, a recall is due? Will he catch Osama? Can he resuscitate the global economy? Folks, he was never going to be recalled for The Oval Test.

Ed Smith, another batsman from whom much was expected, summarized Ramprakash's dilemma succinctly:  "The clouds of professionalism descended, and viewing what he did as a job made Ramprakash less good at doing it." Simple. Shut it, move on. The Ballad of Mark Ramprakash is not going to be made into a BAFTA-winning feature film.

There have been many others that have been dissected and romanticized. Graeme Hick, anyone? Hick loyalists will gladly tell you that his three half-centuries in the 1992 World Cup, after a poor contribution to Worcestershire's Bensen & Hedges Cup triumph, helped England reach the final. That Hick topped England's batting and bowling averages on the our of India in 1992-93, scoring his maiden Test hundred. That he averaged 46.44 in Tests between 1992-1995. That in 2001 Hick scored 200* against Durham, completing the set of having made first-class hundreds against all 17 other counties, both home and away. That in 2008 Hick became the most prolific run-scorer in all cricket, with more than 70,000 runs to his name, and the first player to play in more than 1200 games. And that Hick's tally of 136 hundreds ranks eighth on the all-time list.

But if you look at it objectively, was Hick really an enigma, or just a flat-track, front-foot thumper? He had a record-breaking career with Worcestershire but never fulfilled his potential with England, but the man himself has admitted he didn't have "the ruthlessness" to cut it at the top.

To be an English cricket fan is to be wary of success and ambition and disdainful of accomplishment. To be an English cricket fan is embrace defeat and toast the vanquished. To be an English cricket fan is to watch heroes dazzle and be walloped. Which is way the fallen are so often romanticized. Today Owais Shah is being seen as a missed opportunity. Previously casualties include Derek Randall, one of Nottinghamshire's most revered sons, Mark Lathewell, Chris Lewis, Phil Tufnell, and Vikram Solanki (whom Ian Botham at one time insisted was "the future" for England). Tomorrow it will be Ravi Bopara.

Like England, India too went through a phase of promising so much and then falling flat. Refer to the 1980s. 
Indian cricket's three biggest stars of the Unfulfilled Talent category are Vinod Kambli, Sadanand Viswanath and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. But instead of a legion of hopeless romantics, its these three who you'd most likely find with their faces in a beer talking about what could have been. We know have to deal with Siva from the commentary box, mind you, and Kambli on Sach Ka Saamna. This after Kambli tried his hand at film. It is not so much romantic as comedic.

Sitting in the stands at the PCA Stadium watching Kings XI Punjab open their campaign in the last IPL season, it was poignant to see three of this generation's most promising players all in the same floundering team - Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif and Irfan Pathan.

Yuvraj should have sealed a place in the Test middle order years ago, while Irfan fell victim to the dangers of rapid promotion, having been elevated into the national team far too prematurely and then jettisoned just as he was coming to terms with his game. He has now been given the epitaph "former future Kapil Dev". And Kaif ... well, a friend and experienced journalist once termed "India's Michael Chang" - super fit, always buzzing around, just never going to go anywhere - and I think that says it all.

No romanticizing these three. Lets leave that to the Brits. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Had a discussion recently about how India lack the bowling to win the World Cup as well as how the No 1 Test team tag doesn't fit a side with the current bowling attack. Talk invariably drifted to how this is the Golden Age of batting. It got thinking about a piece written by Gideon Haigh and after some quick browsing managed to locate it here.

I've dug out some stats to show how the bat has indeed dominated ball over the past decade or so. The average runs per wickets during the 464 Tests played during the 2000s was 34.17, the highest since the 1940s (35.77). There has been a rapid rise in run-rates: in the 2000s, every team scored faster than the previous decade.Leading that race were the Australians, who in the 2000s scored their runs at 3.39 as compared to 2.87 in the 1990s.

As compared to the 107757 runs that were scored from 108 Tests in the 1990s, 130475 were scored from 115 in the 2000s. In the 2000s there were 99 double-centuries scored by Test batsmen (including Jason Gillespie, that great allrounder!). In the 1990s there were just 41. Indeed, batting averages are soaring. Flat pitches, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and a sagging West Indies are factors.

But there is hope for the bowlers. It was interesting to find out that bowling strike-rates were higher in the previous decade than any before. The three most successful wicket-takers in Test cricket were spinners; one retired in 2007, another in 2008, and the third this year, though he is still very much in his country's World Cup plans. Swann is leading the spinners' charge and the likes of Steyn, Morne Morkel, Roach, Johnson and Mohammad Amir (his verdict pending) are keeping batsman anxious. All is not lost. 

There is no doubt that Test cricket has changed, and that the biggest influence has come from one-day cricket. Why old-timers lament that change is what bemuses me. Why wouldn't you be happy with faster scoring rates? Look at the recent series between India and Australia. Australia batted first both times and scored over 400 both times (478 in the first innings of the second Test) ... and ended up losing both matches. How many times can you remember a side scoring over 400 in the first innings and losing? It makes for absorbing Test cricket. That India scored their first-innings reply on both occasions at 3.74 and 3.41 respectively, each time themselves crossing 400 (495 in the second innings of the second Test), allowed them to win both contests. Brilliant. 

This aggressive attitude towards batting in Test cricket is what makes the modern game so interesting. Today's Test cricket makes many series of the past, even famous ones, look dull. Batsmen attack from the go (how many times have we seen the first ball of a match been hit for four over cover of point?), bowlers have worked hard on reverse swing and mystery deliveries, diving and sliding has become the norm, direct-hit run outs from short leg and short midwicket are common features. Today's Tests most always reach a conclusion; some before stumps on the fourth day. Granted this has a lot to do with weaker teams, but it can also be argued that pitches have become much flatter. Winning matches inside four days on flat tracks takes some bowling, doesn't it?

In the 1960s, 42% of India's Tests ended in a draw; in the 1970s, 56%; that rose to 60% in the 1980s and fell to 45% in the 1990s. In 2000s, the first decade in which India played over 100 Tests, they drew only 17%. England, in the 1960s, drew half of their Tests; in the 1990s, about a third; in the 2000s, less than a quarter. Australia drew less than a third of their Tests in the 1970s; just over a quarter in the 1990s; just 16% in the 2000s.

In the 2000s, a whopping 75% of Tests played ended in a result. That is higher than any other decade since the 1910s, when war accounted for just 29 Tests across the ten years.  Since January 1, 2010, only three of 29 Tests played entirely have ended in draws. I'd say that's a pretty healthy piece of evidence.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

With so many XIs doing the round of Cricinfo’s pages this week, I’m going to put up a few XIs of my own. I’ve not included men I’ve not seen play, such as fatties Colin Milburn, WC Grace and Warwick Armstrong or giants like Joel Garner and Tony Greig. This is just from those I’ve seen play.

Food and Beverage XI
1. Jesse Ryder (Beer is his diet)
2. Mark Cosgrove (My, that lad is big!)
3. David Boon (Well obviously)
4. Inzamam-ul-Haq (Wasn’t called ‘Aaloo’ for nothing)
5. Arjuna Ranatunga (Could have doubled for a sumo wrestler)
6. Mike Gatting (Don’t need to say much)
7. Rod Marsh (A sizably paunchy ‘keeper)
8. Ramesh Powar (Lends substance to lower order)
9. Ian Austin (No size 10)
10. Merv Hughes (Another double entendre)
11. Dwayne Leverock (The ground beneath me in Bangalore shook when he dived in Trinidad)

12th man: Akram Khan (Biggest Bangladeshi of all time. Of all time.)
13th man (team chef): Samit Patel (Dropped for being overweight? Check.)

Godzilla XI
1. Chris Gayle
2. Michael Vandort
3. Will Jefferson
4. Peter Fulton
5. Albie Morkel
6. Jacob Oram
7. Courtney Browne (wk)
8. Chris Tremlett
9. Morne Morkel
10. Suleiman Benn
11. Mohammad Irfan

12th man: Ishant Sharma

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

County cricket attracted me even before I had seen a match or knew the names of players. It just seemed like the breeding ground for world-class Test players. The Aussies were all over in England playing, Gavaskar had played over there, Yorkshire had signed up Tendulkar, albeit with relatively unsuccessful results, and it was where Botham and Richards struck up a lasting friendship. Visually, initially from the odd photograph in Sportstar or a grainy black-and-white snap in the dailies, and later once cable television started relaying highlights, the cricket was pristine. The grounds, with names so decidedly Edwardian, dotted with white picket fences, the players looking dapper in their sweaters and starched whites, collars turned up sharply as they stood at slip awaiting a catch or playing a hook shot.

County cricket, and in particular their major venues, had been honored in prose and poetry and added to the fable that was English cricket. Cardus, Arlott, Fingleton, Robertson-Glasgow. Lord's, Trent Bridge, Old Trafford, Headingley, Edgbaston, The Oval. I wanted to go to these grounds and soak in the history.

From late April to early September, England was the place to be, as far as I was concerned. 

Briefly, in 1998-99, Star Sports showed occasional footage of the county season. I remember watching the Holliake brothers bowl in tandem for Surrey; Graeme Hick batting at Worcester; and a young Yorkshire offspinning-allrounder, Michael Vaughan, whom my father said had the potential to play for England. Sure enough, Vaughan was called up for the tour of South Africa later that year and, batting at No. 6 with England a shocking 2 for 4, easing the nerves somewhat with an assured 33.

Landing in London for the first time, I peered eagerly out of the window (I had specifically asked for this seat) and counted the number of cricket strips I could pick out from above. There seemed to be so many. Having previously only watched cricket at the Wankhede and Mohali, the greenery was overwhelming.

The first county game I watched live came after I'd witnessed both semi-finals of the 1999 World Cup - a one-sided affair at Old Trafford, and arguably the best ODI ever, the tied match at Edgbaston - was Surrey v Lancashire, at The Oval, day one, in what was then the PPP Healthcare County Championship. As my father and I paid for our tickets and entered through the turnstiles, I remember being overawed at how lush the grass was. And then by how easy it was to get a seat – the ground was virtually empty – and how accessible the players were.

Mike Gatting, suited and booted, engaged in banter with fans from the players’ enclosure, which was not 10 feet from where we sat. The players signed autographs and shook hands with spectators as they walked back from lunch and tea. I remember big Andrew Flintoff walking out to bat and being bowled for a duck. I remember a spanking pull shot by Mark Butcher off Peter Martin, followed by a square cut off Muralitharan; Murali’s dismissal of Ian Ward, lbw and looking clueless as to whether to play forward or back; John Crawley, padded up and waiting to bat, lighting up a cigarette; an old man sitting in front of us with a pint of beer and score sheet on which he monitored every single piece of action that unfolded.

After that year I went to the US for college. Now there was the Internet to keep up with the scores. There were a few whose careers I would follow as closely as possible. Every day – usually behind the student supervisor’s desk at the library – I would go to the BBC site for the updates on all the county action. As the weeks went by I grew to associate initials with counties – SC Moore, SP Peters (Worcestershire); DP Fulton, RWT Key, ET Smith, (Kent); MJ Chilton (Lancashire); RL Johnson (Somerset); DI Stevens (Leicestershire); DA Cosker (Glamorgan) – and as the runs or wickets piled up for a few individuals I began following their careers closely. It was especially pleasing to see a few of these names go on to play for England: Key in the summer of 2002 and Smith and Johnson the following year. 

I got the chance to watch and cover county cricket – all three formats – in the summer of 2008. I went to Lord’s, The Oval, Tunbridge Wells and Uxbridge. I should have gone to a lot more grounds, but work and my financial situation were factors. I took the tube and commuter rail get to grounds; along the way I had for company a the first edition of that great anthology, The Joy of Cricket, given to me by a friend before I left India. During that summer I met journalists whom I had read and heard, as well as old-timers in the stands who shared their views of the modern game. I sat in press boxes I had once seen on television. I sat next to Mike Atherton in The Oval press box with Mike Selvey and Christopher Martin-Jenkins the only other people in the room, and Atherton turned around and asked me a question about Cricinfo, for whom I worked at the time.

The four-day game still didn’t have many spectators, but the Twenty20s did. Now there were pink shirts and pink grips, but still the game just seemed right. Now I could drink beer, and did so with a pack of Walkers crisps and the sun on my back, while watching Surrey take on Hampshire at The Oval. The players still looked dapper, their collars were still as starched as I had remembered, and the sound off the bat when someone cracked a pull was still so sweet. And that is how I will always remember county cricket.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I am a mood for some reminiscing of the good old DD days. One channel. Fewer ads. Quality programming. A time when celebrities didn't endorse everything under the sun. When there were no 24-hour news channels. When Chitrahaar was the shizzle. When Vico turmeric was applicable, not men's fairness cream. When you couldn't make stars with your thumbs. When Michael Jackson was black.

Mile sur mera tumharaHum Log. Buniyaad. Nukkad. Karamchand. Vyomkesh Bakshi. Dee Dee's Comedy Show. The Guinness Book of World Records. Rangoli. Ek Anek. Tehkikaat. Mr Yogi. Jugalbandi. Malgudi Days.

And what about those ads? Nirma washing powder; Fevicol; Parle G; Maggi Hot n Sweet; Rasna; Dabur Chywanprash; Complan; Laxman Sylvania; B-Tex; Cincara; Ajantha clocks; Cinthol; Lifebuoy; Bajaj; Lijjat Papad; Cadbury's; Limca; Gold Spot; Prestige Pressure Cooker; Pan Parag; Woodwards Gripe water; the kid in yellow pyjamas pointing to the giant puri tumbling down the TV screen. The list is endless.

Some unforgettable jingles/punchlines:
- 'Bhool na jaana, ECE bulb laana'
- 'Jab main chhota bachcha tha'
- 'Jaandar savari, shandaar savari'
- 'VICO turmeric, nahin cosmetic'
- 'Boost is the secret of MY energy…OUR energy!'
- 'Zor lagake hai ya, dum laga ke haiya!'
- 'Humko Binnies maangta'
- 'Only Vimal'
- 'Mango Frooty, fresh n juicy'
- 'Namak ho Tata ka, Tata namak'
'Jo biwi se karein pyaar, woh Prestige se kaise karein inkaar?'
- 'Humein kya maloom tha aap bhi Pan Parag ke shaukeen hain!'
- 'Meri jaan, meri jaan, murgi ke ande'
-  'Arre huzoor, Wah Taj kahiye'
- 'Khujli karne waale! B-Tex lagaa le!

What are your memories of that era?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Matthew Hayden recently unveiled how during the boot camp in the lead-up to the 2006-07 Ashes clean sweep, Shane Warne, a fierce critic of John Buchanan's methods, sat in a ditch during one night of grueling exercises saying: "I'm weak, I'm soft and I want to go home."

It was the camp that threatened to divide the Australian cricket team back - a punishing four days in the Queensland bush that was designed to boost the bond between players.

Yesterday, news filtered out that James Anderson is a major doubt for the first Ashes Test after it emerged he suffered a broken rib while boxing during England’s recent team bonding trip to Germany.


Anderson is England’s strike bowler – with due respect to Graeme Swann – and losing him to injury will be a bitter blow for the England management. It also brings into question the wisdom of the trip to Germany which was unpopular with several members of the squad, coming as it did at the end of a demanding summer.

Now just why would you engage players in a boxing bout?

It is one thing to travel to Galipoli and the Somme and Flanders Field, but exerting physical pressure on the very players who served you so spectacularly all year? Granted Messrs Flower and Strauss – sounds like a botanical garden – haven’t done much wrong over the past 12 months, but this just isn’t cricket.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Great expectations

Both were batsmen earmarked for greatness long before they were drafted into their national squads. Both had supporters who felt their eventual international debuts had been prolonged. Both are technically sound top-order batsmen in the mould of former batsmen from their respective countries who had been burdened with similar expectations when they made their debuts. Both accrued domestic reputations of being able to deliver the goods under pressure. Both are at home in the slow, low conditions that reward technique and application. Both made attractive 70s on Test debut. Both took sharp catches on debut. Both have always been more comfortable in the shadows than the limelight. Neither is like to fill a room with their aura as soon as they step into it; instead they’ll probably shrink when all eyes turn towards them.

 I’m talking about Ian Bell and Cheteshwar Pujara. At the exact spot where Pujara is after one Test, there are similarities to where Bell was at the same juncture. They both came into the side with the weight of expectations on their shoulders, given the strong first-class records they had accrued and the praises they had heaped on them. Both had been knocking on the selectors’ doors for some time and it had become virtually impossible to ignore them. Both looked utterly at ease in Test cricket. Both became men after one Test.

Bell was drafted onto the England tour of New Zealand in 2001-02 as cover for an injured Mark Butcher. He had scored recently 836 runs for Warwickshire at an average of over 64, including three centuries. In August 2004, Bell finally made his Test debut against West Indies and made a polished 70 in his only innings. It would ten months before he played again for England, and when he did he ransacked lowly Bangladesh to lift his batting average to 297, including a maiden Test century. From here, Bell found world champions Australia entirely different proposition for the rest of the summer.

Pujara, a run machine in domestic cricket, has had to watch other, less-prolific batsmen walk past him and into the Indian side. Along the way he changed his approach and strike-rate, seemingly to prove his detractors wrong. This despite - at the age of 22 - a first-class average of 60, with three successive seasons of heavy run-scoring (averaging 53.35, 65.56 and 82.33 respectively).

 Now that he’s made his Test debut, Pujara will make way for VVS Laxman when he recovers and steps back into the middle order for three Tests against New Zealand. On the fifth day in Bangalore, Pujara played an innings from No 3 that the man he replaced for that particular innings, Rahul Dravid, would have been proud of. Bell too eased into the role he was required to fill when he played his debut Test and then humbly went back to domestic cricket to continue to churn out runs until he was required for England again.

Bell has since endured a rollercoaster international career and pretty much seen it all, while only recently beginning to fill the expectations of a cricketing fraternity. Pujara is just starting out at the top. His place, it would seem on the basis of his sparkling 72, is at one down once Dravid goes. Pujara hasn’t done enough to usurp India’s greatest No 3 yet, and with Laxman returning to fitness and Raina doing well so far, he will have to be patient. Much like Bell was. From there on, lets see if the similarities continue.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

An India-Australia series gets top billing and this was a series to cherish for the home side. They lived up to their status as the No 1 Test side and played some enthralling cricket. 

Forget what critics and pundits say about the IPL and Champions League being massive stepping stones for the young crop of Indian cricketers. Test cricket, and especially a Test series between two competitive sides, offers so much more than six weeks of bonhomie on the Twenty20 bandwagon. You can go through a lifetime of emotions in five days, and surely an afterlife if you happened to be a part of the Indian camp during the humdinger of a final day in Mohali. 

Anil Kumble recently pointed out that the core of India’s tomorrow has to go from strength to strength on the field and in their minds, individually and as a unit. They have to get to know their own games, he said, and that doesn’t mean get to know how to play in a Test, ODI or Twenty20, but how to prepare mentally, to know ‘this is what I need to do to be at my best’. 

It is rare that India have rookies to experience a series win in their first exposure to the national side; Murali Vijay and Amit Mishra were the last to do so when India beat Australia in 2008. Cheteshwar Pujara and Jaidev Unadkat have so much to learn from being in the dressing room through those five days of Test cricket, and to be on the field as the post-match talk and presentations panned out. 

It was especially heartening to see a tired and sweaty Tendulkar hand over souvenir stumps to an enthusiastic and refreshed, shorts and slipped-clad Pragyan Ojha, emphatically: “Pujara ko ek dena.” The message was loud and clear – the debutant had played a big role in this series-winning victory, and he had to be recognized and made to feel important. 

Unadkat did no more than bowl to the likes of Sehwag and Dravid (who was dismissed by left-handers thrice in the series, all got behind the wicket) in the nets before and during the Bangalore Test  - the sole reason he was picked, according to Ravi Shastri – but he would have experienced so much. He is still some ways away from national reckoning, given that he’s yet to play a first-class game, but to be part of this series he would have been exposed to much more than possible while on tour with the A team or in the IPL. He needed to be a part of the celebrations after the win, and hopefully he will take those memories with him and ply away for Saurashtra with a new zest and vigor.

A winning environment breeds winners. If India can keep on winning, they won’t have to worry so much about the next generation.