Monthly Archives: August 2010

Cricket is in a “fix” and a “spot” of bother

There are many things wrong with Pakistan at the moment including the cricket “spot fixing” scandal. However, in comparison to (a) the impact of the floods that have ravaged the country, (b) a 10%-regime, (c) random and uncontrolled terrorist attacks and (d) geo-political instability, the spot-fixing scandal — and a potential link to a larger and more exhaustive and consuming match-fixing scandal — perhaps registers a mere blip on the trouble-scale. The many other dangers and calamities might make this latest scandal insignificant in terms of its impact on the larger issues of public governance, social security, peace, self-confidence and plight of her people.

However, every scandal, whatever its magnitude, is a reflection of a nations’ pride, a mirror to a nations’ moral fabric and a pointer to a nations’ collective conscience. A few crooks, thugs and hoons do not a nation make. I agree. However, a repeat offence by the same offender who had been “let off” earlier seems to suggest a governance body that is tolerant of cheats, or a problem that is endemic and systemic, or a vacuum in societal leadership, or a punctured national integrity or an intelligentsia that has a permanent sore throat and brain freeze! Or, more frighteningly, ALL of the above!

Where are the voices of reason emanating out of that land? Who are they? Who are the role models for young lads with sometimes-errant-behaviour to follow?

As the Pakistani daily, The NEWS, writes yesterday, “The evidence appears conclusive and we are exposed to the world as cheats and frauds once again.” The key phrase in that sentence is “once again”. The missing phrase in that sentence is “and by the same sports people who ought to have faced stiff punishment earlier”.

The problem, however, is that for every voice like the above, we have The Daily Express that screams, “The match-fixing scandal is an Indian conspiracy against the Pakistan team.”

Aaah! The “foreign hand” conspiracy theory that doubles as a convenient denial-blanket! I can only sigh in utter despair!

We can’t be smug in India. There is endemic corruption in all walks of life here. But there is an intelligentsia that will ensure that checks-and-balances exist. These voices may sometimes be ineffective and public accountability often suffers. Witness the (Un)Common Wealth Games (Shames) and the many other political scandals, for example. But there is a societal voice. There is societal leadership. And if all else fails, there are sane voices of people like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble!

For many years now, I have watched Pakistan cricket implode at key moments. Cricket fans have often put it down to the mercurial nature of her players and their unpredictability. Often this unpredictability was the charm that Pakistan cricket brought to the table. I loved seeing Shahid Afridi score 100 of 50 balls one day and 5 the very next day, out to a wild swing off a full-toss. I salivated over the prospect of watching Mohammed Aamer grow into a Wasim Akram and looked forward to the youngsters’ skill and prowess being admired for long, just as I had admired Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis before him. I was amazed that this land threw up another sensation in Wahab Riaz just a few matches later!

But no more.

I have had enough.

Yes, the allegations are yet unproven and they are mere allegations at this stage. However, I have seen enough evidence to assure me that I was a fool to be as excited as I was to see Michael Hussey and Peter Siddle claw their way to a strong position in the Sydney Test. They were in a cruel play that was being enacted which involved a few honest sportsmen, a few crooks and millions of innocent fans. As a Team India fan and an ardent fan of Pakistan crickets’ flamboyance and Australian crickets’ grit, I was glued to that Test Match as it unfolded. The drama was compelling. But I was wrong. I was cheated by the thugs that took a few thousand dollars to drop catches and miss run-outs deliberately!

The thugs had manipulated us.

I am switching off all things Pakistan UNLESS I am convinced that her people are shamed by this; unless concrete action is taken.

In the future, I believe that the ICC should have licensed agents and only they can have access to players, sign contracts and make endorsement deals. Player contracts should specify that players” incomes should be declared and be open to scrutiny. There are other mechanisms and instruments that cricket should borrow from soccer.

This is a rude wake-up call and a clarion call for the cleansing of cricket and its inappropriate under-belly.

Cricket is in a “fix” and a “spot” of bother!

— Mohan

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Does it matter

The match fixing controversy is back again and the paramount question is how serious are the boards in rooting out the issue.The reason certain crimes are less in society is the fear of punishment.And the punishment is not clearly defined here.

None of the boards have put in any measures to prevent fixing of matches and ICC itself has not taken any proactive action in checking this evil. Do any of the boards or even ICC monitor suspected bookies, and the interactions players have with them. Unless there is a direct charge as of now, mere suspicions are never actioned upon.We are yet to see a full blown investigation of the infamous Sydney test match by ICC despite many questions  being raised on the outcome.

On the other side if we were to look at the subcontinental players who were found guilty, their current lives, status in society and the game, will no way detract future offenders.BCCI office bearers have no problems being seen with these offenders during matches nor have TV channels in hiring them as expert commentators. And they also get hired as coaches to budding cricketers.

The minute you start taking money to underperform your love for money has overtaken the love for the game.The risk you will get caught is low and unlikely to be at the beginning stage of your career(Amir being an exception). The possibility that you will be severely punished even lower in the subcontinent. The word “banned for life” has a completely new connotation here.Bans are issued only to be revoked.

So unless you have some integrity and play for the love of the game, there is nothing to stop you from making the quick buck.What does it matter if the poor cricket fan keeps seeing his hopes of a fair game no-balled again and again.

The World Cup is round the corner and if the subcontinent boards and ICC want to have a shred of integrity in the results, they better act fast and now.

India on track as Pakistan stumble… again!

India had a terrific outing against Sri Lanka in the recently concluded ODI series. Yes! I am dead serious.

As India warms up to the World Cup in 2011 with a series of meaningless ODI series — none more boring than the one just concluded, I am certain — this recent series against Sri Lanka and New Zealand ended with many positives for India.

The series would have convinced the Team India selectors that
(a) Dinesh Karthik played his last ODI for India,
(b) Ravindra Jadeja played his last ODI for India for sometime to come,
(c) India cannot afford to have Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh injured at the same time.
These are major positives for the team, in my view.

Dinesh Karthik has had more chances than one can poke a stick at to prove that he is perhaps unfit even as a drinks’ carrier for Team India. He collected more ducks than a chef at a Mumbai restaurant. He must, however, be much loved by the team. How else can one explain his presence in the team as opener, when you have players like M.Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Robin Uthappa as more eligible options? That said, this series perhaps gave him an opportunity to find a coffin, search for a hammer and nail, jump into said coffin and hand over nail and hammer to the selectors while in the midst of his leap! He even managed to bang the lid close after settling in comfortably, ensuring that the selectors do not have much work to so!

A job well done in the end, I reckon!

The fact that Dinesh Karthik took some time to find a nail, hammer and coffin was understandable. Jadeja was on a mission to locate a similar troika of objects! The fact that both of them found all three objects was a creditable achievement and a significant contribution to Indian cricket. We can’t thank them enough for their selfless contribution to the cause.

Now, the rest of us can sit back, relax, focus on the good health and rehabilitation of Tendulkar, Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan without fearing a mysterious and inexplicable re-appearance from left-field by Karthik and Jadeja!

In the time remaining between now and the World Cup 2011, India must either focus her attention on a “real” all-rounder like Irfan Pathan or Abhishek Nayyar or just give up on the idea of an all-rounder altogether. India must play 4 main-line bowlers like Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Harbhajan Singh and depend on a combination of Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Suresh Raina for the remaining 10 overs.

My view, however, is that the selectors must forgive Irfan Pathan for whatever he did wrong in the past; he must be given a crack at the elusive all-rounder spot once again.

Meanwhile, Pakistan cricket has found another way to shock the cricketing world. One can only sigh in utter despair when one considers that the murky world of Pakistan cricket has not spared even the youngest and most exciting talent in world cricket who has several decades of cricket left ahead of him! Details will emerge as the days roll by. However, the real problem with Pakistan cricket seems to me to be the absence of role models in the dressing room.

When the betting scandal hit cricket in 2000, the Team India dressing room had pillars of integrity and virtue like Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble, Ganguly and Laxman — a point made on Twitter by @Cricketwallah. Together, the Fab Five drove Indian cricket with resolve, determination and strong leadership. Unfortunately, at the moment, Pakistan cricket is bereft of such leadership.

I have a feeling that things will get much worse before they get better in Pakistan cricket.

— Mohan

Is India prepared for the World Cup?

Most teams around the world seem to have started planning well ahead of the world cup next year. Possible players including bench strengths are being constantly given a look at and prepared for possible selection. Does India have a plan and are they prepared. Let’s take a look at the line up and ?possible back ups:

Openers – MILD CONCERN

Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag are certainties barring injury. Other than Gambhir moving up from No:3, I don’t know if there is any clear plan for injury replacements for Sachin and Sehwag. Karthik seems to appear and disappear from the radar. I am not even sure if he is appropriate for the position. M. Vijay has floated to the surface occasionally. Parthiv Patel, Shikar Dhawan, Abhinav Mukund, Ajinkya Rahane have all played in that position of India A with no real continuity and/or assurance. This is the first and most serious sign of concern. Sachin and Sehwag will have to bear a huge load and all Indians should pray that they do not get injured.

No:3 Position -NO CONCERN

Assuming that the opening position stays, Gambhir is certain to fit into to this role. Virat Kohli has played the backup role though Rohit Sharma took that position in the first game of the ongoing tri series. Suresh Raina takes this position in the T20 and can very well fit in if required.With the possibility of Suresh Raina taking this position, if required, there may not be a strong reason to worry.

Middle Order (Positions 4 and 5) -MILD CONCERN

Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina should more than likely retain these positions unless Dhoni decides to shuffle the batting order. Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli may be slotted in the event of injuries to either of the first two choices. I would, however, like to see Cheteswar Pujara given a shot and seriously considered for this position. He brings stability that is lacking at this point. I am also concerned with the consistency of either Rohit or Virat and Pujara should be given an opportunity to constantly keep Sharma and Kohli on their toes.

Allrounders (Positions 6 and 7)-SERIOUS CONCERN WITH NO 7

Dhoni batting at No:6 provides a great deal of comfort. Dhoni will rotate strike beautifully in the middle overs, play a rescue role when the top order fails, and finish off with a bang in the final overs. After Sachin Tendulkar and Sehwag, Dhoni’s batting will be the key if India advance in the WC.

The same cannot be said about the key allrounder position at No:7. Ravindra Jadeja simply does not fit. He is a mediocre cricketer and it is indeed puzzling that Dhoni continues to want to pursue with him. This is probably one of the few awful decisions that Dhoni has made (and like MOhan I will be happy to be proven wrong!). The worst part is that there is simply no one in the second rung who can walk in to that position. Irfan Pathan is not in the picture at all. Abhishek Nayar came and went in a hurry. Yusuf Pathan was sorted out by all and sundry. Piyush Chawla is being tried out for the India A squad and it may very well be worth testing him the remaining games that India gets to play before the WC. Though Ashwin’s name has come up, I am not sure his batting lives up to the need for this key position. I can only wish that Irfan Pathan makes a remarkable comeback. I would also advocate gambling with him considering there is nothing to lose.

Bowlers/Bottom Order Batting – SERIOUS CONCERN

Harbhajan Singh is sure to take the No:8 position and the lead spinner role. Ashwin could very well sneak in as a possible back up for him. Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma should be first choices for 9, 10 and 11. Ashish Nehra, Sreesanth, Abhimanyu Mithun, and Munaf Patel are all being thrown into the mix recently. However, I would try Jaidev Unadkat out ahead of the above four. We certainly are completely underprepared as far as our fast bowling strength is concerned. None on the list gives me confidence that they will turn up on particular day and turn it on. And, there does not seem to be any plan in this regard.

Pragyan Ojha should consider himself lucky if he finds a seat in the side especially if India decide to go with Piyush Chawla and Ashwin.

While a desirable playing X1 selects itself, the back up is totally uncertain. This is a big concern for me. It is even more worrying because there doesn’t seem to be a proper strategy in place to deal with this. The India A team starting with the captaincy role has been tampered with so much that it certainly doesn’t represent India’s bench strength at this point.

– Srikanth

Did Randiv “over-step”?

Suraj Randiv over-stepped the crease and bowled a no-ball. Let there be no mistake about that. In doing so, he denied Virender Sehwag a century. He could not, however, deny India a victory. India needed a run to win, and by over-stepping, Randiv ensured that India won.

Randiv’s action was deliberate. Make no mistake about that.

The hue-and-cry that followed that act, however, was quite comical on the one hand and shocking on the other.

Much has been made of an error in judgement. Much has been made of a rush-of-blood. The media has, as usual, gone on over-drive with this story! The over-stepping issue covered more print- and air- space in India over the last two days than a somewhat more troubling 10-line report of China accumulating arms on the Indo-China border! Talk about priorities!

But what is the over-stepping all about anyway? What is the fuss about? As a nation, India (through its media) seems to be madly obsessed with pride and this pride is unfortunately measured by sometimes meaningless statistics. The fact that India won is not enough — an Indian was “denied”. That somehow matters more!

India, it seems, cannot be “wronged” unless Indians are the ones who “wrong” other Indians. We can screw another Indian on our own playing fields (or through corruption scams or any number of scams like the CWG) but another person “dare not” wrong Indians. The point I am making is that, as Amit Gupta writes and verifies in an article on Mumbai Mirror, the “no ball” trick or the “wide” trick are employed all the time in cricket to deny the opposition runs. These “no ball” and “wide” victories are common on our maidans, as Amit Gupta mentions. But the moment Suraj Randiv does it, it presents an opportunity for the Indian media to get “stuck in” to another person who “dared” to wrong an Indian!

Our collective sensibilities are suddenly hurt and the TV anchors thunder “How dare he”? There is much chest beating and forehead slapping to be seen and heard.

Although Virender Sehwag was at his diplomatic best on the prize distribution dais, he spat venom at the post-match press conference and later Twittered proudly that Randiv had apologized to him.

Clearly Sehwag was miffed. He had lost out on a century opportunity in a game that India won!

But then, Sehwag is no Saint! He was the Indian fielder, remember, that kicked the ball over the boundary ropes and signaled it as a four to the umpires in a Test against South Africa. He did that to deny Hashim Amla a single which would have meant that Amla would have protected Morne Morkel from the strike. Was that against the “spirit of cricket”? It was, just as Randiv’s no-ball was against the “spirit”. But these things do happen.

The law is an ass. We are given the law book and must work with it.

We need to admit that un-sportsman-like behaviour happens. More importantly, we need to lose the halo around our collective heads and stop pretending that “only they do it”. Even more importantly, I would like to see evidence of “us” getting to get as upset even if “we do it”. Cos’ we do! In our maidan-s and in our Test cricket.

There are few saints out there.

— Mohan

I was wrong…

There are many things I am constantly wrong about. No. I am not at Church, it is not Sunday today, and this is not a confession!

But yes, there are many things I am wrong about. Take this recently concluded Test series against Sri Lanka, for example! I was wrong about:

  • Suresh Raina’s abilities as a Test cricketer,
  • Sri Lanka being capable of producing a good Test wicket,
  • India’s cances of winning a Test in Sri Lanka in this series.

Suresh Raina did confound his critics; including me. I had branded him a ODI and T20 player and had even indicated in a post here that he had jumped the queue, ahead of players like S. Badrinath, Rohit Sharma, et al. But Suresh Raina showed enough in the few appearances he had to indicate he has the ticker, application, determination and skill to last at this level. He even negotiated the many bouncers hurled in his direction. He looked composed, compact and confident. He looked like he belongs at this level. Just on the basis of these outings, I would be happy to ink his name for quite some time at #6 in the Test batting line-up even if he fails against Australia in October and (later on in the year) against South Africa.

I was wrong about Raina…

I was wrong too about Sri Lanka’s ability to produce a good Test wicket. The wicket that was on offer at the P. Sara Oval for the 3rd Test was a Test-wicket beauty. After the flat highway that represented the 2nd Test at the SSC ground, I had all but switched off my TV set for the reminder of the Test series. This series was starting to resemble a few previous series in Sri Lanka where teams would go on to make 3597 runs for 2 declared and then the opposition would go on to make 9656 runs for 3 declared — all before Tea on day-2! You would either have that or have a situation where Muralitharan would take 20 wickets for 3 runs before Tea on day-1 on a pitch made out of un-compacted sawdust from the wood factory down the road! But the pitch that was prepared for the 3rd Test at the P Sara Oval was spot on for Test cricket. I do wish the Sri Lankan cricket Board sack Anurudda Polonowita, the curator of the SSC pitch! Even after a truck-load of runs were scored on the SSC pitch during the 2nd Test, with the loss of only a few wickets — and that too to run outs and batsmen error — the SSC curator managed to hide his head in the sand and blamed the bowlers of both teams for the dull draw in the 2nd Test! But the 3rd Test wicket offered everyone a chance — good batsmen, spinners and pace bowlers. Sri Lanka is, after all, capable of producing good Test match wickets.

I was wrong about Sri Lankan pitches…

Right from the time MS Dhoni lost the toss at the start of the 3rd Test match, I did not think India had a chance of winning the 3rd Test match. At the end of day-1, Sri Lanka was 293/4. In order for me to have India ahead at the end of the first days’ play, India needed another wicket at least and also needed to have conceded about 20 fewer runs. Although India did make inroads with the ball on day-2 and although India did get Sri Lanka all out for 425, I did think it was a good 1st innings total in the context of this wicket. India ended day-2 at 180-2, which was the only day of the Test that India ended well, in my books — apart from the last days’ ending when India had won the Test! On day-2, I had India ahead not because the team had made 180-2 (nearly 245 runs behind), which was a healthy score already. I had India ahead because these runs were secured in just 35 overs! But then the quick loss of Tendulkar and Sehwag on day-3 meant that India was again playing catch up in this game. The fact that India made more 1st Innings runs than Sri Lanka was good but in my view the slender lead wasn’t quite enough! At the end of day-3, although Sri Lanka was 45-2, I still had Sri Lanka ahead. On day-4, India had her best session of the game when the spinners wrecked the Sri Lankan batting. However, Mendis and Samaraweera ensured that Sri Lanka put up a competitive target. That and the fact that India lost 3 wickets for not much meant that, in my books, Sri Lanka was once again ahead at the end of day-4. I thought India would not be able to pull this match off on day-5 on a pitch that was deteriorating. I did not expect India to win in the end.

I was wrong…

In the end, this was an amazing come-from-behind win for Team India — one that this team can take a lot of pride in. Perhaps this will not be an automatic inclusion choice in the “Great Indian Test Victories” DVD compilation. This compilation would automatically include Kolkata, Leeds, Adelaide, Multan or Perth — great victories in the annals of Indian circket history. However, taken in the context of the personnel that MS Dhoni had at his disposal, I would happily vote for placing “Colombo (P Sara), 2010” alongside famous Indian victories in the recent decade.

To me this big-list list reads: Kolkata 2001 (v Australia), Leeds 2002 (v England), Adelaide 2003 (v Australia), Multan 2004 (v Pakistan), Sabina Park 2006 (v West Indies), Johannesburg 2006 (v South Africa), Perth 2008 (v Australia), Mohali 2008 (v Australia), Chennai 2008 (v England), Colombo (P Sara) 2010 (v Sri Lanka).

I say this because India achieved this victory without a first-XI opening batsman and 3 of its four strike bowlers. Let us not forget that Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth, Harbhajan Singh and Gautam Gambhir were absent from the team that secured this victory. Yes, we might point to the fact that the team did still have great players like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni, et al. However, the best batsmen are rendered useless by un-tested bowlers. In this context, the P. Sara victory is an important one for India. The team showed that it can still do it despite ruthless depletions to the team sheet.

As a Team India fan, the future is, still, a worry for me.

I do not worry too much about the day when Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman will, inevitably, exit stage-left! When Rahul Dravid got out in the 1st Innings of the 3rd Test, Tony Greig, who was commentating at the time, emotionally appealed for Cheteshwar Pujara to be inked into the team sheet immediately! I am confident Pujara will wear a Team India cap one day. Just as night follows day, for me, Pujara has his named etched on a Team India spot already. However, he will wait his time till when Dravid hangs up his boots. Like Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble, the other two members of the Fab-Five, I am confident that Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman will chose the timing of their exit appropriately. These are some of the most upright Team India sportspeople of our times; a time dominated by Commonwealth Games scandals and 83-year-olds being elected to the Presidency of a national sports body! The Fab-Five stand tall and stand in a separate playing field altogether in an Indian sports space dominated by sleaze, money and power politics.

But when the remaining members of the Fab-Five do exit the scene, I am confident that in Cheteshwar Pujara, M Vijay, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Sourabh Tiwary, S. Badrinath, Abhinav Mukund, Ajinkya Rahane, et al, India has the batting personnel to step into their big shoes. Pujara will never be a Dravid, just as Dravid was never a Mohinder Amarnath or a Dilip Vengsarkar. Similarly, Suresh Raina will never be a Sourav Ganguly. Rohit Sharma will never be a Sachin Tendulkar. But I believe that Cheteshwar Pujara, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, M. Vijay, Abhinav Mukund, et al, will carve their own stellar paths just as the Fab Four did when they built their careers.

What worries me most as a Team India fan is the bowling resources. Bowlers keep breaking apart at the seams. Bowlers that burst onto the scene with much promise and fan-fare vanish a few seasons later. Witness the decline of Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan, RP Singh, Munaf Patel, Sreesanth, VRV Singh, Pankaj Singh, Dhawal Kulkarni, et al. Will we add Abhimanyu Mithun to the above list in a year from now? This is certainly a worry for me. Mind you, the spin options are just not good enough for me either.

So it is the bowling and not the batting that is a worry to me as a Team India fan.

However, just as I was wrong with a few things in this recently concluded Test series against Sri Lanka, I hope I am able to point to a future Team India bowling attached and say again: “I was wrong…”

— Mohan

Home team advantage

I hear a lot about how playing at home gives an undue advantage to the home team and away-wins should be rated higher. Although I want to see India win more tests away from home, I see no reason why away-wins should be rated higher. Seriously, what is the point of playing at home if you don’t make the pitches that suit the home team’s strengths? Every country does it – India, Sri Lanka, Australia, you name it. And if you are playing a home series and an away series against the same country, it basically evens it out.

To make things interesting though, I suggest that we do away with the toss altogether and let the visiting team decide what they want to do – i.e. whether they want to bat or bowl first.

Just a thought Smile

-Mahesh-