Monthly Archives: December 2011

Checking cricket.

<An imaginary, yet realistic possibility of text commentary for the 2nd test between India and Australia>

Welcome to the live commentary of the 2nd test between India and Australia, live from the Sydney Cricket Ground, somewhere in Sydney, Sydney. The first test was heading to a gripping draw, but the Australian captain suddenly forfeited the match and handed India the win because Clarke thought Zaheer Khan’s hair-style deserved the win.

10.00 am: Toss : Mahendra Singh Dhoni wins the toss and elects to field first on a cloudy morning.

10.05 am: There is a bit of a delay here. The toss is being reviewed. The two captains, referee and Ravi Shastri have no idea if what they heard was right, so they have gone for the review. The match referee’s assistant calls up the Royal Australian Mint in Deakin/Canberra, feeds them with the details of the coin to confirm the heads and tails part of it. Ultra-motion replays have been played on the giant screen to figure out the outcome of the toss. It seems Dhoni had called it right and India will come on to bowl.

10.30 am: We have our first viewer comment here – “Hey, Sachin, please score that century in this test. I need some rest.”, and it comes from a person named Santa Claus.

10:55 am: Players are strolling into the field after the delay. Australian openers, debutants Steven Cazzulino and Wes Robinson make their way to the middle.

 

11.00 am: Zaheer Khan with the new ball. Three slips, and a gully to start the proceedings.

0.1 Khan to Robinson, no run, a good ball, shaping away from the left hander after pitching at good length outside the off stump.

Umpires have taken out their wind meters to check if the wind velocity is right for play to continue. Zaheer is standing behind Ishant Sharma to prevent the wind from affecting his hair-do.

After five minutes of discussion, we are good to go.

0.2 Khan to Robinson, no run, 108.6 mph, that ball came into the left hander Robinson, who was cramped for room, flashed at it, and it misses the inside edge by a whisker.

Replays show that because the ball had moved off the seam, it had missed the inside edge. and had it not, it would’ve taken the inside edge onto the stumps. The Falcon Eye showed how well the ball had come back in. Robinson in for some really fiery bowling, now.

0.3 Khan to Robinson, OUT, right as I say it, Zaheer Khan pitches this one on the off stump, the ball swings away from the driving left hander, takes the outside edge and Dravid completes a diving catch to his right to pluck the ball an inch or two above the ground. Robinson is leaving the ground dejectedly… Oh, wait.

The umpire has asked Robinson to wait, as he checks with the 3rd umpire for a no-ball. Robinson is waiting three-fourths the way to the pavilion, having a loud chatter with Shaun Marsh, who is padded up and waiting near the fence.

11.08 am: The 3rd umpire is checking the no-ball using the normal replay from all angles, Falcon Eye, hot-spot and ultra-motion cameras. This might take a while. I will be back in a few.

11.34 am: Folks, I’ve had a nap, walked my dog, solved today’s Sudoku, and the umpires are still on their walkie-talkies. Oh, the fourth umpire is on the field there, he might have sent some news. Sorry, he is just giving the umpires new sets of batteries to replace the ones that just died out. And the umpires are chatting again.

11.44 am: 3rd umpire is also checking for an edge there. The world seemed so sure about it. Nevertheless. And we have Tony Greig on air too – “Aowrrwrwrwrrw, wowwwwrrrrr! This is so wunderfullll…. That’s a white spot, that’s a black spot. That black spot is a glass of beer, that white spot is a hot-dog. Hot-Spot is awesome! BCCI don’t know where their head is. The Indians fans arrrrrre…”. Sorry, apparently, Greig snapped the cables in the commentary room when he flapped his hands around and tried to hi-five Mark Nicholas.

11.54 am:  Seeing how pointless the wait is, let’s take a look at what’s happening in the ground – There’s a football match going out there. From here, it seems like one team is the Dilli Boysz, against a team of Zaheer Khan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav and MS Dhoni. Not sure why THAT play is held up, from here, it looks like Zaheer is holding up his hamstring. Again. Oh dear, this might be a very sad news for the Indian team and fans. I’m also avoiding a call from Mr Sunil Gavaskar right now. I think I know what he wants to tell.

At the far end, There is a huge crowd, silently listening to Rahul Dravid, who is reciting his Bradman Oration again for this lovely crowd.

Robinson is now having a video call with his mother. This 3G mobile phone video call is brought to you by Vodafone. Vodafone, our network follows you, out or not. Cazzulino is probably typing the next article for his creekinfo column. we’ll put it up during the tea break.

Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman are playing “Poles of a Magnet“. Tendulkar goes to one section of the boundary, and attracts a huge crowd from across 4 stands in that arc. Then Laxman walks to where Tendulkar is standing, and the crowd, largely Australian, gets scared and runs away helter-skelter. Laxman and Tendulkar share a laugh.

12.14 pm: News is in that Zaheer Khan has recovered from his hamstring injury  and is fit to continue in the match. Also, he has also a new(er) hair-do. You all can watch it in a minute or fifteen.

12.22 pm: Great news – The umpires have arrived at a decision. Robinson has been given out after what seemed like eternity.

Zaheer is back to the top of his mark, Marsh marks his guard. Portions of crowd, panting after running, and those who were emotionally shaken by the speech gather themselves up and realise that there is a game going on, find their seats and await the…errr… 4th ball of the day.

0.4 Zaheer to Marsh….

 

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Over-usage/dependency on technology for trivial issues just to buy time on air seems such turn-off for a cricket lover. If speed off the bat, length of the six and degree of spin mattered to me so much, I would’ve rather been a mathematician.

We are nearing the day, when bowlers have to appeal even when the batsman is bowled, castled, stumps sent cartwheeling and bails flying. You never know what the umpires want to check. An utter waste of time, and completely meaningless frequency of checks.

 

“I know he is bowled. But is he out?”

– B.S. Chandrashekhar (during a New Zealand tour)

– Bagrat

Another Australian Tour…

I remember having followed only two of India’s previous tours to Australia, and those were pretty poorly done too.

When India toured Australia in that 2004-ish period, I was in school, in my danger zone of my school life – 10th standard. So, naturally, cable television was off, and I had only DD for any news. All India Radio wouldn’t do commentary. So, I’d have to wait till the last five minutes of the news to hear about the score and maybe a couple of clips from the session. I would then devour into the morning newspaper and gobble up two pages full of reports and articles and opinion columns in The Hindu. That pic of Ajit Agarkar, celebrating during his 6-wicket spell, I remember appeared in the middle of the page, and the crease of newspaper’s fold made the photo look awkward. Nevertheless, Adelaide win was reported live on DD News, well celebrated. Steve Waugh’s final test was well appreciated, though it prevented us from the win.

Next time ’round, I was in college, into my 2nd year of engineering, when India went to Australia in 2007/08. It was during the vacation that the Boxing Day test happened, and for some reason, I had missed most of it, watched highlights and got updates on mobile phones from pals who were watching, though. Can only remember Zak’s ball to Ponting, hitting the top of off after the ball from around the wicket seamed away just enough to tease Ponting’s bat’s edge to shame. I was in college for the Sydney test. Friends from around the country had just returned for the new semester. We had a lot of people to blame during the course of the match. You could’ve learnt 20 different swears in 15 languages had you been in that room I was watching the Sydney test. And the tension grew during the final session. My friend sitting next to me said, India playing with 3 wickets to protect, “Machhaan, if a wicket falls now, it will be very exciting!” I could’ve handled one wicket falling, but three was too large an amplification of the jinx. The Perth test was wonderful! Ishant’s my favourite bowler. He, like me is tall. I, like him, am a fast bowler. We both like unkempt long hair. It was a treat watching him bowl at Perth. Zipping the ball in and out. Owning Ponting. The Perth test was the only thing that made me voluntarily bunk a class in college. And the reward was Ishant’s brilliant 10 over spell ending with Ponting’s wicket. It was always coming. A power cut meant we couldn’t watch the end, and we only heard from our friends in other places when India wrapped up Australia’s irritating tail. Another anecdote from that series – Zak stopping a steaming Tait in his delivery stride to waste time and prevent another over at the end of day. That was simply the height of irritation for Tait.

And in less than a day’s time, India and Australia lock horns at Melbourne for the customary Boxing Day test to start the Border Gavaskar series. I have no clue what half the Australian team is. So many new names. My own lifestyle has changed drastically from 5-hours-a-day-class routine to 11-hours-a-day office routine. I have missed so much cricket in the last 4 months that I continue to have the problem in telling Umesh Yadav from Varun Aaron. India failed miserably in England, made up a bit against the West Indies at home. I learn that Australia have been average at best in their last two series ( SA, NZ). So, per me, what should’ve been a marquee series is just another series. A lot of name and fame and history and pride attached to it, but much of a fight in store. There might be some good tests, yes. But if we are calling the recent Australian tests are good ones, in which mediocre performances led to gripping results, that wouldn’t be good on an absolute scale in comparison to what we’ve had in previous tours.

Australian team has been getting a facelift every other series. Bowlers in both teams are getting injured on day-to-day basis. Ponting, Sachin, Dravid, Laxman are all having their last meet, I’d guess. One or more may be having their last series too. I’ve stayed away from most analysis, match-ups, talks, build-ups et all. I don’t want to expect anything now, for, reality is far from my expectations nowadays. This will like the Australian tours before 2003-04, when as a kid I’d sit with my dad on wintry mornings, and just watch the players in white, on the green fields, the red ball chasing away seagulls, and the sweet sound of bat on ball with the voice of Richie Benaud on the mic. I remember nothing from those tours, honestly.

As 26th of December creeps up, I’ve no idea if I’d be locked between priorities. NBA starts at the same time. A lot of switching between channels, or watching on different screens will or might happen, depending upon my laziness.

Here’s hoping this tour is better than what it seems to be.

– Bagrat

One more sleep to go!

Melbourne, approaching the traditional Boxing Day Match at the MCG is a city in a state of flux.

In the build-up to the Christmas-New Year break during which most businesses are either shut or on skeleton staff, the last working days are a hive of shopping, last minute work deadlines, end-of-year social events, some more shopping, sleep deprivation and some final midnight shopping to be sure.

Christmas day itself, we are told, is a multi-pronged climax of church, cooking, relatives, heat, lunch, alcohol to excess, family feuds, a siesta if lucky, and a stupefied collapse into bed.

It is thus that the relatively tranquil Boxing Day is looked forward to by everyone.

For those who inquire of the etymology of Boxing Day, I am reliably informed it has to do with the unboxing of 55” flat screens and other embodiments of a consumerist culture picked up at the much-awaited Boxing Day sales, which in these days of economic turmoil have begun well before Christmas.

Where was I? Ah, yes, the looking forward to of Boxing Day. After the fraught build-up, it is but natural and traditional that the menfolk and their sons decamp to the calm and tranquil oasis of cricket with Christmas leftovers and the womenfolk escape to the calm and tranquil oasis of…..shopping!

Yes, I know, go figure..

Back to matters comprehensible, Irrespective of who’s playing, the Boxing Day audience at the MCG will always call into question the wild declamations of those who pronounce interest in Test Cricket to be dead.

Perhaps the frisson of excitement caused by two teams, both strong and vulnerable in equal measure, has contributed to a near sell out first day.

The weather promises to be good, and apparently the Indian quicks bowled at near full tilt in the MCG outdoor nets, which incidentally look terribly green. Is this a portent of what the actual wicket will be like? An uncharacteristic green-top?

Just one more sleep until we lumber up the MCG steps clad in green kurta, saffron shawl and white Anna Hazare topi, clutching our tricolour while our bags bulge with puri-masaal, tayir-saadam-oorugai and flasks of filter coffee, all the better to lustily bellow ‘Viru sixer maaro’ to the tune of ‘We will, we will rock you’.

Can’t wait!

Soundar

Cricket Australia and their VodaFAIL “Meet the players” event

We have relatives visiting us from Singapore, and we’ve got tickets booked for the Boxing day Test.

But the plan today was to go to the Werribee Zoo. Nice warm day, and the kids were looking forward to it. And then, last night I got a mail from Cricket Australia (the Australian Cricket Family, to be precise) – it talked about an event being organised where the public could meet the players between 1 and 2:30 in Melbourne.

image

My wife’s nephew (age: 13) from Singapore was really excited. The zoo was suddenly a boring place, and he wanted to go see the Australian and Indian players – get some autographs and just see them up close. So, the plan to go to the zoo was suddenly dropped, and we decided to go see the players instead.

We reached the place around 12:45 only to find a huge line already in place to meet the players. It was announced that the players would make their way at around 1:30 and advised people to stand in line if they wanted to see them close.

FAIL #1: The sun was beating down and there was no shade – families probably didn’t expect a huge line and were clearly not prepared for this. There was a time when CA promoted the Slip-Slop-Slap campaign, but this time they just didn’t care. Excited kids just ignored the hot sun and UV rays to just stand in line to get a chance to see their cricketing idols close up. Any shop nearby selling sunscreen and a hat would have probably made a killing, but would you risk losing your place in that big line to go get it? Probably not. And we stayed on too…

FAIL #2: There was an announcement that if you were a Vodafone customer, you could get into the VIP area and meet the players before the others – all you had to do was show your phone. I decided to give up my place in the queue, pulled out my phone and ran ahead. When I got there, they said, come around the other side. But when we did get there (along with a few others), they said – “Sorry! Too many people – We aren’t letting anyone in.”  Talk about chaos.

FAIL #3: We were now ahead in the queue, thanks to the Vodafone announcement, and I bumped into my friend’s son who was standing right behind me. He said he had been standing there from 11:00 am, and he thought it wasn’t fair that they let a few people ahead of him. I agreed with him, but selfishly stood my ground – I just wanted the 13yo to be in with a chance to get his autograph.

FAIL #4: When the players eventually arrived, we couldn’t even get a glimpse of some of the players. We could have given up our spot and gone to the front of the stage and lose our spot or stay put and hope we get a closer look. We decided not to give up our spot in the line. The whole setup was flawed.

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The awesome view (not) from where we were standing.

FAIL #5: The players that turned up for Australia were Clarke, Ponting, Hussey, Warner and the two Victorians – Siddle and Pattinson. Good choice. For India, the players that turned up were Dravid, Zaheer Khan, Kohli, Ojha and Saha. Apart from Dravid and Zaheer Khan, the others wouldn’t even be known to the Australian public. I am sure CA would have tried their best to get the better known players in Australia – Sehwag, Laxman – or even Tendulkar. But none of them turned up. Arguably though, this is more meant for the Australian public than the Indian supporters (although the Indians probably outnumbered them 3 to 1) and the aim is to get the popular Aussie players not the Indian ones. I still classify this as a FAIL.

FAIL #6: By the time we got up close to the stage, the players had already left. So, there was no seeing players in close or getting autographs. At least getting so close to the stage, we realised that the players had left, but there was no announcement. I decided to leave, but most people were just hanging around in the line.

The media got their coverage of a few Indian fans turning up and cheering for their team and CA would have patted themselves in the back of another well organised event. But talk to the fans, and they were just left fuming and annoyed.

I was a little bit embarrassed by the whole event as I had had earlier told my relatives from Singapore that CA was very professionally run unlike BCCI, but the show they put up was anything but…

Rather than just criticise CA, I would like to suggest a few things to make the event better the next time around (the event is a great idea, just not executed well) –

  • Give out a finite number of tickets – just don’t let people queue up and be disappointed after waiting a few hours.  Use some kind of queue management system that dispenses tickets so that we have first in, best dressed without the actual standing-in-line part.
  • Get some shade for the Aussie families and the kids coming out to see the cricketers. Or put in a covered place. I am sure CA can afford it. It would have been worse if there was heavy rain.
  • I am sure Vodafone as a sponsor wanted to give their subscribers a better opportunity to view the cricketers, but this shouldn’t be done in this chaotic fashion. Run some kind of contest or something.
  • Set up the “Meet the players” in such a way that all the people who come over can actually get a good view of the players and feel satisfied.
  • Don’t get unknown players from the opposite camp to just make up the numbers. (No offence to Saha, Ojha and Kohli – we all know who you are, but the Aussies just don’t know)
  • Get players to mingle with the crowd a little bit, just not sit on stage and sign autographs.

-Mahesh-

India Australia team comparisons…(part 1)

The Aussie fan –

India can only play in India – they can’t win anywhere else

The Indian retort –

At least India can play in India, the Aussies can’t even win in Australia anymore…

And so goes the exchange between fans of these two countries on the web and elsewhere. The funny thing is that these two former No.1 ranked teams  are nowhere as strong as they were a few months ago, in spite of what the fans think.

The Aussie decline has probably been the greatest, but they were a much better team to start with. With injuries, retirements and lack of form taking over, the Aussies no longer have the air of invincibility they once had – not even at home. Who would have thought that they would lose to a NZ team that doesn’t even contain a Vettori ?

India is a slightly different story, they came up the rankings due to combination of self-belief, improved performance and the decline of other teams. They had the #1 Test ranking, and the ODI World Cup in its trophy cupboard, before the reality check in England.

One thing is certain though – both teams are equally matched, IMO – even if form guide and one on one comparisons says otherwise.

One on one comparisons

Let us go with the team that is likely to play in the Boxing day test:

Australia: Warner, Watson, Khawaja, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, Haddin, Siddle, Pattinson, Starc, Lyon

India: Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Kohli, Dhoni, Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav

It is of course too early to call the exact team – particularly the Aussie team makeup is still unclear. Will Watto play just as a batsman, or would they bring in someone like Ed Cowan? If Cowan plays, would it be a good idea to play an all rounder like Christian in and drop Khawaja?

Similarly, for India would Zaheer be fit enough to be an automatic selection? Will Ishant’s ankle recover on time ? Would Rohit Sharma be a better choice than Virat Kohli? Would you play Ojha instead of Ashwin?

But if we go with what we have now, here is my list on who holds the edge:

India

Australia

Who holds the edge?

Sehwag Warner There is a lot of similarity in the way both players bat. I personally think Warner will be a better Test player than a ODI or T20 player; but Sehwag with his experience definitely holds the edge
Gambhir Watson Watson if he can bowl, but it appears that he is still not fully fit to bowl, so I would rate this matchup as even
Dravid Khawaja Dravid. His resurgence in form this year has been brilliant, but even if he wasn’t amongst runs, he would still rate higher than new comer Khawaja
Tendulkar Ponting This would have been an even match a couple of years ago. Not anymore. Tendulkar clearly holds the edge.
Laxman Clarke This one is a hard matchup, but I would have to give it to Clarke because of the additional things he brings on to the field – his bowling and fielding. But Clarke just edges Laxman out. Just.
Kohli Hussey Hussey would a be clear favourite against newcomer Kohli, even with the slight dip in form he has had in the last 2 series.
Dhoni Haddin Their wicket keeping skills are probably even, but I’d rather have Dhoni batting to save or win a game than Haddin any day.
Z Khan Siddle An uninjured Zaheer would tip Siddle, but given he is coming back from injury, I would say the scales would tip towards Siddle
I Sharma Pattinson I would call this even. Pattinson is the in form bowler, but Ishant bowled well in West Indies.
Yadav Starc There is nothing to pick here. Even.
Ashwin Lyon Again, hard to make a call. Ashwin is probably a better bat than Lyon, but I’d call this even.

So, my one on one comparisons, put India slightly ahead of Australia.

Form guide, stats and other trivia

Let us first look at the form of the team and some additional stats.

 

India

Australia

Played in last 12 months 13 games – 4 wins, 5 losses 10 games – 4 wins, 4 losses
Last 5 games DWWLL
(2 wins, 2 losses, 1 drawn)
LWWLD
(2 wins, 2 losses, 1 drawn)
ICC rank 2 (Rating – 118) 4 (Rating – 103)
Debuts in the last 12 months Unadkat
Kohli
P Kumar
A Mukund
R Ashwin
U Yadav
VR Aaron
MA Beer
U Khawaja
TA Copeland
NM Lyon
SE Marsh
PJ Cummins
Pattinson
Warner
Starc
The aging club Dravid (38)
Tendulkar (38)
Laxman (37)
Ponting (37)
Hussey (36)
Haddin (34)

There is nothing much separating the two teams on wins and losses in the last 12 months – If it weren’t for India’s series against England, their record would have looked a lot better than the 4-5 win-loss ratio this year.

India are also higher on the ICC Ranking (which I don’t think adds any value to the actual team comparisons). An interesting statistic is the fact that India have tried out 7 new players in their 13 games, whereas Australia have tried out 9 in their 10 games. Of this list, there are 3 people still in the Indian team (Kohli, Ashwin and Yadav) and 5 in the Australian team. What this means is that nearly half the Australian team is new to Test cricket!

Last Chance Saloon

[by Sunny Mishra (@sehwagology) and Mohan Krishnamoorthy (@mohank)]

The promotions for the forthcoming full tour to Australia by India have been on in full force on TV in India. These promos are a source of some mirth and a lot of unintended comedy. We have had former cricket stars hyping the event as “Thunder Downunder”. Shane Watson has the unenviable task of lecturing us on meteorology and climate adadptation. Through these promos, we are reliably informed that, while it is winter in India it is summer in Australia. Saurav Ganguly talks up the series as the ‘battle of the chirp’, referring to the mental fortitude that is required for teams to tour Australia. Bollywood stars have got in on the act. The tour has been called the “Agneepath” (“Path of Fire”) Series. It helps that a movie by the same name is due for release shortly!

Product placement meets TV meets cricket.

An India v Australia match-up has not, in the past, required any additional marketing. Fans of both countries relish the contest. The Border-Gavaskar series had the potential to be billed as The Ashes of the new millennium until Australia lost its sheen. Nevertheless, since the 2001 epic in Kolkata, Boarder-Gavaskar Trophy clashes between Australia and India have marketed and sold themselves. And if interest in the BG Series flagged at any point in time, that Test in Sydney in 2008 ensured that Australia-India Tests would always retain an interest around the world of cricket.

The Border-Gavaskar Series was an opportunity for the most powerful team of our generation to meet the most powerful team of our generation. It presented an opportunity for the strongest team to meet the richest team; an opportunity for the most talkative team to meet a team that was finding its voice (at times, even a provocative rude voice). Every series saw drama, emotion, guts, glory, evictions, fights, breakdowns, fight-backs, back-stabbing, court-room trials and more. This was Survivor meets Big Brother meets TV meets cricket. Always! So, the additional chest-thumping marketing promos have been somewhat strange and mostly unnecessary.

However, India did lose to England in the 2011 English summer. Badly! Most Team India fans have worked hard to try and banish the horribly painful memory of that loss deep into the recesses of their minds. England in 2011? India went there to play? Play cricket? No way!

Subsequent to that series against England, India has made a few small but significant changes in personnel, although the approach has not been changed substantially. India beat England in an ODI series and then beat a hapless West Indies. But both of these series were at home. In India. In familiar conditions. So, it is hard for us to gauge the impact of the reorganization and the restructuring that was necessitated by the horrible English summer.

Moreover, the injuries that plagued Team India in the horrible summer tour of England persist. These have not vanished. India has had to identify, groom and prepare new resources. Quickly.

Meanwhile, Australia is caught in a funny place. We cannot be sure whether they are in consolidation phase or rebuilding phase or start-up phase! That is how unsure the Australian cricket team is looking these days. The cocky sheen has been replaced by an immature diffidence. Australia present an image of a child eager to — and, at times, able to — peddle fast on a bicycle when it can’t remember if it has taken its first baby steps in life. It looks like a team what needs a “re” prefix to describe the process of transformation that it is undergoing, without being sure if it is resurgent, rebuilding, regrowth, regeneration or revival.

After the terrible Ashes loss at home at the hands of England (again!), Australia went about the rebuild that was required in a typically Australian manner. The result was the Argus review. A public enquiry was conducted. All stakeholders were contacted and interviewed. A tome was written.

This series provides an opportunity to assess the status of the sweeping changes brought in by the Argus review. Australia has new selectors, a new coach, a new coaching system, a relatively new captain, and a new T20 league. All of these were intended to arrest the reversals over the last couple of summers. All of these will be under scrutiny. The challenge will be to show demonstrable improvements, and fast.

The first few attempts at regeneration have been very mixed. A good session is immediately followed by a bad session. In the past few months the team has demonstrated excellence and weakness, strength and vulnerability, solidity and inconsistency, toughness and fragility — all in equal measure.

All of this has turned the pre-series Australian Press ritual on its head.

What we normally have every (Australian) summer is the Australian press attacking the visiting opposition captain and key players in a remarkably organised pack-mentality. This ritual would often commence a few weeks before the first ball is bowled. The opposing team would be made to feel the heat and the pressure before the first toss. A siege-mentality would often grip visiting teams even before the actual cricket commences.

However, this time around, the Australian press is internally focused — almost entirely. Should Ricky Ponting retire? Should Usman Khawaja play? And if so, at what position? What happens to Phil Hughes now? Why are there so many injuries to key players like Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson, Shaun Marsh, Pat Cummins, Ryan Harris, et al?

These are some of the questions that have to be asked. And key press outlets in Australia have started this postmortem. The questions and barbs from the Australian media are being directed at the hosts this summer. There are self-doubts. These need addressing much more urgently than the potential gaps and vulnerabilities of the opposition camp. The Australian press is internally focused.

So, this series does provide some interesting story-lines. Some these will be distractions. Others will surely affect preparations.

For India’s senior soldiers, this is the “Final Frontier”. A win in Australia will check off another item on the bucket list of the “Triumphant Trinity”! (Ok, we were struggling here after the Fantastic Five became the Fabulous Four!). The Trinity has come close to a victory in Australia in the past. But the team lacked the killer punch; that finishing touch.

Sachin Tendulkar will be eager to get the 100th 100 completed. [Editorial Comment: Under normal circumstances, we may have said “Tendulkar needs to get that monkey off his back.” However, that would be a tad insensitive for an India tour of Australia! So the Editor culled that cliche out of this piece!] If Tendulkar does not get to his 100th century early on in the tour, this distraction will become as unbearable in the Australian press as it has already become in the Indian press. That distraction is one that the team does not need.

There is a risk of the series becoming a Ricky Ponting farewell tour — that is, of course, if the retirement does not happen before the tour commences. The 2003/04 series became a distraction for the home team as Steve Waugh’s retirement took center-stage in Australia. A Ricky Ponting farewell tour would be a needless distraction on a side lane when the team is struggling to cope with driving the bus within the confines of the lane markings.

Both captains will have to manage these diversions expertly.

One could say that Australia’s overseas assignments in Sri Lanka and South Africa have exceeded the expectations of a team that is in ‘re-build mode’. However, Australia will look at key moments in both these series and will want to ask questions. Being bowled out for 47 at Cape Town was a stunning low-point. At home they have been stymied by a plucky New Zealand side. The Kiwis used the conditions better at Hobart after being outplayed at The Gabba in Brisbane.

The loss at Hobart to New Zealand just prior to the “Agneepath Series” will hurt Australia. Going into the last day, one could not imagine Australia losing. Yes, New Zealand (and in particular, Doug Bracewell) bowled brilliantly. However, the bowling was hardly menacing. What was scary — from an Australian perspective — was the tentativeness and mental fragility that was on display. Apart from Warner and Lyon, briefly, all the other batsmen poked prodded and perished. This slide to ridiculousness was started by Ricky Ponting. Until the Ponting dismissal, one could not imagine an Australia loss. Ponting spent 51 minutes out in the middle. 51 minutes of extreme self-doubt. 51 minutes that defined Australia’s loss. 51 minutes of agony for any Australian fan. 51 minutes of pain.

So much so that the words in the poser: “Ponting will depart? Yeah? When?” perhaps need to be urgently rearranged to: “Yeah! When will Ponting depart?”

Another major concern for Australia is the litany of injuries. While Watson is expected to recover in time for Boxing Day, the return of young gun Patrick Cummins is unknown at this stage. Shaun Marsh should return to his spot at 3. The fitness status of Ryan Harris is unknown.

While the return of Watson and Marsh is welcome news, they will be short on (recent) match practice. The Big Bash League is the only cricket available for Watson and Marsh to secure match practice; and a hit in a T20 game is hardly the ideal preparation for Test cricket.

And while on this topic… Who thought of having a domestic T20 competition in the middle of a first class season, and while the home Test-series is on? Even the BCCI wouldn’t have come up with this pearl of extremely bad programming. The BCCI office bearers would have had to be on a terrible cocktail of hallucination-inducing drugs and vodka to have come up with such a silly concept!

The scheduling is so terrible that even if Patrick Cummins’s injury heals prior to the Adelaide Test — commencing 24 January 2012 — he would have to make an entry into Test cricket without any first class cricket under his belt.

As a Team India fan, I have seen many ridiculous attempts at non-management by the BCCI. But this piece of ridiculousness is something that would make even the BCCI officials reject with extreme and violent disgust.

India’s preparations have hardly been ideal either. An injury cloud hangs over Zaheer Khan. He has played two first-class games for Mumbai in the domestic Ranji Trophy competition. The comeback signs are good. But, will he last the tour? For India to have a successful tour, his form and his bowling-leadership will be crucial. One is never sure when Ishant Sharma will break down. For some time now, his body appears as though it is being held together by band-aid. Sreesanth is injured. Praveen Kumar is injured. Varun Aaron is injured. Harbhajan Singh is injured. Munaf Patel is injured. Ashish Nehra is not injured, but is not in selection contention. Who knows why? This means that the Indian bowling sports a new, young (and somewhat untested) look about it. Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar form the pace attack while R. Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha form the spin strength.

While the rest of the team was playing against West Indies in an ODI series, a lead party of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Ishant Sharma reached Melbourne prior to full squad assembling in Canberra for the two practice games.

Practice games? Yeah right!

India is scheduled to play an Australia Chairman’s XI for a pair of 2-day games. Typically this side is a clutch of rising domestic stars led by a seasoned veteran. However, since the Big Bash League will have commenced on 16 December, it will be difficult for Cricket Australia to provide a competitive side to play against India. So, will it be adequate match practice for the visiting India Team? We do not think so.

The senior Indian players value structured practice sessions more than practice games. While there is plenty of time for that, what is lacking is net bowlers. CA is under no obligation to provide them net bowlers until when the Tests commence. So there is a scheduling mess here too — once again, caused by a senseless T20 competition that carves up the domestic Shield season in half. India will, therefore, need to ensure that it takes an additional pace bowler on the trip. Either that or India needs to make do with Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar bowling ball after ball to the batsmen in the nets!

The lack of net bowlers is not a new problem that Indian teams have faced in Australia. This issue has surfaced on past tours to Australia too. Net bowlers have often been unavailable and practice facilities have often been “off limits”. Throw downs from the trainer are hardly going to prepare any batsmen — however experienced — for the probing examinations and searing pace of Peter Siddle and James Pattinson.

So, there you have it. It is a strange series that has more doubts than Agnee (fire). And if the teams have a path towards a certain future, this is unknown either. Yet, what we do know is that this has been billed as the Agneepath Series. It represents a battle between a team that is trying hard to rebuild and a team that has to ensure that a rebuild is unnecessary.

An Australian team that is in transition presents India with her best opportunity yet of securing a series victory in Australia. India has challenged Australia’s dominance in the glorious decade that Australia has had. India twice ended Australia’s record-winning sequences. It is now an opportunity to achieve what South Africa and England have both recently achieved — a win in Australia.

For India’s greatest generation of cricketers this is the last chance saloon.

— Sunny (@sehwagology) and Mohan (@mohank)

Sacrilege Of The Mucks With The Bat

Last weekend, I was  at a cricket ground, aspiring for a spot into my company’s cricket team/squad. The selection trials were on. About 80 had registered, and about 45 had shown up, some were in formals too (I mean shirts and trousers and leather shoes). Batsmen batted, bowlers bowled. I had checked the box next to “Bowling” on the ‘Application Form’, and hence was mildly surprised when I was asked to pad up to bat. I went to the caller and told him that I didn’t ask for it. I was told I was the only one who didn’t opt for it, so they thought it was a printing mistake. I replied “Ah well, don’t expect much out of me. I’m a Muralitharan with the bat.” True to my word, I hoicked a couple to cow corner, got hit on pad 4 times, drove thrice, pulled once and got bowled twice (once while playing a back foot flick to a yorker, and once while dancing down the track). God knows where my front foot was. With an awkward smile, I returned to get rid of the gears…

I’ve been a bowler, and I always want to remain so. Even if my valiant attempt at a shot at the company’s team might mean the end of red cherry cricket. And I’ve always enjoyed watching cricketers like me go on to bat. It’s entertaining. I’ve enjoyed watching Chris Martin, he’s a legend in our circles. Bowl your heart out, cannot care less for the willow handling. Muralitharan was a smiling assassin even when he came out to bat. One would think he’s driving away bees if you watched him bat. And he would wear a silly smile on his face. He once had a runner to assist him, and he started off to run when edged the ball behind the keeper. And then jumped and dove back into the crease, leaving everybody chuckling in laughter.

People like them, the real “Mucks with the Bat”, are a dying breed. Cricket now demands that even the bowlers are able enough to bat and see a team through. Top order batsmen get out for cheap, and tail enders have to bail them out by putting up a decent score which would give themselves something to bowl at. Everyone get’s a “He’s no muck with the bat” from Sunil Gavaskar. In the era before, bowlers would tell the batsmen “give us xyz runs to bowl at and we will manage within that.” Nowadays, batsmen are casual enough to risk their wicket and ask for the tail to do mop things up.

All that has given rise to more number of all-rounders. Bowlers who can bat, more than batsmen who can bowl. Some have completely changed their resume. Shoaib Malik, Tillekeratne Dilshan were spinners to start with, are now more renowned for their batting. Today, bowlers are expected to bat. And bat for long. And score. When a billion people expect the last three names on the batting card to do something which the eight above must’ve already done, something seemed out of sorts. Not new, the adulteration has been happening for a while.

No, we don’t undermine batting. We love to bat.  But in our own way. Glenn McGrath, Courtney Walsh were all very serious about their batting. Their averages may speak otherwise. It was some kind of kill-joy pleasure, when someone like MacGill or Hoggard would walk out and just stay put for half and hour, without scoring. Just, not get out. Frustrate the opponent. Enjoy their frustration. Or conversely, like the legend Murali mentioned above, swing. Frustrate your own teammate(s).

We don’t know which direction the front foot must face while driving the ball, we don’t know how to remove the bottom hand away to play with soft hands. We know that a bat is given to protect us from getting out, and, if imagination permits, score runs.

In the ongoing India vs West Indies ODI series, there were three games that had the 10th wicket pair hogging the limelight. In one, we saw the no.10 and no.11 take India to a victory. In two others, there were 10th wicket partnerships of more than fifty! Batting was good, yes… But that’s the job of the top order. When was the last time you saw Indian batsmen coming in at no.10 and no.11 average 20 in List-A cricket?

Once the 7th wicket is gone, it should be time for unadulterated entertainment. Commentators must shut up and not pass a single comment about the batting technique. Frankly, the French cut is our favourite shot. Anything else is out of pure luck.

We gave the world moments some wonderful moments. Last year, we saw Pragyan Ojha performing a Harry Houdini at Mohali. He was out lbw, but the umpire thought otherwise, and soon after, ball somehow ran to fine leg, and Ojha ran, ran India to victory. And beyond that, the most entertaining part of Australia’s win over South Africa at Johannesburg three weeks ago was the fifteen minutes worth live images after every other ball, bowled after the fall of Australia’s 8th wicket, of the no.11 batsman in the dressing room, Nathan Lyon. He was sweating profusely, eyes open wide, mouth gaping, heart thumping… And he was not even on the field yet.

Ojha won it for India. Australia won it for Nathan Lyon.

Batsmen score centuries every day. Now they even score double centuries in ODIs. Runs are now available in every vending machine of a cricket pitch. But even in this era, we have legends like Chris Martin, who received the biggest cheer of the match from the crowd at Hamilton when he completed his 100th run of his career in his 60th test.

Mucks with the bat.

Chris Martin - A lot of slip between the bat and the hip.

– Bagrat

(image courtesy ABC News )