Monthly Archives: March 2013

Come to India, we will show you

India lost 0-4 to England in England 2011 through poor preparation, a wrong team, a sudden and indescribable inability to play the seaming ball, injuries and overall fatigue. Oh! And the opposition played brilliantly too.

India then went on to lose 0-4 to Australia in Australia. Injuries and fatigue could not be blamed for that loss. India had prepared reasonably well too. One or two players had warmed the bench right through the tour — somewhat surprisingly and with some inflexible obstinacy on the part of team management. But overall, the touring party was perhaps the best that India could have fielded. Yet India had lost. Badly.

The captain, Dhoni was blamed for his wrong selections. Dhoni was also blamed for his ultra-defensive field placings. ‘Rift’ remained a recurring refrain. Aging seniors in the team were blamed. Two of these seniors subsequently retired.

The team spoke in many tongues on that disastrous tour of Australia. In one of the one-day games, Dhoni achieved a victory with a few balls to spare and with many hearts in mouths. In the press conference after the game, Gautam Gambhir, who had scored 92 in that game, said that the game ought to have been closed off in the 48th over itself. On another occasion, Dhoni responded to a team selection issue and indicated that some of the seniors were too slow and cost the team 20 runs on the field. Sehwag responded to that statement with surprise.

All was not well with the team. Or so it appeared.

Mohinder Amarnath, the then chairman of selection committee, wanted Dhoni removed as captain. The BCCI President, N. Srinivasan, vetoed that decision. Much band-aid was needed, and applied. Much sand-papering was needed, and performed. Much shoving-under-carpet was required, and accomplished.

India looked to rebuilding a tired, aging and weary team that appeared unready for transition. Just as everything else, we do not plan a transition. It just happens. We are like that only. Some felt that the transition process had already been delayed. Yet, India had the perfect opportunity to rebuild at home over a one year period. And India did that through a mix of worthy retirements and good luck through injuries and bad form. Slowly, but surprisingly effectively, under the watchful eyes of a new selection committee headed by Sandeep Patil, the team transitioned.

Ishant Sharma had sledged David Warner in the Perth Test of the Australia series: “Come to India, we will show you,” he had said. Gautam Gambhir, the then team India opening batsman, issued a similar challenge to the Australians and added that India had to prepare “rank turners” for visiting teams. Gambhir and Ishant Sharma betrayed a defensive mindset. They also provided much fodder for the Indian press corps that visited Australia with the India team. The press was more interested in blood, blame and bludgeoning than they were in understanding what exactly was going on with and within the team.

Gambhir was right in asking for “rank turners” to be prepared. I am not sure why there is much disdain for “dust bowls” and “rank turners”. I haven’t heard too many people say, “Disgraceful pitch. Look at that bounce and lateral movement on day-one itself,” but have heard many a person say “What a disgrace! Turn and bounce on day-one itself?” Spinners are as much a part of cricket as pace bowlers are. The game, particularly in Australia, needs to embrace spin as much as it does, pace. Words like “dust bowl” and “pitch doctoring” have been used as pejoratives for far too long in our game. There is nothing wrong with a turning track.

And so, a few turning tracks were prepared to welcome the Australian team. The visiting Australians did not have the skill or the capabilities to cope with the turning ball. Suddenly, the shoe was on the other foot.

The captain, Clarke, was blamed for his wrong team selections. He was also blamed for his somewhat strange captaincy decisions. ‘Rift’ remained a recurring refrain. Immature juniors in the team were blamed.

The point is that just as India needs to prepare more seaming tracks for the domestic Ranji Trophy competition, Australia has to prepare spinning “dust bowls” for some of their domestic games. Dust is not hard to find. And a bowl ought to be available in Australia. Several of the leading talents in the Australian team were badly exposed after coping very poorly with spin, and this showed in Australia’s poor returns from the series.

When India toured England and Australia, there was a sense that there were a few players who had been left behind who ought to have made the team. There were certainly a few players who warmed the bench during those two tours who, perhaps, ought to have got a game. Injury and fatigue plagued at least one of those tours. The real worry for Australia is that the team that they brought over to India was probably their best team. It is likely, therefore, that the rebuilding process will take just that little bit longer for the Australian team.

This is not to say that India has rebuilt the team completely. No. The work has just begun. And as Sameer Chopra says in his blog article, “I am reluctant to draw too many conclusions about the future of Indian cricket based on one series win, at home, against a team undergoing a transition of its own. South Africa, at home, awaits. But the presence of young batsmen who show a hunger for runs, spinners who show aggression, and most importantly, a winning feeling whose memory will, hopefully, stick around and provide some wind beneath their sails in that land. On its pitches, against names like Steyn, Morkel and Philander, there is sufficient cause to hope that no more inversions of this present score lie around the corner.”

A stern test awaits this Indian team now. However, the 4-0 win over Australia was no ordinary feat. And it was delivered by captain M. S. Dhoni leading from the front in the first Test of the series. In his forceful wake came telling contributions from M. Vijay (16 Tests), Ravichandran Ashwin (16 Tests), Cheteshwar Pujara (13 Tests), Shikar Dhawan (1 Test), Ravindra Jadeja (5 Tests), Bhuvaneshwar Kumar (4 Tests), Virat Kohli (18 Tests) and Pragyan Ojha (22 Tests) and Ishant Sharma (51 Tests). This was a significant series win achieved by the above nine players with a total experience total of 146 Tests between them; one in which a particular player with an experience of 198 Tests hadn’t really contributed much.

Barring the introduction of Ajinkya Rahane, most of India’s selection decisions were good and more importantly, paid off. Will Rahane get the benefit of doubt? Subash Jayaraman thinks he should not. That apart, the right players were picked at the right time. And the right players were dropped at the right time. It would appear that this team now responds to the captain much more than the team which represented the worrying transition between 0-8 and 4-0.

I wish India was heading to South Africa next week; a tour that will separate the men from the boys, wheat from chaff. But we have to endure the IPL and a stunning array of meaningless ODIs before India goes head to head against South Africa. And it will be a while yet before we can say “Come to India, we will show you,” as the next domestic Test series is some time away…

— Mohan (@mohank)

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Mohali – Better and Worse than I thought.

The Plan

When I moved to Chandigarh just before 2013 began, I had my eyes on Mohali for (at least) two days of cricket – 17th March for Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy games, and 24th for the test match against Australia. I thought I’d take another day off for the test match, if I could. And I wanted to be at the ground for S.M.A. Trophy just to see the stadium in its glory. That plan got dumped into the trash can and then burnt when BCCI changed the order of the venues hosting the games. For 3 weeks, BCCI website said Mohali hosted the test match AND the S.M.A. Trophy T20 games on 17th March. They later shifted them to Lahli and Rohtak.

So, now, I had to make sure I attend this test match. I must thank my colleague for covering up for me and going to work on Sunday, hence allowing me to attend Sunday’s play.

 

He came

I (and 2 others) reached Mohali at around 7.30 am, and got off the tuk-tuk at a point around 500 m away from the stadium. Two dozen policemen had cordoned off entry to the street leading to the stadium gates. So, we walked. Nearing the stadium, I spotted a ticket counter. We had to buy tickets, and were looking for counters selling daily tickets. A policeman from another group of two dozen policemen stepped towards us and told that all ticket sales have been closed at that booth and we would have to go other gates (1 and 4) for tickets.

We neared gate 1. There were another 30 policemen there who stood there like ushers and shooed us away, saying there are no ticket counters there and all ticket sales were closed everywhere. We told them that their whole squad is making the fans go around in circles for nothing. We were in such a tense conversation with the policeman, that my colleague later told me he missed an opportunity to take a photograph along with Sudhir Kumar, the famous Sachin Tendulkar fan with tricolour painted on his body, who was standing right there.

One policeman then showed us the address of a bank which sells the tickets and asked us to go there and buy the tickets. It was 7.45 am. On a Sunday. What bank opens on a Sunday, that too at 7.45 am?

Left with no choice, we pulled another tuk-tuk and reached the bank. It was closed. But, the guard directed us to a fellow who was selling tickets to the game. Yes, black. Now, sshhhh. He had tickets to only one stands (General Chairs, West Block). They were season tickets, and cost Rs 250 for the whole match. They were sold to us at Rs 400. Again, left with no choice, we bought those tickets.

In retrospect, we paid 8 times the amount the tickets were worth. (Maybe 4 times, if I had come to attend Monday’s play, which seemed impossible for me, personally)

I was near the gate by around 8:15 am, and I had time to meet a friend and then get into the ground by 8:30 am.

He saw

As soon as I entered into the stadium, I let out a “Wowwwwwwwwwwww”. It was so very beautiful. “Cute” should be more precise. Small stadium, green outfield, clean look, nicely constructed Pavilion and aesthetically beautiful open stands. It looked like a wonderful throwback stadium to enjoy test cricket. It was like Nagpur’s VCA Jamtha ground without the second tier.

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PCA Mohali

And yes, of course, there were more policemen (and women) in the stadium. They must have been grand cricket fans, they were in the stands too. Front seat. And there were stewards, like the ones you see in English cricket games – paid to keep watch on the spectators and not turn around and look at the play. (Yes, ball boys were there too.)

The mid-March heat did not start burning until it was 11 am. A breeze would go past the stadium once in a while, but not soothing enough to some. The open roof was a take and give. The sun shone hard in the afternoon, but the intermittent breeze kept us from sweating. The organizers would come in once in a while and throw the “4” and “6” placards into the crowd to get them to show that up and pump the Indian batting. Instead, the audience used that to cover their head from the sun. Later, they innovated and carved holes into it to morph that card into a cap.

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Cap-tion this

By 11 am or so, the crowd in my section started filling in at a nice pace. It was nearly 75% full by lunch time. I got to know that a ticket counter was opened after 9 am to sell season tickets to this stand alone. TO THIS STAND ALONE. I looked up and scanned the other sections of the ground, and they were plain empty. Only those who had tickets to those stands by day-1 could use that to enter there on any other day. No tickets to those stands were sold after day-1, as told by a policeman guarding the gates early in the morning.

The food in the ground wasn’t great. Pizza Hut’s PHD was there to the rescue, though. Diluted aerated drinks were sold at overpriced rates. Bottled water was sold at least 2.5 times its original price, only until they ran out of water by tea time, though.

By the afternoon session, my section was full. Neighbouring section empty. Haha. OK. You got me. I’m kidding. There were 23 people there in the neighbouring section.

How I wish my section was not full!!?! While it was nice to see public turn up for the game, it was sad to see such an idiotic public turn up for the game. Some of the people who turned up didn’t care about the test match. They were here primarily to take photos of them posing with the ground behind them, capturing it on their mobile phone that looked as big as my school physics lab record note book. And then they would whine about the test match being played at a slow pace and then go to some other place and take more photographs. Maybe Punjab Matrimony dot com has a lot of “Me at Mohali” photographs uploaded over the weekend.

There was a “We want Yuvi and Bhajji in the team” placard. I am sure they meant a dance team.

The worst part about this crowd was how much it wanted, begged and prayed for Murali Vijay, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha to get out. It led me to conclude that India does not deserve to host a game at Mohali and assume it will get home advantage from the crowd support here. Crowd support? Both of those mean nothing at Mohali. It was just so bad out there.

The fickle crowd was all so very “I Heart Bhuvi” as soon as David Warner got out first over, though.

He left

The day’s play of cricket was nice. I was blamed for bringing ill luck to the ground and felling all Indian wickets, though. But, hey! India won. Regardless, I have a lot of points to jabber about this stadium experience.

First of all, the Chandigarh public alone cannot be blamed for poor attendance. PCA/Mohali is responsible for half of this nuisance. Public can buy tickets only if the association sells tickets. They sold tickets to just one stand (which was not even the cheapest priced stand). And those tickets were season tickets, being sold on 4th day. I felt ashamed to be in a stadium where the ground was jam packed for about a 60 degree big chunk of a pie chart and nearly empty everywhere else. It must have looked disgusting on television, if they cared to show that difference at all.

Check out how differently two different stands were occupied. Tickets were sold on day-4 ONLY to the stand on the right. (that too season tickets)

Check out how differently two different stands were occupied. Tickets were sold on day-4 ONLY to the stand on the right. (that too season tickets)

Why can they not sell daily tickets? All those tickets that were not sold are lying waste in some corner of the PCA office, anyway. Sell them, get the public inside. There was no cohesion in the crowd. There were no returning fans. We were all first timers who chanced upon a test match at Mohali. If they let the fans choose from a variety of tickets, a big number of tickets, more parts of the stadium would have filled. It did not happen. It seemed silly.

I liked how the security checks were neat at the entrance of the stadium. But, it was very disgusting to see more policemen than fans in the 0.5 km radius outside the stadium before gates opened. And most of them couldn’t direct the public to ticket counters.

If, say, someone came to Mohali, and say all this foolish ticketing and policing during a test match in the year 2004, he wouldn’t be interested in visiting the ground in 2005. His friends won’t attend it either. 8 years hence, half the cricket fans in Chandigarh won’t. The other half doesn’t care about test cricket, anyway. The association has not given importance to the fans here as far as the ticketing goes (I have only one instance to talk about, though). And, other factors affecting fan-fare can be debated only if we have enough bums on seats inside the stadium.

Before I end, also have a recommendation for the PCA. I see that PCA doesn’t  want to let in the crowd, and most of the junta doesn’t want to come in anyway. So, why not pull down some of the stands on the square and convert that into grass lawn banks? You can have limited ticket entry to the lawn banks. Price it at whatever you wish, only a few are going to turn up anyway. So, let them have a nice time there. Like the ones in South Africa or New Zealand. It will be beautiful. It will also be a testimony to Chandigarh’s greenery, too.

Honestly speaking, it will take me some convincing to attend another game at Mohali. Well played, PCA. You win.

– Bagrat