Author Archives: 10yearslate

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

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In memoriam – Roebuck.

Perched directly behind the bowler’s arm, Ajit Agarkar’s to be precise, in the Sir Donald Bradman stand at the Adelaide oval, the heat was flat, dry and in the mid-thirties. Capped with the strong Australian light, without a trace of humidity, it made one ask why Australian teams complained when they toured the sub-continent.

The air-conditioning notwithstanding, it made me perspire just to think of buttoning a collar, let alone yoking oneself to a tie. The Bhogles, Shastris and Gavaskars strolling around on breaks from TV commentary duties, contractually obligated to suffer under the noose, looked like they might have been far more comfortable in the South Indian veshti-banian (white wrap-singlet), or perhaps a loose cotton kurta.

Which was exactly what Peter Roebuck had on as he came around the corner, his straw hat crowning patrician features, telling a companion Indian journalist in that clipped and firm voice “I don’t know why you wouldn’t wear a kurta in such weather”.

The occasion was of course the watershed match when India trumped Australia in Australia for the first time in 23 years. It was notable for Ponting and Dravid’s double centuries, Ajit ‘Bombay Duck’ Agarkar’s 6-for, and it must be said, the teenage Parthiv Patel’s woeful ‘keeping.

For me, it was the first sighting of the man, long listened to, who it was said was getting to be a more widely read English writer in India than P.G.Wodehouse. For long had I admired his neatly struck coinages ‘leather-flingers’ and the one that combined English wit with a dig at the upstart colonials;

“Yousuf Youhana was only the fifth Christian to play for Pakistan, a number higher, one supposes, than have played for Australia”.

As the series made its way to Melbourne, Srini Vasan of Melbourne’s ‘Indian Voice’ organised a buffet with the cricketing faithful during the course of the Boxing day test. To bear out Kerry O’Keefe’s introduction in ‘Sometimes I forgot to laugh’, it was in a ‘one-star’ Indian restaurant out in the suburbs. The audience was largely of Indian origin and still delirious after the Adelaide win and Sehwag’s 195 on the first day at the MCG. We quietened down and listened in rapt silence to Peter’s views on the day’s play. The event concluded with what soon became an annual ritual; Srini presenting Peter with a kurta.

But that was not all. The restaurateur emerged with a bottle of wine. Peter graciously accepted the bottle but it was followed up with a marker pen and a semaphored request for a signature. Peter signed with a rueful smile and handed the bottle back to the clueless restaurateur amid much raucous laughter.

The Boxing Day Test buffet soon became a much looked-forward-to annual event thanks to Srini Vasan and Peter Roebuck. Given this was not a publicised event, a flurry of calls elicited the venue of each year’s event and Peter soon grew to recognise us regulars.

Mario Puzo wrote “The migrant retains with him a fossilized image of the country he left behind”. As these dinners progressed over the years, Peter, who travelled to India more often and widely than we could or did, became quite the voice of India. Peter began painting for us first hand the image of an India that was changing and growing beyond the realms of our ‘fossilized image’. Our discussions spanned Indian fast food to changing mores and moralities. One either imagined or sensed his wistful nostalgia for the fast disappearing days of genteel cricketers as epitomised by Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and the alarming rise of Cricket moms.

Far from the popular view the cricketing world has of him being an apologist for Indian cricket, I consider him to be more of a realist, closer to the action.
On one occasion, we were as usual playing armchair generals and castigating the BCCI. He took a contrary view and without disagreeing, made constructive observations that could only come from one who had begun to understand how such an essentially Indian organisation as the BCCI worked.

That was as telling a metaphor to underline that we had drifted away from comprehension while he had begun to arrive closer to the centre.

RIP Peter. The world of cricket will be a lesser place without you.
Soundar

P.S. Here’s a link to the last such event.

A conversation with Gideon Haigh

The venue for my club, East Malvern CC’s, annual President’s dinner was a Greek restaurant on a balmy Sunday evening in the eponymous suburb of East Malvern in Victoria, Australia.

The decades old club, which boasts Sir Garfield Sobers, yes, THE Sobers, among its many feted alumni, drew most of its stalwarts for this dinner which featured the Cricket Writer, Gideon Haigh as its keynote speaker.

I shy away from using the term keynote, as that connotes lissome lecterns, frowning faces and knotted knits about the neck. This event was none of that, especially considering that Haigh himself turned up in a faded old boat-neck T-shirt.

As he and I were the only vegetarians in the room, we were sat at the same table. Given that he is also a fellow offie, and doesn’t, by his own admission, turn the ball much, he is practically my blood kinsman.

Much in the manner of a harp of housewives gravitating to the subject of mothers-in-law, we shortly fell to picking over the disdain we suffer at the hands of batsmen both good and indifferent. Particularly rankling was how the eyes of those wood choppers light up, mouths split into toothy grins and chests puff up when the skipper hands us the ball with a look of worry on his face as he simultaneously sends everyone out to man the fences. 

But, Contempt breeds unfamiliarity-thus spake…well, I.

Therein lies the offie’s utility to XIs, that ability to tempt the woodsmen into indiscretions they would not contemplate against our evil twins, the leggies.

Overcome with delight at not being fed lamb by the provedore, another Zorba lookalike, I inquired if Gideon was making the pilgrimage to India for the IPL. No, said he with a rueful laugh, I’ve taken such a position against it that I doubt if I’ll ever be welcome there.

Interestingly for such a prolific cricket writer, he has never set foot in India at all. Therefore, if, among the vast readership of this blog are the string pullers, I’m sure the hint will be taken.

Soon enough, after the warm up act provided by a succession of club worthies, Gideon Haigh took the floor.

 He began with a quick varnam* on himself-Journalist for 26 years, cricketing writer for longer. He’s also played 181 games for South Yarra CC.  Raising the bar for cricketing tragics everywhere, he ensured that marriage and the birth of his child didn’t interfere with the cricket season. His catch-cry, resonant with those who continue pursuits well beyond the age decreed by decorum is-‘Young once, immature forever’.

Tailored to the audience, he next sang the club administrator’s ninda-sthuthi (song of lament)-the never bridged chasm between expense and income, segued into those quirks entirely unique to club cricket in Melbourne and launched into the main R-T-P** for the night-Australia’s prospects for the 2010-11 Ashes, resuscitation of the ODI format and the spectre of the BCCI overtaking the ICC.

Ragam.

Ponting’s perceived inadequacies notwithstanding, the overall mood was that Australia would prevail, never mind the emergence of a newly competitive England.

Tanam.

The news of the death of the ODI format is greatly exaggerated. It can certainly be saved by some immediate surgery such as removal of over-limits on bowlers and the preparation of result wickets which would even the scales between bat and ball.

Pallavi.

At the time, there was a deadlock between Australia’s Howard and NZ’s Anderson for the ICC chair (since resolved in favour of John Howard). The discussion largely revolved around the relative merits of each candidate pertinent to their ability to handle the behemoth that was the BCCI. The view was that Howard, the wily politician that he was, was probably the best equipped. Time will tell.

Some tuqda-s*** of note included the four year residence of Gary Sobers in Victoria, and how, despite a popular groundswell of support for his appointment as Victoria’s coach, the fact that he did not have the appropriate piece of paper stymied it.

All in all, a wonderful evening, replete with nostalgia and the heady smell of that bond that unites cricket lovers, wannabes and tragics everywhere. I’m looking forward to next year.

Soundar.

*****************

An explanation of some of the musical terms for the elucidation of those not as familiar with the Carnatic musical form.

*Varnam

The opening piece of a Carnatic Music Concert-usually familiar, fast paced and mood setting.

**R-T-P

Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi, the central, three-piece bulwark of a full-length Carnatic Music Concert.

***tuqda

Short, popular pieces-sometimes based on audience requests, which round off a concert.

A healthy ball.

Dramatis Personae. 

Michael Atherton. (Captain)
Marcus Trescothick
Rahul Dravid.
Sachin Tendulkar
Andrew Symonds.
Shahid Afridi
Hansie Cronje
MS Dhoni (wicket keeper)
Imran Khan
Waqar Younis.
John Lever.
Stuart Broad (12th man)
********** 

This composite team lines up against a World XI 

Act 1. Scene 1. 

Dressing Room. 

Athers: All right listen up everyone. We’re bowling. On the field in fifteen. 

Imran, tossing the ball back and forth with Waqar; “Keep the shine on the Kookaburra, boys.”

**************
Act 2. Scene 1.

Since this is a combined media production, there is a close-up of a four piece ball as a backdrop. The ball is beautifully, immaculately shined on one side, the figure of the Kookaburra still in mint condition. The other side though, looks like the proverbial dog’s breakfast-scratch and scuff marks, rhythmic serrations, lifted seam. The demarcating seam though is immaculately clean. 

As Athers leads the troop back into the dressing room, shoulders a-slump, Afridi’s still running fingers through his hair making sure it looks picture perfect for that elusive L’Oreal contract. 

Athers: Goodness Gracious me, 371 in fifty overs, and I thought between the lot of us, we’d have been able to make that ball sing Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor.

Imran: Well, I surreptitiously scratched up the ball with my bottle top as I ran in…
Waqar:…and I gave it a nice long lick to load up the rough side. Must admit, the Chennai earth tastes just as dodgy as the water.
Hansie:…as well as digging my studs in as we waited on the boundary decision.
Athers:…besides adding the best of British dirt into the scratches.
Lever:…Don’t forget the invisible Vaseline on the shiny side.
Symonds:…and my sweat, topped off by some zinc cream
Tresco:…and a varnish of my mint-spit.
Dravid:..I don’t admit to producing any spit from my lollies
Sachin:..nor do I admit to cleaning the seam of any dirt or spit with my fingernails.
Dhoni:…The boys bowled in the right areas..sorry, the extra long flaps on my gloves weren’t really needed, as the ball didn’t swing as we thought it would.
Afridi: None of your tricks did the job, so, as I normally do, I thought I’d bite it with my specially sharpened incisors, canines and molars, paid for by the PCB,….but that %$#@! Viru just kept hitting us for six!

Act 2. Scene 2. 

Tresco: Say, is it just me, or does anyone else feel queasy?
Waqar: No, same here. I vote we elect to go home ill.

**

Disclaimer: Chill guys, an impromptu, spur-of-the-moment confection. No malice intended.

Soundar

A conversation with Peter Roebuck

Srinivasan of the ‘Indian Voice’ in Melbourne organises a dinner around the Boxing Day Test every year featuring Peter Roebuck.

The venue is always at Indian restaurants, with names featuring ‘Punjabi’ ‘Dhaba’ ‘Masala’ ‘Curry’ and ‘takeaway’ in the usual permutations. The chef cum proprietor is routinely guilty 0f the interior decor, with a propensity for sequinned works featuring bearded grandees a-loll against bolsters receiving intoxicants from surahi bearing maidens with impossibly imposing implants. What looks very like a lungi on the wall with Taj Mahals all over it may well be my philistine eye not recognising a wall hanging when I see one.

None of this should take away from the menu which rarely deviates from Naan, dal makhani, mixed veg curry, papad and rice. For those of a certain persuasion, there a couple of other curries featuring body parts of young quadrupeds and bipeds.

The Roebuck dinner is an event I rarely miss, affording as it does the opportunity to fill up to the back teeth at the buffet for 10 bucks,  listen to one of the most engaging writers and fluent talkers about the game.

Sadly this time around the numbers were’nt there at all. Maybe something to do with the fact that it was Pakistan and not India playing Oz? Sanjay Manjrekar is perhaps right after all. Maybe most Indians are just interested in Indian cricket.

Nevertheless it made for a relatively committed gathering that welcomed Peter at about half past seven. The usual format was for everyone to hoe into the buffet, at the conclusion of which Srini would introduce Peter, who would then hold forth for a bit, followed by questions from the floor. Srini would then wind up with a present of a kurta (Peter’s favourite garment whilst in India) and invitations to contribute to Peter’s favourite charity.

Peter is one, one suspects, who will talk cricket through the night if given the chance. Here then, are a few excerpts.

On his castigation of Chris Gayle before the Windies toured and subsequent approbation.

Most readers will recall that Peter had blasted Gayle for his stance apropos Test Cricket prior to landing on these shores.

Peter said he consistently states his mind with the facts at hand. If that meant that he changed his views and opinions from time to time, so be it. So long as the process was consistent, the end results could well change. Certainly, once Gayle demonstrated some responsible leadership in Oz, Peter did not see his commitment to Tests as an issue any more.

On Umar Akmal blasting Peter Siddle for 19 in one over.

High praise from Peter who was reminded of a young Sachin who hit perfectly good deliveries breathtakingly well. The crucial thing that separated the ‘Nadamaadum Deivam’ (my phrase, not Peter’s) from Umar was the latter’s ‘youthful impetuosity’ that caused him to throw away his wicket after he reached 51. What struck him about Sachin back then, reminisced Peter was that, even at 19, he had a ‘calm centre’ within him that ensured that he was hitting the ball amazingly well on its merits, not just with youthful abandon.

On the ever so slight improvement in the provincial nature of cricket writing in the Australian press.

This was a topic that delved into areas outside of cricket such as an evolving national image, an improved understanding of the wider world and apropos cricket, soul searching post Kumble 2007. That said, what I understood him to mean was that the hacks are, person for person, more deserving of credit than is given them. For the most part, they tend to be aligned to either the Fairfax or the News Ltd stables, each of which caters to a certain demographic. Articles are then written to suit.

This reminded me of Suketu Mehta’s take on Bollywood film directors. ‘None of them are remotely the idiots that their movies would lead you to believe’. Or words to that effect.

On India being on top of the Test Totem pole.

Contrary to the jingoism and triumphalism that might be expected, we the discerning audience took the view that India’s reign would be short lived. Largely because the fab four were on the way out, our bowling still does not inspire, the much beloved BCCI still operates as a fiefdom dispensing benevolence and largesse etc etc. Without disagreeing, he also pointed out that India could not have reached the top without Australia, SAF and to an extent England stumbling periodically. In defence of the BCCI he pointed out the fact that state level cricketers could now make a decent living from the game. ‘Fathers who, fifteen years ago were doing all they could to dissuade their boys are now pushing them with the same force into the game!’

One eyed Indians.

He didn’t hold back in chiding Indians for seeing conspiracies and bloc politics whenever anything went against India or Bucknor did us in again. A pretty thin skinned and one eyed mob we were, said he. Hard to disagree, especially if you share my opinion that we conveniently lose sight of when we benefit , as we did with SK Bansal in that 2001 epic in Kolkata.

As an aside, has anyone heard of Bansal after that game?

And so it went, till Srini had to reluctantly call stumps. As we trooped out into the warm night though, we were all in agreement that we had NOT got our hard earned’s worth.

For, there was no ‘gulab jamun’ to finish off.

Soundar

Excerpt from Gilly’s book

The Weekend supplement of Melbourne’s broadsheet newspaper ‘The Age’ had an excerpt from Gilly’s biography. This addressed the slanderous emails floating around that Michael Slater was the real father of Gilly’s eldest child Harry.

Such slander is pretty hard to handle for anyone, let alone one in the public eye. Gilly writes with feeling about the emotional turmoil of the time and one can certainly sympathise with what he, his wife and Slater had to go through.

What caught my eye though, was how he acknowledged the South Africans. The Proteas, whom they were playing at the time, did not once use this distasteful topic as a sledge during the course of his epic 204. This despite the presence of a very visible banner in the stands on this matter.

My question is, would the Aussies have been as generous had the boot been on the other foot? All in the name of mental disintegration of course. Nothing personal you see.

It was around the same time that the Ganguly-Nagma contretemps was afoot. Perhaps not in the same magnitude as miscast paternity, however I expect it would have been just as distressing for Ganguly and his shrimati-ji.

I recall from media reports of the day that the Aussies were not backward in baiting Ganguly with this.

Soundar

Viru tackles reverse swing.

I read this piece in today’s Herald Sun by Jon Pierik, as representative a writer of that paper as can get, about Australia’s reactive plans on scuffing up the ball early in the piece.

http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,24538494-11088,00.html

To which I must draw his attention to Australia’s own Shane Warne’s entry on Virender Sehwag who makes #35 in his list of 100 top bats.

Sehwag was batting with Jeremy Snape for Leicestershire and Abdul Razzaq, who was playing for Middlesex, started to reverse swing the ball, creating all sorts of problems.

“I have a plan,” said Sehwag and promptly hit the ball out of the ground so that it had to be replaced.

That’s what he does when the ball reverse swings.

Just so you are aware Jon.

Soundar