Author Archives: bagrat15

OmnipRAVIsent

I don’t know Ravi Shastri the cricketer as much as Ravi Shastri the everythinginindiancrickettoday, For most periods, the all knowing BCCI loyal commentator. He is now the Director of Cricket for the Indian cricket team in England for the ODI leg, to cover the dismal display in the Tests. But that is not all, he is much more than that.

 

Ravi Shastri has been promoted to head the All India Football Association, and the previous head will be reporting to Ravi Shastri. This move is to make sure that India make it to the next Nehru Cup finals and win it.

 

Ravi Shastri will replace Nasser Hussain as the English expert for the next Pataudi series, so there is no anti-BCCI sentiments in the BCCI commentary box. Mr. Shastri has always promoted peaceful processes in cricket.

 

Even the ECB like Ravi Shastri. He has been selected into the English ODI squad to play against India. A source talking on behalf of the England’s chairman of selectors told us that England preferred this Ravi to the one the internet is harping about for being ditched. “We always liked Ravi. There is always that buzz around him.”

 

Ravi Shastri will be sent by the United Nations to bestow peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. In the speech given while taking up the task, Mr. Shastri mentioned that an extra long presentation ceremony with dignitaries and honorary members from both nations at the dais will create harmony between the two nations. Also, to show that all nations are equal, a man-of-the-match will be selected from both sides and will be given an IPL contract too.

 

If you are wondering about it, yes, Ravi Shastri also owns an IPL side. The Mumbai Indians, of course. “It gives me great opportunity to give something back to the city that made me who I am. I always got the feeling, Mumbai Indians was the right was to show it.”

 

Ravi Shastri has also signed up for the next Batman sequel. “Dark Knight : Rises Up In the Air”. He will be driving an Audi through the streets of Gotham and saving the city from the darkest third umpires and match referees. He is not the man that Gotham deserves, or needs, but gets. Just like that other situation that got Ravi Shastri.

 

Also, Ravi Shastri will head the special task force to form the right Test squad for Australia. He has laid his plan clear – “We win the toss and put some runs on the board and get the wickets. It is as simple as that.” He will be scouting for talent at the Champions League T20 tournament. “If the batsmen have the ability to stay for 4 overs, we got a team that can bat for 44 overs- that is luxury compared to how they fared in England. And the more the bowlers adapt to bowling hit-me balls, the faster we can eliminate the requirement of slips in totality.”

 

Ravi Shastri will also start a fund raiser to promote the sport in the suburbs of Indian metros, because the game really needs all it can to stay popular there. “The kids have resorted to football and weightlifting and boxing after the recent football World Cup and CWG and the movie on Mary Kom. It is our duty to bring the game back by investing some funds to this much needed locality.” You can buy your own “I ❤ BCCI” tees from their website and donate to the noble cause.

 

To know more about Mr. Shastri’s roles watch him talk about it himself as he hosts the show Kaun Banega Crorepati?.

 

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                   Yo Yo Ravi Shaz3

 

Bagrat

I don’t want 2-Test series.

The best duels in Test cricket history are ones that have taken hours and hours to describe, volumes of books written on, years of legend built on memories emerging from multiple corners of views of the same event. The talks of the series attract conversations, hair raising stories and excerpts and anecdotes creep in. A bowler’s glare, a batsman’s bat-twirl, a fielder’s expectant move, a battle-within-the-battle, all find a place in what later become “the turning point of the series”. The battle becomes spicier after the turning point. The underdogs are biting into the big dogs, reducing them to carcass by the end of the tour. Legends are made when the unexpected happens.

But, it takes time to build expectations. A team arrives in a new land, takes time to settle – the food, the climate, the atmosphere, the environment, the crowd, the cricket. The story is sketched in the first few days of the tour. There are attempts to alter it in the next few. The climax is anyone’s guess. The constant attempts to out-do the expectations makes the series/tour more memorable.

All that is history.

Today, the teams travel out of their suitcases. Players are involved in Test matches within a week of arrival, play two Tests and fly away. There is no context. There is no rivalry built during the series. There is no story to be written. It is just academic. Such series are more for the media and scoreboards than for the fan of the game, the teams.

A fan might want to watch one Test, just for the sake of watching one. He/she does not want to follow the team around the tour. There is no tour diary to fill. It is just a visit report, not a tour diary.

Why 2 Tests? Why not just forget the Test series and save us the trouble of trying to follow this. “Follow” might not even be the right word. It is just two scorecards that I have to read, that is the series. I don’t have to read between the lines. Saeed Ajmal got 10 wickets? Big deal. He is going to fly out of the country in 5 days and he will start with a clean slate. Virat Kohli scored a century this series? Hmmph, nobody knows if he can repeat that next month in South Africa. Form? What is form in a 2-game series? Harbhajan under-performed? Sure, bad series, he will be fine next tour. How do you know?

The 2nd Test is when the stories and expectations were to be framed, but now, 2nd Test is when you get your report card. It is like deciding the winner of a Test match at Tea on day-2 of the Test. You neither know if a batsman has been good, or bad. For all you know, a “good series” for a player might have meant one fluke 150* and a 70 or just a 6-wicket haul. Zimbabwe beat Pakistan and leveled series 1-1. Which team was better? How do you know? There wasn’t even a 3rd Test. There was no substance to the series – just win this game and get the hell out of here. And Zimbabwe are going to hang on to this win for another few years, for all you know.

Frankly, a series without substance, story, thrill, fan-fare, excitement and length amounts to nothing. You can squeeze in a bunch of those series and dress it like it matters, wrap and bow-tie it as a present to someone, but the truth will lie bare inside it – it still is meaningless. It’s just not cricket.

-Bagrat

Dear Cricketers, Talk More. Please.

Wright Thompson (ESPN) was describing an incident from his trip to India a few years ago. He mentioned watching the Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni being crowded by people…fans…in the airport, inside the airplane, at shops, wherever he goes. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is an icon in the cricketing world, and a brand in India.

That is true for many Indian cricketers. They are revered across the length and breadth of the country. Every second brand has a cricketer as an ambassador, or in its advertisement. There are cricketers showing up on your newspaper, the television, the internet. Even in your dreams.

But, look at their social lives – they can hardly come out in the public without drawing excessive attention. Sure, they can have people to help them get groceries from the stores. But, do they get to go to the park and have a  peaceful couple of minutes without 200 people breathing down their neck for an autograph, for a pep talk, for a photograph?

Forget the people, can they just escape from the media breathing down their neck?

Fans

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the captain of the Indian team was sitting a press conference before leaving for the Champions Trophy in England. Indian cricket was reeling under the IPL spot fixing allegations. There were 100 unanswered questions floating around. Nobody had an answer. There they had the captain of Indian cricket team, captain of the Chennai Super Kings, employee/stakeholder of India Cements – M.S. Dhoni – sitting in front of the microphone facing the media. The media asked a question based on the spot fixing issue, and they were hushed up by the media manager. All journalists were asked not to ask questions related to the fixing issue.

101 unanswered questions.

India went on to win the Champions Trophy in ways on Dhoni can explain. Maybe. M. S. Dhoni was asked in the Caribbean tour by Mr. Subash Jayaraman about his methods that amazingly tilted the table in India’s favour in the finals. But Dhoni, in his own way, replied – “If I tell you how I think, there will be no secrets. You’ll have to figure it out for yourself.”

India is a country with more than a billion people, and I assume atleast 6 out of 10 Indians like the game of cricket. We Indian fans idolize cricketers, we mimic their batting and bowling styles. We call each other Sachin or Dhoni to feel good. We always dream of meeting them, spending a few minutes with them, talk to them, know them better. That is exactly what boils over as the emotions of fans who jump over the railings and past bouncers to get close to their idols. 

We want to know more about them all. We are fans, we deserve to know what they like, what they don’t. We can’t figure it out for ourselves all the way. Our love for the game doesn’t end at stumps. It goes beyond it, which is what fandom is about.

I noticed that many cricketers joined Twitter, which is a really wonderful engaging social media. Twitter is where millions of fans can follow you and it gives them the freedom to connect to their idols, something that seems impossible outside the internet. Maybe not. Even here, the players don’t respond to any of the fan cries. Some of them are too self obsessed, showing off their universities, promotions, horses etc. Some of them log on to send occasional festival wishes. Or “Yes. We won.” kind of tweets. I know who won. I was checking the scores on cricinfo.

This is totally different from how basketball players in the NBA use the twitter media, or for that matter – any media – to interact with media houses and fans alike.

Just assume there was a parallel universe in which the cricketers were not chained slaves of their cricket board(s) and were allowed to give candid interviews to journalists, spoke openly on the burning issues of the day, cleared the air about speculations etc. Fans already have the answers to most of their questions. They are still fans. They are better, informed fans. Next time, maybe they won’t ask Ravindra Singh Jadeja eat at a Hyderabadi restaurant if he likes Awadhi cuisine more. Or, maybe they will not send Sachin a video of a monkey playing “Happy Birthday To You” on his birthday, if Sachin is allergic to monkey videos.

In this parallel world, the cricketers might be able to move around freely. More freely, in comparison. They don’t have to worry about the media – they have been answered. Yes, there will be fans coming to meet the players. They will meet them, maybe shake hands, take a photo, wish them luck and move on; knowing the fact that he will be there again 3 days later to buy the same vegetables and sit on the same chair in the park while whistling the same tune from that movie in 1990s.

Getting back to reality, all that is not possible. I wasn’t even allowed to speak to a Ranji cricketer after a domestic game. Fans were chased away from watching the players practice after game (this happens in international games too). I couldn’t even have a “hi – hello” conversation with Nayan Mongia who was playing with his kid in the nets. Does the fan really matter in this game? At all?

The sad fan

(images courtesy HindustanTimes.com and SouthAsiaBiz.com respectively)

(Article based on a conversation with Mr. Rajat)

Bagrat

IPL-6 was Fun

Multiple sources inform me that the IPL season is now over. I wasn’t sure until I saw Indian cricketers play Pakistan last night under the watchful eyes of His Majesty His Highness His Holyness Sir Lord Lalit Modi.

Jokes aside, I loved this IPL season even though I didn’t get to watch much of it. Rather, I didn’t want to watch any of it. And I am trying to erase all evidences of exclaiming “Fixed” or “I jinxed it” whenever something fishy seemed to have happened on during the IPL. You know, I don’t want to go to Tihar for 6 days and then left out and wait for judgment on it till 2017.

Oh, I said ‘jokes aside’? I lied. IPL is a joke. You must be plugging your ears and screaming *la la la la la la la* if you think otherwise. Even Lalit Modi thinks it is a joke. And he is the original puppeteer of the Indian Cric…I mean…Premier League.

I love how the insiders of the IPL work. They want in when there is something in for them. Like, Rajiv Shukla came in when they (I believe “they” means BCCI) ousted Lalit Modi. In an age where we debate the importance of DRS in a cricket game, I am not even sure Rajiv Shukla can tell a right handed batsman from a left handed one. If you need a non-cricketing fellow at the top of IPL to make ridiculous statements, why not appoint someone like Shreya Ghoshal? At least those ridiculous statements will sound sweet. Anyway, let us assume Rajiv Shukla, or his son, or his son-in-law has (vested) interests in the game. Because Rajiv doesn’t. I mean, who goes on to say that he is happy for India’s loss in England because now cricket can grow in England, who have been losing in cricket and football for the past decade?

IPL had a spot fixing scandal this year. I think this will bring an end to the IPL………………………………………….rulebook of allowing towels to the game. IPL players can’t even spot-fix properly. One of the involved players forgot to signal the over the deal was made for. So, IPL is imperfect even in the imperfect scenario.

*la la la la la la la*

IPL team owners have been involved in betting. How the CSK owner enthusiast lost more than Rs 1 crore by betting on his own team is beyond me. I think he should be punished by the long arms of bookies first, and then by the law. The RR owner also placed bets which his wife denies, he accepts, his wife blames somebody else for misusing their contact, he accepts, his wife cries foul, he accepts….maybe a few days later, his wife will also accept. Not all actors get their dialogues right in the first take.

As soon as the first breakthrough was made in the spot-fixing case, everybody from everywhere fired bullets – “XYZ should resign.” Most of the substitutions for “XYZ” were BCCI Chief, India Cements (owner of CSK) big man, the non-T20 goer, non IPL follower, Mr. N. Srinivasan. IPL big fellows are really interesting. They get selected, or elected, or sit on occupied seats themselves so that they do nothing much during the office hours and later when they are supposed to do something in a situation of crisis, they bark at others to resign, while still not doing anything about it.

I think the floor is weak and all the chairs at the IPL office are broken. Nobody wants to stand up to the situation. Nobody wants to put himself above everyone else and say “We have a situation here. Let’s solve it before it becomes a problem.” Their attitude is more like, “Dude, the coffee machine is not working again? You $%!^*$^%$!*^. Resign right away.” And then after the old fellow steps down aside, a new fellow takes up the post with no responsibility of what has happened and no ownership of the events that has dented the credibility (whaaa?) of the league. I still don’t know why Rajiv Shukla resigned. I mean, I still don’t know why he was made the IPL Commissioner in the first pace. I need at least one answer. I can conjure a blogpost for the other answer.

You know the league is absolutely funny when you are laughed at by the man who was ousted from the same league for corruption, who banned other leagues so his can be the sole runner, who hid himself in the UK where he got into more trouble by pulling another cricketer to fight in a court on match fixing charges and then lost the case and then got sued by the cricketer, which of course he claims he can’t pay because he  got bankrupt, which he tweets from his PC from a home in London where he is staying on an expired Visa while being the President and Director of a business group. Mr Lalit Modi is awesome in some ways.

I know. The IPL is saved. Jagmohan Dalmia will save it.

Phew.

-Bagrat

Let’s hang out…

One wonderful thing about college hostel life was sitting down in front of a TV with friends and watching a cricket match (or any sport, for that matter). “There would be a buzz around the” room and everyone would be talking cricket  with their buddies. I had a bunch of close friends and we would talk on topics from Tikolo brothers to Kenya’s absence from cricket’s map while watching a World Cup game; or about Sachin Tendulkar’s advertisements from 1995 to 2005. We always turned to the TV in time and would swear, clap, cheer and yell depending on what happens on the ball.

We cared two hoots about the commentary. We were each other’s commentators. Especially when somebody was missing, attending classes. SMS was the thing back then. The man watching would send in updates every moment. Be it Ricky Ponting’s dismissal to Ishant Sharma, or Kobe Bryant’s game winner, or Wayne Rooney’s goal. That was the social media back then.

After college, we went our ways. Some took up a job. Some went abroad to study. We weren’t in the same place anymore to shout “Hey, look at this catch.” to hear your friend run in within 5 seconds from his room to watch the catch’s replay on TV. Now, we put up a post on Facebook and the other friend comes in 8 hours later and posts his view. It isn’t instant any more. Well, Twitter is more instant that way, but can’t talk at length out there either.

Oh hey! Google Plus Hangout is here!

I never thought I would say this. I was on Google Plus for a week, maybe, and then shut that down because it didn’t amuse me. So, it is really impressive that G+ is relevant today. I guess it had one thing other things didn’t – a video chat page. Something like Skype? I haven’t used Skype. You would know better. I have heard from friends abroad that they hold chat sessions on Skype and/or Google Plus Hangouts.

Recently, cricket junta has suddenly started using the Hangout and it has become a trend. People use that as a medium to discuss what has happened during the day’s play, or while looking ahead to a game, or just to talk about a game when it is going on. Like an interactive ball-by-ball. That is brilliant use of technology! Now you can see each other face to face and talk about the game. You are miles apart, but you can still watch your buddy wince as you rile him up about his team’s performance. You can share virtual hi-fives, till your PC screen falls down.

Here is “Couch Batcheet”, hosted by Mr. Subash Jayaraman, who hosts his friends to discuss (more) cricket that is going on or coming soon. – http://thecricketcouch.com/blog/2013/03/31/couch-batcheet-episode-1/

That was the first one that caught my eye.

Yesterday, I saw two more of them on ESPN cricinfo :-

The IPL Huddle, where the ESPN-Cricinfo members come together to talk IPL during(/before?)/after the game – http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/video_audio/index.html?genre=59

Of course, when there is IPL, there should be County Cricket to  balance the universe. Right? Here is Vithushan Ehantharajah hosting One Man And His Pod to sum up a round of County Cricket Championship along with ESPN Cricinfo contributors from England – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRbGa-knnaI&feature=youtu.be&newstate=188b6c30240b90f3f7fe8ba10c9da6f2

And this morning, I discovered The Cricket Club  hosted by Stuart MacGill and Damien Martyn with other guests on air while they talk cricket at length – http://www.youtube.com/user/thecricketclub

Watch each of them, for you might like at least one of them. Each has its own flavour, its own style and its own purpose. And it gets more information through in very little time, thanks to the format and technology.

We seem to have moved on from print to audio to video. And right now, this is just a few people talking cricket and presenting to the world. I believe it can simply spark an idea among you and your friends to run a chat session while a game is going on. One practical difficulty with that would be trying to watch the game and the hangout at the same time, all the time. You will figure out how to get past that, anyway.

Come, let’s hang out for a game…

Bagrat

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.

170320132160

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.

170320132173

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

Assembly of bowlers

There are two teams in world cricket whose bowling unit amuses me nowadays. Not because how they perform, that is a different story and I take different sides. The two sides I am talking about are Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Both Pakistan and Sri Lanka produce bowlers with interesting actions. And they are unique in that. Or, less imitable. There are many of them. Sri Lanka has Ajantha Mendis, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, for sample. Pakistan had Shoaib Akhtar, has Wahab Riaz, Saeed Ajmal, Sohail Tanvir among many others.

Sri Lanka brought out Ajantha Mendis and nobody knew what he was doing. What seemed to be a simple action seemed to reap complex results. Kumar Sangakkara confessed that he could figure out what was coming only when he was standing behind the stumps, and not in front of it. Mendis would waltz through the sides playing against Sri Lanka for a brief period.

Mendis gave birth to the term “carrom ball”. Nobody knew what it was. Nobody knew how to bowl/mimic it for a while. I’ve seen people try to do that and direct the ball at the clueless forward short leg. Not many batsmen had a clue about how to play that ball either. I think it was Mahendra Singh Dhoni who started prodding his front foot miles outside to negate the turn, after reading the ball off the pitch seemed tougher than his team-mates had thought. That bought some time, and they were able to analyse the mystery.

Ajantha Mendis served in the army. He was spotted long before he was introduced in the international stage. He was told to continue what he was doing. He was bestowed with the confidence of the cricket community to perfect his art. He returned their confidence with wonderful rewards.

Dilhara Fernando jogs to the bowling crease like he is on a morning jog. But in the final stride he exerts so much energy that he bowls fast, hitting the 90 mph mark multiple times. He gets injured a lot. He comes back more. The best part about him is his slower ball. Almost un-readable. The “split-finger” slow ball must be tough. I couldn’t split that quickly. And I don’t see other bowlers trying that method, so it must be something that takes a lot of effort and control. It is a pity his health punctured his career a lot.

Unrelated, but interesting: Dilhara Fernando bowled a lot of no-balls. So many, that a bus stop near his home was re-named “The No Ball Stop”.

The most interesting bowling action today in the Sri Lankan outfit must be Lasith Malinga. I will call him the most accurate bowler just for what he does. Not only is he the most prolific member of the I Can Bowl Yorkers Association, the members of whom are fast depleting, but he can york a batsman very frequently. At a quick pace. With that action. When I try to mimic that (and you know that, since you have tried too), I either fall down, or bowl to square leg. If I am having a good day, to fine leg.

And a mandatory mention- his yorkers. He trains himself to become more accurate at bowling yorkers by placing a pair of shoes at the crease in the practice sessions (nets). He then runs in and bowls at the shoes. It is similar to the handkerchief bowling practice conceptually, but has a different purpose. And I am not sure anybody else tries it- because nobody else seems to be interested in bowling a yorker.

Sohail Tanvir’s bowling looked like a man speed-walking to the crease and bowling somewhere between two steps. It was as weird as watching an Olympic walking race. He didn’t (doesn’t?) have a notable jump/stride while nearing the crease. He does not bowl off his wrong foot, though. Some commentators have seen his footwork replayed multiple times and still can’t get over the fact that he doesn’t bowl off his wrong foot.

Saeed Ajmal came in, the charming, smiling bowling assassin. Just when we thought wrist spin in offies was dying (with Muttiah Muralitharan), Saeed Ajmal presented himself. Him and Muralitharan are probably the only two bowlers who I felt had justified bowling to right handers from around the wicket. They were the ones who spun the ball big enough to have the batsmen at their mercy from that angle. Most other bowlers do that because they tried everything else in vain, or are plain bored and want to improve their economy.

I find Wahab Riaz interesting because when he is bowling, he looks like a gardener chasing a rabbit- pouncing, leaping, and not exactly in a fluid motion. And despite that, he was able to give the Pakistani fans some wonderful memories. Especially “Wahabyou been?” days from that wretched tour of England.

I read that Pakistani board held trials for bowlers to try out at a large ground, and promising bowlers would be shortlisted. That is an open dance floor. It was a chance for anyone and everyone to show up. And from what I heard, the ground was flooded, more than what was expected. Believe me, “expectations” are already high, number wise, in a country like Pakistan where a talented fast bowler is born every day in every city. I was excited when I heard that. Young bowlers who had developed themselves, their own technique, their own style can now come and bowl in front of people who can change their lives for the better.

That was an amazing story. And that is against the normal flow of things in that world. A kid who wants to get into a cricket team in most part of the world has to get up at 5 am in the morning and go to practice sessions, follow coach’s advice from placing the landing foot to holding the seam in position. And then the kid returns home to get ready to attend his secondary school.

If the kid is in India, then you can just assume that the kid loses at least 4 hours a day to cricket. “Loses” may be replaced with the word “dedicated” in some cases.  I am not sure the kid knows what is happening. He wants to be a bowler that he dreamt of becoming? Or, is he just becoming a bowler because the coach said so? And thereby, doing what the coach said, and hence becoming the bowler the coach dreamt of becoming? The kids go into an assembly processor and come out as batch products, each resembling the last.

I forgot the source and the coach, but I read this on the internet when a coach of under-age cricket team said that when the kids are young, you mustn’t try to coach them. The kids should enjoy the game first, develop a liking to a skill, to a part of the game and try to do something on their own. Once the kid takes up a vocational path, and is ready to take the next step, he/she will come to you. That is when you teach them where to pitch, how to swing, how to keep your body from falling, etc.

I love West Indian cricket, and they have a wonderful bowling unit. But I am bored of watching Jerome Taylor, Dwayne Bravo, Kemar Roach and Andre Russell bowl with fairly similar actions. Praveen Kumar and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar have similar actions. One Indian bowler who has been unique (just because of his release) whenever he does get to bowl is S. Sreesanth. And that is just lovely to watch.

I don’t know much about the new set of Australian bowlers, but the last time I saw they just seemed the same assembly products with faster pace. That’s all. Don’t get me wrong. Many of them are great bowlers, making batsmen say their prayers before every delivery, and that must have been absorbed some wonderful coaching and tutoring into doing that. Just that I don’t see much variety nowadays.

And I don’t understand why there are 23962374 slow left arm spinners in International cricket all of a sudden. Special annual ICC Sweepstakes for them?

New Zealand’s Chris Martin and (now England’s?) Iain O’Brien had some uniqueness to their action. Mark Gillespie had a leap. Doug Bracewell looks a blast from the past. Maybe there is some charm left there in the Kiwi Isles? I would like to hope so.

My uncle told me once, “All the bowlers look like machines today, every coach wants to correct their action. When Kapil Dev bowled, his action made him look like he had paralysis. No coach would recommend that action to any of the present age bowlers. But, look at what Kapil was able to achieve with his freedom!”

Do let me know whose bowling action you enjoy the most. And, since I have been out of touch a bit, tell me which new kid has a unique action?

-Bagrat

They had a field day.

Some of us have to give the argument about where India performed worse at Wankhede a rest. Everybody has had a wild swing at both the batsmen and the bowlers. Cool off a bit. You can all continue that debate next test, depending on whether or not the team changed (if at all) according to your views.

Join me. Focus all your outrageous energy on a common focal point- fielding.

Atleast 10 of the 12 sessions of play I attended of the first and second test matches had England batting. Which meant I had a lot of time looking at Indian fielders. The more I did, the less I wanted to.

There was exactly one fielder in either test who would field well. In the Ahmedabad test, it was Umesh Yadav. In the Mumbai test, it was Ajinkya Rahane. It was such a joy to watch those two field like they never wanted to let the ball go past them.

Umesh Yadav, at Ahmedabad, was rarely given the ball. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni also had spinners bowling with the new ball. So, Yadav was mostly fielding at mid on/off or deep point (left hander) / fine leg (right hander) region. He would cover a lot of ground if the ball went his way. He would dive. His thrown came in like a bullet. Flat, right over the stumps, into Dhoni’s gloves, after which Dhoni would make a fancy movement with his arm, ball inside the glove(s), like all keepers do. It was fun watching him. When the wickets didn’t fall, Yadav’s energy spilled into the spectators. We stood up to clap for his efforts. Neither 3rd session I watched there had an English wicket fall. Yadav helped soften that pain a bit.

Yadav moved like a Komodo Dragon that has just spotted a prey. It wasn’t  a beautiful run, but it was assuring that he would reach the prey.

In the Mumbai test, Ajinkya Rahane came in as a substitute fielder. I don’t remember for whom. Cheteshwar Pujara? Nevertheless. Rahane was stationed at forward short leg. He was the most entertaining forward short leg fielder I’ve seen in a long time. It wasn’t the normal squat and wait. It seemed a bit different. Like how wrestlers squat, slightly flexing up and down at their knee so they can move once they know when to strike. Rahane was that tiny creature perched right under Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen (and others too, later) who wasn’t afraid of what the batsman hit at him.

There was this one effort from Rahane when he was standing up to Alastair Cook. I don’t remember the bowler. Cook went forward to kneel and positioned his bat to swivel and sweep the ball. Rahane sat up a bit in a quick jerk, and moved his left leg behind and more to his left, and as soon as the ball made contact with the bat, Rahane dived left and was able to reach the ball with a full length effort. That was anticipation at its best. I was left gaping. People I was talking to me were clapping, shouting praises. Some (at North Stands) had stood up. Dhoni and Virender Sehwag were patting Rahane’s back. It was beautiful.

It wasn’t the only occasion. Rahane went on to prevent more runs in that region. His bravery there eventually ended up in a bruise. But, all the while he as there, he looked as threatening as a Frilled Lizard.Small, but dangerous. Guarded the territory well. You don’t want to go near an angry Frilled Lizard which is on the attack.

That’s the only joy I got while watching the Indians on the field. Kohli’s presence  at slips or other stationary positions, and his athleticism couldn’t be utilized much. Most of the rest were plain eye sore.

When Sehwag goes chasing after a ball, I thought he must’ve decided at breakfast itself to let the ball win the race. When Sachin Tendulkar goes to field a ball, it is like he is dancing a weird version of a slow Western dance. He would jog to the ball, lazily bend and scoop the ball, turn around and lob is back to the keeper/bowler. Yuvraj Singh was so not the Yuvraj Singh I like to remember. He was parked at the boundary for the whole time, much like how Samit Patel was for the English side. When Zaheer Khan moved, jokes moved faster. The best one was – “Zaheer is waiting for an autorickshaw to give him a lift to where the ball is headed.” Ojha is not a great fielder by any means. It was a very awkward dive that caused him an injury in the Ahmedabad test. (I’m happy it wasn’t a severe injury) Ashwin, well, I’ve seen Shaquille O’Neal run better, and more enthusiastically.

I don’t know how, but Indian fielders have perfected the art of diving after the ball goes past them. And the ball would’ve gone from under the belly. Every run saved counts, even in test cricket. Fielders in the circle, if sharp, can keep the batsman stagnated, can induce foolish strokes out of them. If they hit a ball for four, so be it. I’d prefer them to hit a 4 rather than give them fours singles. Right now, a dab 5 yards away from the fielders gives enough room for the batsmen to cross over. It reminds me of the old tactic some would apply while playing Australia – Hayden was slow (is he flat footed? I remember reading so somewhere.), and people would dab the ball just away from him at gully and steal a single. The Indian team has more than a handful of those slow-pokes.

The fielding has to get its act together, so any pressure from the bowlers does not go waste and there is no extra burden on the batsmen to mop up when they bat.

Bagrat

Cricket at Motera and Wankhede

Living in Baroda paid off a little more when I recently got the opportunity to travel to Ahmedabad and Mumbai for weekends’ play of test matches against England. It was my first trip to the cricket grounds in either cities. In this post, I’ll share my experience of watching cricket at these arenas.

 

India vs England, 1st Test Match, Sardar Patel Stadium, Motera/Ahmedabad.

It was a 3 hour trip by bus, or a two hour trip by car to the stadium. There were no online ticket sales. So, I had to get those tickets at the stadium ticket counters. There was car parking inside the stadium premises, but the day I went there in my colleague’s car, the police said we couldn’t take the car on the street leading to the stadium unless we had a ticket. Funny, because we can buy the ticket only when we reach the stadium. We had to hence park the car elsewhere and pay people living nearby to guard the car.

Anyway, we could get tickets for some good seats at the Adani Pavilion, for seats right over the dressing room and just behind the cameramen. The Gujarat Cricket Association has a rooster as its logo. You will laugh at that till you reach the security checks. There were 4 layers of security checks, and you will feel violated every time. And you will have to chuck away all the coins you carried on you before entering.

Motera. Adani Pavilion (Upper)

(this view costs Rs 250 per day)

The seats didn’t seem new, and they surely weren’t cleaned every evening. The crowd built itself up and before the first session ended, the Pavilion stands would be more than 80% full. The ones on square were less than 50% full. That seemed odd, because I could see a huge queue of people waiting for those tickets. The stands above the commentary box were less than 30% full because the sun shone on them almost all day.

The fans would cheer loud the wickets that Indians picked and applaud English boundaries. But the stupid thing was the way it “booed” almost everything not worth cheering. It was like showing a neutral reaction would be illegal. And that was not one portion of the ground. That was the whole stadium. At first I thought they went “ooooh (that was close)!” But that didn’t make sense. I don’t think they would go “oooooh” every time an English batsman got out. And they booed every English supporter who would get up to cheer an English spark. So, the crowd there was meh

In my stands, we had to climb down to a walkway for food and drinks. Can’t have a great meal out of samosas, popcorns, sandwiches, burgers, puffs, bhel puri, icecream, soft-drink and water, though. But it was fine. Jamtha/Nagpur served biryani and stuffs, which was more filling. I didn’t find that here, so was a bit disappointed. You will land in a bit of trouble if you had too much to drink. The toilets were poorly maintained there.

The stadium had only one exit. So, at the end of a day’s play, you would have to walk atleast 1 km along dusty pathways to exit the stadium from a single 5 m wide gate. And then, the hundred autowalas will refuse to go to the exact one place you want to go. (the foreigners would pay him much more, why would he take you on board?) So, I had to walk another km before getting hold of a tuk tuk.

It was nice to be able to easily get entry (tickets and all) to the stadium, but it wasn’t quite great an experience inside it.

 

India vs England, 2nd test, Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai.

I had made a weekend trip to Mumbai for the 2nd test at Wankhede. It was an overnight train journey away from Baroda. You could get the tickets to the game online or at the MCA windows near the stadium (which had long queues). Even if you bought it online, you had to come to the stadium to collect the tickets though, and I heard from my friend that even that was a long queue, which was later sorted out to make it shorter.

I reached the gates an hour before play with my friend. We had two layers of man handling security checks, and we were in. We were in level-2 of the North Stands (opposite end of the ground to where the dressing room was), and would later move to level-3 when the sun shone down upon us.

Wankhede, North Stand (Level-3)

(This view costs Rs 500 on a season pass)

Level-2 was near the press box, and Level-3 was right above the press box. Some of the liveliest people were crowded in the North Stands. Almost every cheer that ringed through the stadium emerged from the North Stands. The most noticeable one was the “PU-JA-RA” chant that echoed across the stadium. I was at Garware Pavilion (which was near the dressing room) for one session, and from there you could hear the “PU-JA-RA” chants from that North Stands section welcoming Pujara to the middle. That was one of the most amazing moments I’ve been a part of. The other stands had drums shooting out bhangra that had people around it dance.

The Barmy Army was larger in number at the Mumbai test than they were at the Motera test. So, the English team got some good support from them. Indian fans were quite respectful with them too. Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen got standing ovations from the entire ground after their tons. And a lot of those fans mingled along with people freely. I didn’t feel like talking to a single stranger at Motera (or Nagpur, for that matter). But, here I could talk to some.

The crowd also let the Indian bowlers know of their horrendous bowling when they had to. Harbhajan Singh got irritated once and complained against some fans, who (I heard) were evicted from the stadium. This, after Harbhajan was totally okay with fooling around with the Motera crowd which got him to happily wave at them, crack jokes with his teammates, kick stuffs like a pro footballer, etc, while he was a water-boy. The crowd there loved the performer that he was. Mumbai crowd did not like his performance at Wankhede, and he did not like that attitude.

Food was served at your seat. Samosas, rolls, cold-drinks, ice-creams, pizzas! Water was available in the walk-way. And what’s more – you can go out of the stadium and get back in any time. So, people could go out to a foodie street near Wankhede and have their fill. A couple of stationery shop owners on that street had the “Why did I not open a snack bar instead?” look on their faces during the lunch hour. And drink all you want, the toilets are fine at Wankhede. The foodie streets had some wonderful juice and soda shops!

There were multiple exits which would drop you are various points around the Churchgate station and Marine Drive. So, the crowd was able to disperse in multiple directions and spread away. Many went to Marine Drive, some went to food joints around the place. Others boarded trains at Churchgate or taxis and buses outside. There wasn’t the flood of exiting human beings that was seen at Motera.

I was exhausted after the two days at Wankhede, both of which were full of fun. It was a wonderful experience there. Even if India had a bad day, being with that crowd would help keep your spirits up.

Looking ahead to watching more games, at new places. Would love to be at Wankhede for many more test matches.

-Bagrat

Don’t break what is not broken.

I am in my mid-twenties, but I can’t hide my love for a bunch of cartoons that I grew up watching. Some of my favourites are Tom & Jerry, The Scooby Doo Where Are You? Show and The Popeye Show. There was a stretch in my childhood, when my whole family would not miss a single weeknight of Scooby and Popeye on TV sets. To be frank, my parents also took advantage of this addiction and would make me and my little sister eat greens (lots of spinach of course) before watching the show. It was all good. They were classics! Kids of all age loved it.

The one thing common among them all is that after many years of the classic version somebody felt the need to bring out more episodes. New episodes with new ideas. I did not enjoy any of the new ones. It was just not the same. Jerry did not have the wily-ness, Popeye wasn’t inspiring and Scooby Doo and his gang didn’t work the same. People wanted to make something better, but ruined something good.

Don’t break what is not broken.

I have recently been lamenting about various things in cricket only because there are many things to lament about as a fan of the game. Only yesterday, I had a little conversation with Mr. Nitin Sundar, and we went back about how we liked to watch One Day cricket in the ’90s. We talked about television, coloured-clothing, media, advertising and all. It was all nostalgic.

Nitin reminded us of the anticipation we had to have a look at the jerseys that teams wore in those days, noting that today it is a uniform. The ESPN introductory music before/after play/session is something that still lingers in our memory. The new ones may be good, I’m not to judge. But, the old one was what we grew up with, and we loved it.

Cricket has been a minting ground for advertisers. Advertisers were in cricket before, they are here now. Only, more in numbers. And in many more ways.

Long ago, I remember games at Sharjah having rope boundary, long lengths of the ground being cordoned with “Khaleej Times” advertisement boards, and a tall tower holding the sponsor of the current tournament, and also displaying the schedule and participating team of the next tournament at Sharjah.

Today, advertisers have taken every inch of space and speech available. Ropes are dressed with advertisers’ name on them, brand names fight for advertisement boards near the boundary, the stadia are pasted with additional posters, the what is supposed to look lush green square is painted with multiple advertisers’ names stretching more than 20 yards in any direction, the stumps, umpires’ shirts, the sight screen, the bats… The advertisers are everywhere you see. And then there are the worst layers of commentators even parrots would disown who would senselessly repeat the name of sponsors for boundaries, catches, wickets, drops, hit wickets, no balls, body blows and whatever else you can imagine.

And there there are advertisement breaks that cut in before the last ball is fielded in the deep. There are advertisements that shrink the screen and prop up. There are advertisements than prop up on the screen like a brilliant Telugu movie graphic so it appears like the brand’s motor bike is actually on ground and then it disappears, putting me in awe one moment and in anger the next.

Then, there is this sea of statistics that were invented. What is one going to do with the knowledge of speed off the bat, or distance of a six is beyond me. Just because you can doesn’t mean you have to. And in test matches, I don’t even want to know how many balls the batsman has faced. I actually don’t even care about replays being shown hot-spot. I can see the batsman middle the ball, I don’t have to ogle over a hot-spot replay of it. I don’t even want to see the hawk-eye replay of the last over as frequently as it is shown.

I would love to save this time to show some spectators on TV. They long for such moments. The old man snoring wakes up and wears a sheepish grin. The young woman blushes behind her boy-friend’s shoulders, the ball boys frantically wave their hands at the screen while turning their heads the other way to see it on the big screen, two girls tap each other and point at the camera and you can lip read them shout “I Love Sachin”… You can actually give the crowd some air-time.  They take some time thinking over their chart/placard, the face art, the wig, the slogans. It will not hurt to give the people who sustain it something back.

Sitting at home, I want to drink this beauty while watching cricket

If the cheerleaders are to attract people to the ground, don’t show them on TV. I can see gyrating people on many other channels on my television. But anyway, I don’t think cheerleaders are ones who should attract people to the grounds. It should be Hashim Amla’s cover drives, Virat Kohli’s leg flicks, Saeed Ajmal’s doosras, Ross Taylor’s wave of hands to the spectators… One has to want to see it live.

I have very little experience of live match viewing, none of limited over cricket. But, I tell you, to watch somebody like Ambati Rayudu bat all day, go through different gears was much better to watch at the beautiful Motibaug Stadium here in Baroda, than on the TV sets. Same with Irfan Pathan’s swing.

The television should try to bring as much of the in-stadia experience to the people back home as possible. If the commentators stopped talking during the deliveries, one could sometimes hear (the silence of) the spectators holding their breath, or slowly pumping their voices up when the bowler runs in at a crucial juncture. The commentators should know when to be silent, instead of advertising on air.

I don’t want to know what feature the new Micromax mobile has whenever the cricket takes a break. There are enough mobile stores nearby. Heck, I don’t even want to buy your memorabilia. I want to see the batsmen talk in the middle, the keeper talk to slips, the square leg fielder share a joke with the umpire, the crater on the moon (they showed a lot of that when day/night games started at Sharjah).

Not all of us get to travel to these grounds. But all of want to know how good London is. What Sydney looks like. Where people in Auckland go when free. Except for games in Sri Lanka and West Indies, you would have no clue what is around the stadium.

Come on, bring on the good old days. On TV, I want to watch cricket and things around it, not advertisements.

(photo credit : http://bensix.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/most-beautiful-view-in-the-world/ )

– Bagrat