I was saving this for when Sachin Tendulkar retires, but this seemed as good a time as ever to bring it out.
Hope you like it.
I was saving this for when Sachin Tendulkar retires, but this seemed as good a time as ever to bring it out.
Hope you like it.
The Grace Gates, The 3 W’s Oval, The Greenidge & Haynes Stands, The Malcolm Marshall & Joel Garner Ends – all names with a nice ring to them. The practice of christening arenas in honour of sportsmen is perhaps as old as sport itself. Sadly, it is a tradition that’s not highly valued in India. The Wankhede is an exception, with stands celebrating the achievements of Vijay Merchant, Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar, and gates paying homage to Vinoo Mankad and Polly Umrigar. One may argue, and not without reason, that with Mumbai having produced a lion’s share of India’s heroes from yesteryear, there aren’t too many cricketers going around for other associations to honour. Hence we have stadiums named after administrators (acceptable), sponsors (a necessary evil) & politicians (downright embarrassing). The new stadium at Uppal seemed to take a step in the right direction with the V.V.S. Laxman stand, but for Shivlal Yadav to bestow his own name upon the pavilion, was a case of terrible blasphemy to a lineage that has produced, among others, Ghulam
Ali Ahmed, M.L. Jaisimha, Abbas Ali Baig, Asif Iqbal, Abid Ali & Mohammad Azharuddin. And of course, like everything else in the state of Andhra, it is called Rajiv Gandhi.
Now let’s say the BCCI got together over cocktails, and commissioned the ultimate Indian cricket ground, and got so drunk that they decided to baptize it in tribute to cricketers, and not DLF, Lalit Modi or Pranab Mukherjee; how might that go? At once, an exercise in appellation and an expression of admiration.
The name of the stadium is a no-brainer. Let’s call it Kapil Dev and move on. World Cup winner, all rounder nonpareil, and quite simply, the finest natural cricketer to have emerged from our shores. May this recompense him for PCA’s Mohali mural fiasco, an impudent obloquy on a legend who dared to bless a rebel.
I have come up with a system wherein great Indian batsmen lend their names to stands located in the directions of their respective signature strokes. Thus, we start with the Sachin Tendulkar pavilion, for there’s nothing straighter in cricket than pavilions, and the full face of Tendulkar’s instrument. The stand diametrically opposite to the pavilion would bear the name of that other champion of the V, Sunil Gavaskar. Square on either side of the pitch is the territory of those exalted exponents of square-cuts and square-drives, the two masters from Banaglore, Gundappa Vishwanath and Rahul Dravid. Giving Tendulkar company on his right, his comrade of a thousand opening sorties in ODIs, Saurav Ganguly. Batting from the same end as Tendulkar, his serene cover drives would be lapped up by the adoring patrons of this stand. Antipodal to this section, would be the V.V.S. Laxman Acres, HRH of Wide Mid-on & Deep Midwicket. Now that leaves us with stands flanking long-leg on both ends. While Indians haven’t been the best practitioners of the hook, the stroke that earns them a lot of their keep is the leg-glance. The inventor of this once exotic skill, the flagbearer of Oriental artistry, Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, could claim this stand dominion. The last remaining stand would be dedicated to Indian cricket’s first great partnership, Vijay Merchant & Syed Mushtaq Ali.
In cricket-speak, a stand is the reserve of batsmen, and an end, the bowler’s domain. The high pedigree of spin that Indian cricket has embraced is sassy enough to ensure fierce competition. The pavilion end would be eponymous with India’s biggest match-winner, Anil Kumble. The far end would salute the Bedi-Prasanna-Chandra axis, as glorious an inspiration as any for any bowler plying his craft from that end. I have deliberately left S. Venkataraghavan out as I have other plans for him.
The dressing rooms must convey a sense of sartorial elegance. I can think of no two cricketers better suited for the home and visiting sides’ changing rooms than Tiger Pataudi and Mohammad Azharuddin.
Most of us have never watched cricket in the flesh. We owe it to those who have brought it to our living rooms, to our earphones, and to our bookshelves. The Media Centre would be an institution to toast Dicky Rutnagur & Rajan Bala. The Commentary Box must recognize the services of Bobby Talyarkhan & Pearson Surita. The Broadcasting Suite has only one contender – Harsha Bhogle.
Let’s go back to Venkat, and honour him with the Third Umpire and Match Referee’s cabin. Raj Singh Dungarpur, for long the grey eminence of Indian cricket, would be the nomenclature incumbent for an imposing clubhouse. The scoreboard could be Mohandas Menon’s little alcove.
If anybody is keeping score, I have overlooked C.K. Nayudu, Vijay Hazare, Vinoo Mankad, Subhash Gupte, Syed Kirmani, Dilip Vengsarkar & Virender Sehwag. At least the first and last of this list could be pacified. Being the biggest hitters, they could own the gates to the stadium, for that is where they deposit the ball. To the rest, all I have to offer is a sincere apology.
In his compelling collection, Lawley Road & Other Stories, R. K. Narayan narrates the highly poignant tale ofSelvi, the leading classical singer of her day. The subject is accustomed to the adoring applause of celebrity audiences, and yet immune to it through her piety to music. Following a renunciation of the spotlight, she restricts the expression of her art to a daily saadhana, witnessed & cherished by a handful of Malgudi commoners. The descent from exclusive chamber sessions at her estranged husband’s plush residence in upscale Lawley Extension, to impromptu rehearsals in the verandah of her late mother’s humble dwelling in decrepit Ellamman Street, fails to tarnish the quality of music.
Art breathes in its own inspiration. Dispossess it of the big stage. Divest it of adulation. Yet it remains resplendent, adorned by its inherent effulgence. It was a happy coincidence that I read Selvi in the car on my way to watch 2 artists grace an occasion more modest than their habitual realm. It has been second nature for Rahul Dravid & V. V. S. Laxman to parade their gifts in the rarefied echelons of international cricket. It is also to their credit that their relationship with domestic cricket (since they graduated to higher honours) wears proud commitment and goes beyond random dalliances. It was one such tryst with the Irani Cup in 2003 that gave me an opportunity to watch them forge a memorable partnership in flesh – one that didn’t win them as many accolades as their triple-century heists at Kolkata & Adelaide against Australia, but no less memorable for me personally. It was a game that saw most of their peers follow their example and embrace domestic cricket. Indeed, Rest of India, led by Saurav Ganguly, was pretty much the Indian Test XI save for Sachin Tendulkar who captained the opposing team, the Ranji champions Mumbai.
The first 3 days saw one of the most delicious contests possible – Anil Kumble bowling to Tendulkar – playing out to near empty stands at Chepauk. Neither man bested the other, but their gratitude for not having to lock horns in an international game was reinforced. Twin half centuries by Tendulkar & a substantial first innings lead for Mumbai meant RoI had to get 340 on a wearing wicket to lay their hands on silverware. They got 50 of those by stumps on day 3, but lost both openers Virender Sehwag & Sanjay Bangar. Dravid walked out the next morning amidst enthusiastic cheering from a healthier Sunday crowd for local boy L. Balaji, and quickly banished Ramesh Powar over long on for a couple of sixes. The nightwatchman’s resolute defiance nearly lasted through the session, but altogether progress had been relatively slow. Laxman took guard with the misery of a 53-ball 5 in the first knock hanging over his head. On the other side of the luncheon interval, both men blossomed. Leg-spinner Sairaj Bahutule looked to exploit the rough. In a twinkling exhibition of decisive footwork, Laxman repeatedly met him on the full and the expanses at extra-cover & midwicket lay enslaved to a sovereign whim. Dravid stayed crisp and efficient against the faster men Ajit Agarkar & Avishkar Salvi, combating the short stuff with the fierce cut and the regal pull in all his majestic glory. Powar came back for a new spell with an over that was bookended by 2 4s and 2 6s. The former brought Laxman his half century, both full tosses caressed away. The latter took Dravid from 88 to 100, in a manner that would go on to become synonymous with Sehwag. On each occasion he danced down the track flouting open impertinence to the challenge, and thundered the ball into the Royal Sundaram stand high over the bowler’s head. A stalwart of Indian cricket had shown an upstart his place. After tea, Laxman relegated even Dravid to spectator, uncorking one champagne stroke after another. The promise of a glorious hundred wasn’t honoured though, Bahutule pooping his party one short of the landmark. That was my cue to leave as I had to catch a train back to my college in Vellore. As I haggled with an autowallah near Buckingham Canal, Chepauk went up in a groan that could only have meant Dravid’s dismissal.
With my hair standing on end, I wondered what the forthcoming season – featuring important tours to Australia & Pakistan – would have in store for the partners-in-crime. Dravid had started the season with a legitimate claim of being India’s finest. Six months later, he would end it undisputedly as the world’s best. 3 double centuries in 9 Tests, each one successively higher than the previous, would propel his Test average from 53 to 58. Laxman would also score 3 Test hundreds, and curiously, 5 ODI hundreds that winter. His 99 that day had been scored at nearly run-a-ball.
I got an SMS from my father as the Yelagiri Express pulled out of Central Station. I learnt that Ganguly & Kumble had steered the Rest home after a mini-collapse. I was also informed that I had left Selvi behind, my copy of Lawley Road & Other Stories having been forgotten in the car.
New Zealand tours to India have always posed an interesting quandary. The Kiwis fly down approximately once in 4 years, usually on the cusp of a World Cup, or on the heels of one. They get short shrift as the precursor to a tough overseas challenge for Team India. It’s funny how their 3 previous visits have been around the same time as the Irani Trophy; no different this time either. It is also noteworthy that, revelling in their underdog status as they do, they perform better than most tourists in India. They have lost just 2 of their previous 8 Tests in India, albeit having won none. The last time India won 2 Tests against them in a series (home or away) was before Sachin Tendulkar had made his international debut. Admittedly, the current outfit lacks the pedigree of the earlier teams brought over by Stephen Fleming & Lee Germon. To add to their inexperience, Daniel Vettori’s men are also up against the No. 1 ranked Test team in full strength, rich vein of form and unbeaten for more than 2 years.
For the first time this year, India will go into a Test series with their first choice XV fully fit. Every member of the side selects himself, with just a rumour of debate regarding one of the reserve batsmen slots. Gautam Gambhir & V.V.S. Laxman’s return to fitness, and a combination of brave batting & fine fielding brought to the table by the young trio of Suresh Raina, Murali Vijay & Cheteshwar Pujara ensured that the contest was anything but, Yuvraj Singh’s double century in the Irani Trophy notwithstanding.
Tendulkar & Zaheer Khan were truly sensational against Australia. The only concern will be to ensure that they do not pick up injuries. Virender Sehwag, who had a relatively quiet series, should find the Kiwi attack to his liking. If he manages to overcome boredom & his tendency to underestimate weak spinners, all the tourists can do is pack the leg-side field and pray. One hopes that Rahul Dravid will strike it big, for his form remains imperative to our fortunes in South Africa later this winter. New Zealand, of course, would have talked in great detail about his recent vulnerability outside the off stump. Vijay & Pujara will make way for Gambhir & Laxman; unfair, but that is the way of international cricket. Gambhir though, is well aware that Vijay is breathing down his neck. It will, however, take much more to replace the stylist from Hyderabad, who must be looking forward to playing a Test in his hometown.
India looks settled on the bowling front as well. Pragyan Ojha was mighty impressive in the Australia series with his flight & control. Harbhajan Singh & Ishant Sharma seem to be feeling their way back to form convincingly enough to keep Sreesanth & Amit Mishra on the bench. Skipper M.S. Dhoni was perhaps the only real failure in the previous series. His batting may not have been missed as much as his keeping, errors that he and his side can ill afford. It would help as well if he wins a toss for a change.
On the face of it, New Zealand appears to be a motley crew, but a discerning eye will recognise the potential of their batting line-up. In Martin Guptill, they have one of their stars of the future. Attractive, free-flowing and importantly, a good player of spin bowling, he will look to set the tone for a dangerous middle order comprising Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder and Brendon McCullum. Each one of the triumvirate providing muscle in the middle knows what it’s like to score a Test century against India, as does the man bringing up the rear – skipper Vettori himself, easily the most consistent of the lot. It is hard to see the much hyped Kane Williamson fitting in, unless McCullum dons the gauntlets ahead of specialist wicket-keeper Gareth Hopkins.
It is in the inexperience of the bowling attack that New Zealand will bleed. Chris Martin and Vettori (that man again!) will spearhead the pace & spin departments. Jeetan Patel will surely play on pitches responsive to his craft, but must know that this may be the toughest assignment of his career so far. Between them, Tim Southee, the nippy Brent Arnel, the left-am quick Andy McKay & the young Hamish Bennett have bowled not a single ball in India. Take away Southee & add Martin to the mix, and you have an uncharacteristically weak tail. They will look to the first test of the 1999 tour for inspiration, when Dion Nash & Shayne O’Connor blew India away for 83 on a seaming pitch at Mohali.
India batted superbly, bowled competently and caught woefully against the Aussies and yet blanked them. That combination may well be enough to shut out New Zealand as well, but they would want to improve. Also, as the No. 1 ranked side, they must win by a margin of at least 2-0. Indian complacency apart, it is hard to see New Zealand winning a Test match on this tour.
INDIA: MS Dhoni (capt), Virender Sehwag (vice-capt), Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Cheteshwar Pujara, M Vijay, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth, Pragyan Ojha, Amit Mishra
NEW ZEALAND: Daniel Vettori (capt), Brent Arnel, Hamish Bennett, Martin Guptill, Gareth Hopkins, Chris Martin, Brendon McCullum, Tim McIntosh, Andy McKay, Jeetan Patel, Jesse Ryder, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, BJ Watling, Kane Williamson
1st Test: India v New Zealand at Ahmedabad
Nov 4-8, 2010 (09:30 local, 04:00 GMT)
2nd Test: India v New Zealand at Hyderabad (Deccan)
Nov 12-16, 2010 (09:30 local, 04:00 GMT)
3rd Test: India v New Zealand at Nagpur
Nov 20-24, 2010 (09:30 local, 04:00 GMT)