Category Archives: Commentators

The i3j3 Cricket Podcast — Episode 2

The i3j3 Cricket Podcast (Episode 2), where Mahesh Krishnan Paddy Padmanabhan, Vish Krishnan and Mohan Krishnamoorthy talk about Kohli’s evolution, the England-India ODI series, Bangladesh cricket and a few other things that only 3-4 other fans care about.

The second episode of our once a fortnight cricket ramble. Have a listen…

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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 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

Sledging – bind or be blind?

The two greatest rationale and philosophy of our times, capitalism and democracy, are based on the idea that individuals, through their actions based on self-interest, will drive forces towards the most beneficial state for inviduals and/or society as a whole. In extending this thinking to the cricketing field and the current controversy over sledging, is it not best that the cricketers themselves decide what is acceptable and not acceptable to them, through their actions on the field, instead of expecting an external body such as ICC to define it for them? This thinking takes the exterme opposite view of what Harsha Bhogle tries to recommend in his article in The Times of India.

My sincere opinion is that cricketers should be allowed to use sledging, without any constraints, irrespective of how offensive it is. Most people take offense because they might feel ill-equipped in the approved forms of retaliation. In the newly recommended open environment, one can use whatever means one has, to retaliate. In a bizzare way, nothing will eventually be offensive to anyone, since its free for all. I look at it as a positive development in line with the ongoing changes that cricket has embraced in Twenty20, IPL and Technology.

Also, with every control that has been vested in the hands of the ICC, there have been perceptions of inconsistency and impotence felt by stakeholders of the game across the globe. In the interests of the game and a practical step forward, I feel its best that the players are let loose on each other in the center, so that the public is relieved of the after shocks. This brings to an abrupt end, months of debate and platitudes over whether someone or some society is racist or not, whether a certain person was as severely punished as another etc. I am positive that with each sledging act in the field, players will yell the choicest of abuses at each other without any interruptions from any players or officials, and when the energies are exhausted in that act, each will take their stance to bat or bowl or field the next ball and the game will move on.

– Bharath

Onwards to Adelaide.

 There are seminal, never to be forgotten times in every one’s life. One such for me was actually being present at the Adelaide Oval during India’s famous victory there in 2003.

I contrived to travel to Adelaide on Business and finish all my meetings by lunch, whereupon I took a taxi across town to the Adelaide Oval to a press pass organised by a relative who was with ESPN.

I watched Dravid get his double from the George Giffen stand and post lunch, went up to the press box from where I watched Ajit Agarkar get his immortal 6-for. This was as close to cricketing heaven as it got. I was directly behind the bowler’s arm. On either side were the Channel Nine, ESPN, ABC and other media boxes.

Tony Greig, Ian Healy, Wasim Akram, Ravi Shastri, Harsha Bhogle, Geoff Boycott-they all came to stretch out in this area and grab a drink or two. Gavaskar played tennis ball cricket with, I think, Jim Maxwell’s son while he was waiting for his lunch of naan and subzi from the local Indian restaurant.

Various print and internet journalists flitted about-Roebuck especially stood out in his kurta-particularly appropriate wear for that hot day. When I gushed to Sambit Bal that Cricinfo was my homepage, he asked politely whether I also subscribed to Cricinfo magazine. When I said no, his look, I imagine, seemed to say “Kanja Pisnaari payal” (Tight fisted so-and-so).

It was an unforgettable day, made particularly eventful when India won the next day.

Here’s hoping there’s an encore this time around and we are celebrating it in full measure over the Australia Day/Republic Day long weekend!

Soundar

Interesting interviews with Jim Maxwell and Harsha Bhogle

I came across a couple of interesting interviews with two respected cricket commentators who are currently part of the ABC Grandstand team – Jim Maxwell and Harsha Bhogle.

– Jim Maxwell : Video link and transcript

– Harsha Bhogle : Audio link

In addition, you can also listen to Cricinfo’s Siddartha Vaidyanathan’s views as well as Peter Lalor’s interview on ABC

Vish

An Interview with Prem Panicker (Part 3)

In the first part of this three-part in-depth interview with Prem Panicker, the noted commentator on Indian cricket, we talked about his views on racism in cricket in the wake of the Andrew Symonds incidents in India in the recently concluded India-Australia ODI series. In the second part of the interview, we talked about aggression, sledging, Indian cricket and more.

Prem Panicker is a respected writer on a wide rage of subjects for Rediff.

We carried out this interview with Prem Panicker to seek his views on a wide range of issues but also to strike a sense of balance with the views of Peter Lalor, a respected writer for “The Australian” newspaper. We asked both Peter Lalor and Prem Panicker the same set of questions. Our interview with Peter Lalor is available here (Part-1, Part-2, Part-3).

In this concluding, Part-3, of our interview with Prem Panicker, we talk about Australian cricket, Twenty20 and more.

Prem Panicker blogs here:

 

i3j3: Talking of Australian cricket, how do you feel Australia will cope with the absence of Shane Warne, Glen McGrath and Justin Langer? Will their absence make the Australian team more vulnerable?

PP: It would be naïve to imagine that any team can shrug off the exit of two such bowlers – especially considering they were still turning in match winning performances when they quit (it is not, for instance, like say a Kapil Dev, who had to be carried through the last leg of his career).

Even across just one ODI series, you could see the gap Warne and McGrath have left – their skill, both as enforcers and as bowlers who could when the going got tough could come in and reel it back – was clearly missed.

Australia will cope; it has in reserve players who would walk into the first XI in most international sides. What will serve as a litmus test of calibre is how quickly the team learns to live without two players who were at its core. Michael Clarke recently warned the public that the team would not be as totally dominant as in the past, and I think he might have got it right – there is an opportunity here for other teams, if they can rid themselves of the fear that the green and gold induces, to close a ridiculously big gap.

 

i3j3: There is daylight after Australia in the championship stakes. Is this good for the game?

PP: No – the greater the competition, the more the interest. Thing though is, Australia has nothing to do with the present situation – the onus is on the other sides to rethink the way they think of the game, the way they train, the way they play, even the way they plan for the longer term. For instance, and to my disgust, I read of Australia thinking of, and working towards, virtual reality practice and of India muffing up one more opportunity to select a good coach for its national side, on the same day.

 

i3j3: What is your take on the Twenty20 game? Is it a bit of hit and giggle? Or does it really have any capacity to (a) broaden its spectator base, (b) provide benefits to both the 50-over game as well as Test cricket in terms of strategy, control and robustness, (c) enforce and speed up innovation in all aspects of cricket.

PP: Theoretically, it has the potential to do all the things you have listed in seriatim, and more — but frankly, my experience with T20 is limited to following about half a dozen games, some of them not even fully, during the recent World Cup. You can pontificate on the basis of even less empirical evidence, but I’d prefer to wait and watch.

 

i3j3: You have been quite critical of Sree Santh. What do you think of this young and talented cricketer?

PP: Young, talented, and imbecilic, did you say?

His youth is a matter of fact and his talent is not going to be too hotly debated either – but the guy needs a swift kick where it will do most good.

He has, unfortunately, discovered the heady pleasures of playing to the gallery – but his play-acting is having a dampening effect on his performance. The trouble is if he goes on as he is now, he could lose coming and going – sooner or later his so-called “aggression” will lead him to do something that puts him beyond the pale (Of all the ridiculous things I have heard in recent times, his statement that he is testing to see how far he can go gets the biscuit); simultaneously, the focus that characterized his early days will get further eroded, to the detriment of his game.

 

i3j3: Your views on the 2007-2008 summer of international cricket in Australia? What would you be most looking forward to?

PP: The Tests. With due respect, I find the format of the triangular series too long-drawn-out.

 

i3j3: How do you rate the chances of Sri Lanka and India in the Tests?

PP: Early days, especially as both teams are to varying degrees in flux – how about you ask me this after we are done with the Pakistan Test series, at which point we might have a better idea of personnel?

 

i3j3: Would you be happy if we had another chat mid-series with you?

PP: Sure, whenever – hopefully the “question paper” won’t be quite as long, though; the last time I had to work this hard, I preferred to drop out of college!

 

 

We at i3j3Cricket are grateful to Prem Panicker for the time he took to answer the many questions we posed. Some of them were direct questions and some of them were curly. We respect Prem Panicker for his sincerity and applaud his patience.

I am sure we will all continue to read, appreciate and savour Prem Panicker’s interviews and articles in Rediff and elsewhere .

Thank you,

From All The i3j3Cricket Contributors