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

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As the world laughs, IPL Saints and IPL Warriors argue

World Champions in cricket to laughing stock of cricket.

That statement represents Indian cricket’s journey over the last 20 months; the Indian cricket team has slipped from being World Champions in the 50-over format of the game and in Test cricket, to being a laughing stock of world cricket. India has not been playing good cricket for well over eighteen months. That is known. At the Eden Gardens in Kolkata last week, the team played terrible cricket.

But there is more to being the laughing stock than just ugly cricket.

***

The power that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) wields in world cricket is delivered by its impressive fan base. The fans weather rotten conditions — and  abject treatment from stadium officials — to watch the game at ill-equipped grounds in India. The fans often endure a breathlessly unceasing series of advertisements (and sometimes the verbiage of boisterous and clamorous anchors) to watch the game on television sets across the globe. The fan supports the game and continues to provide power to the BCCI, which, in turn, continues to stretch the boundary conditions of the blind commercial greed envelope that it holds — mostly triumphantly.

It is not the BCCI’s fault that they have this power and this advantage at the global decision table. It is not to the organisation’s credit either that they continue to tear into the game at every level. And despite their best intentions, they do.

There is a growing view around the world of cricket that the BCCI is a self-serving organisation that does not have the best interests of either world cricket and/or (more sadly) Indian cricket. Gideon Haigh develops this thesis compellingly in his lovely book, “Sphere of Influence”. Others have been more vocal in expressing more or less this view of the BCCI and the way in which it runs (er, ruins) cricket in India; and the way in which it throws its weight around in world cricket. I do not subscribe to that view entirely, merely because the BCCI has been allowed to be a “bully”.

***

When the Indian team was performing exceedingly well, it is likely that this perceived bullying built up envy and resentment in cricket communities around the world. But, all of those negative views were ignored or brushed aside mainly because the team performed well and was well-served by strong and impressive individuals in it like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble and Saurav Ganguly; virtuous men of integrity, probity and repute.

Most of them have now exited, stage-left. And with them, the results went too. Today, the envy and resentment in several cricket communities around the world has given way to Indian cricket being a bit of a laughing stock.

India may still win the last Test against England in Nagpur to square the series. There is much pride at stake. India does not easily lose series at home; and that too by huge margins. But the scars inflicted by England at the Eden Gardens will, I believe, remain for a long time.

We accepted when the team lost badly in England and Australia. We accepted when the team scrapped to secure wins at home against New Zealand and West Indies. Today, the team does not appear to have the ticker to win even in home conditions.

The exit of Ganguly, Kumble, Dravid and Laxman exposed the strange functioning of a selection committee. It is not easy to replace experience overnight. The replacements weren’t ready. That is to be expected. Teams — even good teams — go through peaks and troughs. However, the better teams bounce out of the trough through review, introspection, reflection and honest self-examination.

Instead, what we have seen is consistent denial, a plethora of weak strategies, weak policies and an unsure domestic competition. The nature and the number of tweaks to the domestic structure over the last few years suggests a lack of clarity about the role that domestic cricket plays in India. The domestic competition has been tinkered with much more in the last few years than Shahid Afridi has retired.

***

After India had won the World Cup in April 2011, a handshake in Dominica started the slide. Cricket fans were polarized into two groups: the Keyboard Warriors who criticized the Dominica handshake and the Keyboard Saints who were calm and dispassionate in their understanding of the handshake. The saints nodded wisely and poured cold water over the warriors in a bid to calm them.

Since the Dominica handshake, a succession of humbling defeats against England and Australia were hard to fathom. The few hard-fought wins against West Indies and New Zealand at home provided a smokescreen that concealed a malaise that probably ran deeper. What hurt most was this recent capitulation against England — at home!

Today, many of the then saints have become warriors and the warriors have all but given up on the team.

At the start of this important journey, the team stood on the cusp greatness. A ‘clutch’ moment was discarded. The team now stands on a perilous and unhealthy ledge.

The saints and warriors, meanwhile, continue to fight: over the IPL and its impact on the team’s slide from greatness to near obscurity.

***

In my view, the IPL has had a major role to play in this decline. I am an IPL Warrior.

The IPL Saints will point out that the tournament was first played in 2008. India became the number 1 Test cricket side only in 2009. The IPL Saints will argue that the IPL may, therefore, have had a positive impact on the Test side. The other argument that the IPL Saints normally put forth is that other teams like South Africa, Australia and England have T20 tournaments too. Moreover, players from these countries play in the IPL too. Yet, these three teams have reached higher rankings in the last 18 months and play better Test cricket than India has. Hence, they will argue that there is no real correlation between the IPL (and other domestic T20 variants) and the national Test team performance. Finally the IPL Saints also argue that India has more domestic cricket players and can, hence, support an IPL competition without the concomitant burn-out risk to players in the national Test team.

Wrong.

The ‘strength in numbers’ argument is as lazy as the one that goes “India is a country of over 1 billion people, why can it not win even one Olympic Gold medal?”

In terms of physical stresses, we just cannot easily compare players from Australia and South Africa to Indian players. That argument does not carry easily. Firstly, people from different cultures have a different structure and make up; Indians work and train differently. Indian players approach the game differently. We aren’t renowned for the intensity of (and focus in) our training. We lack the excessive reliance on science in our training methods. That is very much an occidental approach. Teams from Australia, England and South Africa rely on focus, agility, physical strength, team discipline and ‘playing for each other’. It runs in their blood. Indians rely more on hand-eye coordination, hand speed, timing and silken skills. In that sense, we are more VVS Laxman than we are Rahul Dravid.

The IPL does therefore, in my view, stress out players from India differently. The length, the duration, the intensity and the incessant nature of the competition takes a great toll on the bodies and minds of players from India. The fatigue was apparent in Dominica. It was obvious in the 0-4 loss to England. Since then, I believe the team just lost it completely. I cannot explain the 0-4 loss to Australia in any other way. I am unable to come to terms with — leave alone explain — the loss at Eden.

The arguments will continue; and they must. The team must introspect and reflect. So must the board and we fans. For example, we still do not know if a report on (and review of) the 0-8 loss was even commenced.

The time for change is now. A loss at Nagpur ought to commence it. A win at Nagpur may only provide band-aid that will serve to delay change for a while longer…

— Mohan (@mohank)

India does not deserve Tendulkar!

As I watch this series, as I watched this team over the last 18 months or so, watch their insipid performance I get angrier and angrier. I don’t give a damn about the talent, artistry and all that crap. I am simply astounded, amazed and humbled to see the great man deal with all this. This team does not deserve him or for that matter the retired greats, VVS, Dravid, Ganguly and Kumble. India, with the presence of the fab five, have had to go through similar phases in their career more often than not. But they come out these troubled times as better cricketers, players with greater respect and dignity, and simply better human beings. There was humility in their acceptance of defeat, while at the same time, a visible resolve and determination to fight back and earn back the respect on the field through their performances. They were the greatest group of cricketers ever to have taken the field for India and none will compare ever. The greatest of them all continues to fight even as the world turns against him, runs on the field like every run stopped matters, no shortage of inspirational words to his pathetic and undeserving team mates. I wonder how he puts up with this group which seems to think that it can talk, moan, and whine its way out this phase. Oh and the BCCI joins the chorus too!

This Indian team is a cocky, arrogant, spoiled lot that seems to be complete in self denial. What a depressing contrast to the fab five. The color, texture, chemical properties, physical properties, moisture content, contaminant levels of the pitches, the ambient air, noise levels in the stadia, water quality in the pavilions seem to be winning formulae for this team. Humility in defeat, dignity in victories, application in play, focus in action all seem to be irrelevant and simply unnecessary to playing the game. I am getting tired of this “natural flair” in play and speech of Sehwag. He is irresponsible, childish and borderline asinine everytime he opens his mouth, his blade occasionally gives hope but that is diminishing too. Gautam Gambhir is better off in Indian army. Virat Kohli’s world cup speech may have brought a tear or two in the eye but that, on hindsight, seems more like a well rehearsed drama. His commitment to the longer version is still largely uncertain. Yuvraj Singh thinks he is constantly in a reality TV show. I don’t know what to make of MS Dhoni anymore. Zaheer Khan seems to give the impression that he is turning out for Shivaji Gymkhana or some charity event. Do we have spinners playing for India? I haven’t spotted any. Harbhajan Singh is better off forming a bhangra band with Sreesanth. That leaves us with Pujara, probably the only fellow on the team who is worthy of standing next to Tendulkar on an Indian test side for me. During their down time, some cricket players are known for their interest in making music in a dubstep studio.

I have never hated this game and this team as much in my 38 years of following Indian cricket and the members on the team barring the great man and maybe one or two more who are to blame. Thank god for Ranji Trophy. At least, there seems to be life in that form of the game after all. I believe that format was given a rebirth thanks to ideas emanating from guess who, members of the Fab Five!!!At least one of them remains on the field and two provide some sanity in the commentators box. I miss them already.

– Srikanth

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

MS Dhoni seeks bounce and spin

So, cricket returned to Indian TV screens. And how! Some of us will say that cricket never left our homes. However, the preceding three months had seen a ODI series against Sri Lanka — Yes! We needed those like Cherrpunjee needs rain, thanks — and a lengthy series of T20 games. To me, these were months of intense dullness, induced by games that lacked substance or context. Indolent indifference and unbearable ennui resulted. 

It was therefore refreshing to see a cricket match unfold like cricket should; the match told a story of aggression, calm maturity, deceit, courage, disintegration, foolishness, bravado, determination and perseverance.

It was also a story of one captain’s despair even in victory.

This was a story of Sehwag’s aggressive return to ‘form’, although in his case I am not sure what the word ‘form’ even means. His art defies form and sometimes, a consistent narrative. We can’t be certain that a lack of runs worries the man, just as it is hard to ascertain whether the accumulation of a substantial number of runs makes him any more content or confident than he already appears to be. He smiles benignly through pleasure and pain. We too must, perhaps.

This was a story of a young man’s calm maturity. Like Rahul Dravid before him, Cheteshwar Pujara appears to be the sort of guy every girl would want to take home to meet her parents. One girl already has, and the parents have apparently approved. It is inevitable that Pujara, Che as he is referred to by his growing legion of fans, will be compared to Rahul Dravid. Pujara presents a compelling case against genetic cloning; it would seem that this is just not necessary! The score was 1-134 when Pujara started his innings, which meant that he was able to play freely and without much pressure; at least initially. His calm maturity was evident however, after four wickets had fallen for 283 runs. He held the innings together after that point and slowly accumulated his runs with Yuvraj and Ashwin. In the end, it was hard to believe that he had made as many runs as he had; he was surreptitiously effective.

The post match analysis seems to have omitted one significant point in the game when Jonathan Trott seemed to claim a catch after he had virtually slept on the ball. It is hard to believe that this professional cricketer didn’t know he had grassed the catch. It was as funny as it was, in my view, an atrocious piece of gamesmanship. I can’t imagine Harbhajan Singh, for example, getting away with a professional foul of that sort. The match referee, however, turned a blind eye to it.

This was also a story of Altastair Cook’s courage, Kevin Pietersen’s disintegration and Ian Bell’s foolishness. Cook showed tremendous application in both innings. The England captain would have watched in agony as Pietersen and Bell, his illustrious teammates, lost the plot through a combination of foolhardiness and needless bravado. In the absence of effective technique to combat the turning ball, instead of application and patience, we saw brain fuses from Bell and Pietersen. But in both innings, Cook played with enormous pride and resolve and this will have given the England camp some comfort. There is nothing worse than a disintegrating captain of a team that loses badly. He might be boring to watch, but Cook is certainly emerging as an extremely determined and effective a player.

This Test match wasn’t as bad for England as the scorecard will have us believe. With a better team balance and greater application, England can bounce back in this important series. And I feel they will.

And talking of bounce, much of the post-match commentary was around MS Dhoni’s call for different pitches. Dhoni has been on the case of Indian curators for well over a year now. He was disgusted by the pitch that was provided to the visiting New Zealand team in Hyderabad and Bangalore in July this year. Yesterday, of the Motera pitch, Dhoni said, “I don’t even want to see this wicket.”

He then went on to say, “There wasn’t enough turn and bounce for the spinners. Hopefully in the coming matches we’ll see the wicket turn, right from start, or as soon as possible so that the toss doesn’t become vital. What we want to see is two good sides competing against each other with the toss taken out of the equation.”

After the match, Dhoni was criticised for his statements against pitches. The Times of India, in its opinion section adjoining the piece on the pitch, inferred that Dhoni “seems to be letting the thirst for revenge get the better of his cricketing sense”. Right. ‘This criticism of pitches is becoming a pattern with Dhoni’, some people yelled on late-night TV chat shows. ‘We must prepare sporting tracks’ yelled someone else. On another TV show Maninder Singh just yelled.

What Dhoni has asked for seems perfectly reasonable to me. What we want to see is turn and bounce on a wicket. Further, his point is that it should be fine for a wicket to turn right from the toss so that the toss does not become as vital as it currently is. If the match then ends in three days as a result of this turn and bounce, it must be down to the incompetence of the players and nothing else.

There is a nuance to this argument too and that is that no one questions a pitch if it starts bouncing and seaming from the first ball. So why question a pitch just because it is bouncing and spinning from the first ball? I think this is a fair point that deserves a patient hearing. Further, what he seeks is consistent and true bounce. Dhoni says, “What you don’t want is ridges in the wicket and then one ball hits your head and next, your toe.”

Teams from England and Australia have come to expect car loans for single mothers and pitches that turn in India. My sense is that the words ‘dust bowl’ and ‘rank turners’ have become disparaging in our vocabulary because of the disdain imputed through their repeated usage. However, that is the nature of wickets in India. The soil conditions dictate that wickets will turn. To ask for anything else (or to artificially provide anything else to visiting teams) is akin to hating Paris because it does not have the Sydney Opera house.

–Mohan (@mohank)

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