Tag Archives: Ganguly

India Vs Australia :: Test 4 :: Nagpur :: Day-1

Ricky Ponting may have a lot of luck with the Match Referee who has been blind to Australia’s over-rate recalcitrance in all recent Tests. However, one thing that Ricky Ponting has bad luck with is the recent run of tosses! He lost even to Anil Kumble, a man notorious for bad toss-luck! M. S. Dhoni won the toss and elected to bat.

As expected, Harbhajan Singh replaced the retired Anil Kumble and M. Vijay came in for Gautam Gambhir who was rubbed out of this game without a proper appeal! The young opener from Tamil Nadu came in on the back of a double century in the Tamil Nadu game against Maharashtra.

Indeed, that TN-Maharashtra Ranji Trophy game only concludes today! Vijay was pulled out of that game after scoring a record opening stand of 462 in the company of the immensely talented 19-year-old, Abhinav Mukund. Incidentally, Abhinav Mukund, a stylish left-hander and son of former TN player Mukund, went on to make a 300 in that game.

I wrote in my preview of this Test match that Australia had to take Jason Krejza instead of Cameron White and perhaps, Peter Siddle instead of Shane Watson. Instead, however, Jason Krejza came in for Stuart Clark! Shane Watson and Cameron White remained in the side. This was, in my view, a strange tactic from Ponting. Only time will tell if it pays off for the Australians.

Session-1:

The pre-drinks session belonged to India. Australia started off with a Brett Lee wide — it ought to have been two wides in a row really, to match Steve Harmison’s start to the Gabba Test. India started off in a hurry. The rest of the first hour was roughly similar apart from a few false shots and inside edges from the Indian openers.

I was particularly impressed with Murali Vijay. He played with utmost composure a cool head and a tight technique. When he came forward to meet the ball, he did so in an assured manner. When he rocked back, his balance was brilliant.

Just before the drinks’ break, Jason Krejza came in for a bowl. Sehwag hit him for a 4 and a 6 in the same over. Perhaps this was a sign of things to come?

However, there were a few good signs for the Australians. The pitch had bounce and offered some spin. However, most interestingly, the top soil was already starting to crumble!

With the score on 98, Shane Watson bowled a few well-directed bouncers at M. Vijay who ducked easily into these. However, this was followed by another one closer to Mijay’s body. The ball squared him up and the resulting poke was taken by Brad Haddin. M. Vijay had made 33 off 53 balls and the score was 98-1!

At the other end, Sehwag faced up to Jason Krejza who had figures at this stage of 3-0-32-0. However, he was getting some sharp spin and unnerving bounce! Sehwag’s strategy to the first ball he faced from Krejza was strange; he attempted a reverse sweep! At this stage, Sehwag had scored 63 off 58 balls! I didn’t quite see the need for a reverse sweep, but then that’s how the man plays!

The fall of Vijay brought Dravid to the crease. Off the very first ball he faced from Krejza, Dravid lunged forward tentatively and poked the ball off the front foot. The ball bounced awkwardly, ripped and cluttered into his pads before travelling into the safe hands of Simon Katich at forward short leg! Dravid, after looking solid, but unlucky at Bengaluru, Mohali and Delhi, was out for a disconcerting duck off the second ball he faced!

This was good bowling by Krejza and underlined the folly of Australia not including him in previous Test matches.

Soon after, the score was 116-3 when Jason Krejza induced a lazy glide off the back foot from Virender Sehwag. With just 5 minutes to go for lunch, this was perhaps a play-for-lunch shot. The ball took the under-edge of the bat and crashed into the stumps. Krejza had his second wicket in Test cricket! Sehwag was out for 66 off 69 balls with 9 4s and 1 six!. India was 116-3 off 22.3 overs!

V. V. S. Laxman, in his 100th Test match, caressed the first ball he received for an off-driven 3 runs.

India found herself in a hole of her own making really! Jason Krejza was able to crowd the bat with 3-4 fielders now.

At lunch, India was on 122-3 off 24 overs! Only 24 overs were possible by the Australians in a two hour session! But the Match Referee will continue to look to take candy money from a few Australians before training his sights on the over rate!

India had an excellent start to the session, but blew it towards the end with about 25 minutes of madness.

My Session by Session (SBS) scoring gives this session to Australia. The SBS Score reads: India-0, Australia-1.0!

Session-2:

India started the 2nd Session on 122-3 (a run rate of 4.80) with Laxman on 4 off 5 balls and Tendulkar on 16 off 16 balls.

I suspect Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra and Virender Sehwag would like what they saw of the pre-lunch session. Krejza was able to extract spin and bounce from the pitch! It would be an early call and it is potentially foolish to make a call on an Indian pitch, especially when one is a few thousand miles away and watching on TV! However, I have a feeling that a score of 400 or so in the 1st innings would be quite competitive! The surface was already crumbling and there already was a bowlers’ rough! And we have just completed the 1st Session of the match! Having said this, I realise Dravid got out to a poke and Sehwag got out to a lazy shot. Yet, what was disconcerting was the bounce and spin that Krejza was getting.

Australia are in a good position despite the brisk scoring from the Indians.

Despite going for nearly 8 runs per over at this stage (6-0-48-2), Krejza was actually bowling quite well. He was getting good spin and bounce. His top spin was also working for him and he was able to extract good bounce from it. I didn’t see anything that went on with the arm though and that may make him somewhat predictable perhaps.

There was a pointer though for me that was good about the first session. India didn’t look like a team playing for a draw! This could play into Australia’s hands.

Australia started off after lunch with Jason Krejza and Mitchell Johnson.

Mitchell Johnson started off with a 7-2 off-side field. This meant a lot of off-side bowling! This was a somewhat strange tactic from a team that had to win the match! Agreed this was just Session-2 of a long Test match, but I couldn’t quite understand this from Australia. Sachin Tendulkar, who faced most of these balls, was having nothing to do with these. Perhaps Australia wanted to attack at one end and slow things down at the other end?

Having said that, the first time Johnson strayed onto the pads, Tendulkar was able to whip it through mid-wicket for a four. Still, Johnson continued with a 7-2 field.

Ponting’s approach was to give his pace bowlers short bursts of 4-5 overs. It was a hot day. Nine overs after lunch, Mitchell Johnson was replaced by Brett Lee. India had added 27 runs in the 9 overs after lunch. It was India’s turn to consolidate. The Australian pace bowlers continued to bowl outside off stump although Brett Lee did catch Laxman flush on the shoulder from a fast in-ducking bouncer!

Krejza was bowling steadily and was getting some slow spin and bounce. His figures read a more respectable: 12-1-74-2! He even bowled a maiden over!

The ball was 37 overs old now and was showing some signs of reverse swing. Brett Lee produced an in-swinging yorker, which Laxman kept out. This was starting to make the game just a little interesting. We had an off-spinner playing his first Test match, able to extract some slow spin and bounce from the pitch. We also had a paceman steaming in to bowl with fire at two well set batsmen who were quite intent on staying there.

This was absorbing Test match cricket.

The 50 of the partnership came off a strange, false shot from Laxman! A Jason Krejza ball gripped the surface, bounced and turned a bit. Laxman was into his trademark whip-flick shot before the ball arrived at him. The ball stopped a bit too. The resulting shot just lobbed agonisingly over the head of mid-wicket to reach the boundary fence. Tendulkar and Laxman had made their 50 runs from 14.3 overs at a rate of 3.44 rpo. Tendulkar was on 41 from 55 balls and Laxman was on 19 from 44 balls.

Tendulkar was batting wonderfully. There were no histrionics or thumping off drives. This was a relaxed and in-the-zone outing for Tendulkar. He was looking good.

Drinks was called at this stage.

At this point, Jason Krejza had bowled unchanged since he was introduced! Although he had given away a few runs, it highlighted once again why Krejza’s absence from the team in the first three Tests was beyond belief.

In Jason Krejza’s 14th over on the trot (39th over of the innings) he even bowled from around the wickets. I was getting more and more impressed with this Australian bowler. He wasn’t frightened of tossing it up. He wasn’t fearful of the reputations of the batsmen he was bowling to. Perhaps he had the “temerity” too huh?

In Krejza’s next over, Tendulkar got his half century. He had had a wonderful landmark-loaded series without scoring a big one. This was his 52nd half-century, and with it, Tendulkar had scored his 91st score of 50 or more runs — the highest for any player in the world. The records continued to fall his way. However, he would perhaps agree that nothing would matter to him more than a big match-winning score here.

In the 42nd over Cameron White came in for his first bowl of the match. At the other end, Shane Watson replaced Brett Lee. The ball was starting to “reverse” just that little bit. There was something in it for the pace bowlers now. Perhaps Stuart Clark will have made better use of the conditions? One will never know.

Cameron White had figures of 3-1-3-0 at the end of his 3rd over. However, truth be told. He bowled nonsense really. Most of his balls were nearly a foot outside off stump. But perhaps he was part of the ‘holding pattern’ for this pair (Watson-White) of Australian bowlers.

At Tea India was 202-3 off 51 overs at a rate of just under 4 rpo. In that session, 27 overs had been bowled for 80 runs. India hadn’t lost a wicket in that session in which its run rate was 2.96 rpo. It was a steadying session for India. India won the session and the SBS Score reads: India-1.0, Australia-1.0!

Session-3:

Onto my pet peeve: Australia’s over rate

Up until Tea on day-1 Australia had bowled 51 overs! Of these, 20 overs had been bowled by spinners! This was beyond sloppy territory. The was beyond unprofessional territory. This was even beyond recalcitrance. This was beyond thumb-nose-at-establishment territory even. I am thoroughly gob-smacked that Chris Broad will still do nothing about it!

If Ricky Ponting is serious about getting even with the bowling rate, I’d expect Jason Krejza and Cameron White to do a large bulk of the bowling from overs 50-80 before the new ball is due. It will be interesting to see how this session plays out in this regard. But for me, it will be interesting to see when the Match Referee stops this blatant and continuous insult to the game of cricket itself!

After Tea, Australia started proceedings with Cameron White and Shane Watson. Cameron White continued to bowl nonsense.

The 100 partnership was soon secured. Laxman had 38 runs from 102 balls while 73 from just 103 balls! I hadn’t quite realised that at that stage these two had faced almost the same number of deliveries! Perhaps Cameron White had bowled more nonsense to Laxman than to Tendulkar.

Soon after the century partnership, Tendulkar and Laxman attempted to run the worst run I have seen in a long time! Jason Krejza who collected the ball could have said a brief prayer and composed a song before throwing the ball at the stumps! Tendulkar would have still been out! However, Krejza’s snap throw was wide of the stumps. Tendulkar who had given up on the run arrived in the TV frame a few seconds later! This was the first wrong step that Krejza had made all day!

As if to punish him for that, Ponting had him into the attack the very next over!

Cameron White switched ends and bowled instead of Shane Watson. But it was a case of different ends, same nonsense from White though!

Somehow in this session it looked as if the bite and fizz had been lost in this pitch for the spinners. Krejza wasn’t able to get the bite and purchase that he had received in the 1st Session. I did like how he bowled though. He wasn’t afraid to flight the ball and he copped the occasional hammering that he received.

The two Indian batsmen had pitched their tents for the long haul. This was again an example of khadoos batting. The Australians looked a bit lost. But having said that, this did appear to be a pitch on which one wicket could lead to a clatter of them!

It would be interesting to see Simon Katich in for Cameron White who, in my view, was wasting balls.

In his 18th over, Krejza had given his 100th run for his 2 wickets.

When on 85, with India on 241, Tendulkar miscued an off drive off Jason Krejza. The resulting skier seemed to stay in the skies for an eternity! Mitchell Johnson would have had ample time to say a prayer and compose a song before it landed down on him. Like Ishant Sharma had at Delhi, Mitchell Johnson had dropped an important catch. Had he drop the Border Gavaskar Trophy with it? Too early to tell really. But that was an easy catch if ever there was one!

The very next ball, on his 100th Test match, Laxman had a half-century.

Australia needed a wicket badly at that stage and Mitchell Johnson had let the team down.

Just as he brought Jason Krejza to bowl after being the the culprit of a Tendulkar run-out let-off, Ponting now got Mitchell Johnson in for a bowl. He replaced a listless Cameron White.

The catch drop seemed to have sapped the energy of the Australians. Heads drooped. Shoulders dropped. But there was hope. All Australia needed was a wicket or two, one felt. Wickets would always fall in a heap on this pitch, I felt.

Krejza continued to bowl well at both batsmen. However, for both batsmen the field was well spread. So, they were able to pick the singles and rotate the strike reasonably easily and soon Tendulkar stepped into the 90s for the first time in the series.

Against the run of play, V. V. S. Laxman tried to play a cut to a ball from Jason Krejza that just gripped, turned a bounced a bit. The resulting edge got stuck between Haddin’s legs and India had lost the 4th wicket at the score of 262. Laxman was out for 64 off 141 balls with 5 boundary hits. The partnership was worth 146 runs off 46.1 (at a rate of 3.16 rpo).

Laxman will have wanted a century in his 100th Test and like Sehwag, looked set for it. But like Sehwag, he too was out in the 60s!

Sourav Ganguly came out to play in his last Test match.

When on 96, Tendulkar was let down again off Jason Krejza. An off-drive hung in the air for a long time long time. Brett Lee dropped the resulting hard chance. Given his recent trend of getting out in the 80s and 90s, perhaps Tendulkar was looking a bit nervous and edgy out there? But then, perhaps this was Tendulkar’s day after all?

My question was whether Ponting would bowl Brett Lee now! He did not. Mitchell Johnson continued to bowl. He bowled a maiden over to Tendulkar.

Twice against Jason Krejza, Tendulkar had tried to hit a six on the off-side — perhaps following his sons’ advice — and twice he had been lucky that his miscue wasn’t pouched.

Clearly this was a very important century for this champion player.

The runs dried up for a few overs. Tendulkar was stuck on 99 for 10 balls. It was as if the game stood still for this great player. Ponting had conversations with Jason Krejza to build the psychological pressure on the man.

In the end, Tendulkar got his 40th century; his 10th against Australia. He had come close to century number 40 on several occasions in the recent past. This time, even though he tried very hard to give it away, he got there. His century had taken 166 balls and came with the help of 12 4s. India had reached 277-4 off 75 overs.

Simon Katich then replaced Mitchell Johnson — perhaps this was Ponting’s bid to up the over rate, which continued to be shameful.

At exactly 3 minutes to 10pm AEST (4.30pm IST), exactly 80 overs had been bowled. Of these, spinners had bowled 41 overs! And still, Australia was 9 over short of where it needed to be!

This was outrageous! Nothing else.

Australia took the new ball immediately when it was available. India reached 300 of the first over with the new ball. India’s 300 runs had come in in 81.5 overs (3.69 rpo).

Of the very next over, Sachin Tendulkar’s innings came to an end. He was LBW Mitchell Johnson for 109. Sachin Tendulkar, who was dropped twice in this innings, was out to one of the Australians who had dropped him earlier on when he was 85! This wasn’t really great bowling. Nor was there movement off the pitch. It was a decent ball. However, even with about 11 overs to go for the end of days’ play Tendulkar was already playing for the close. He had pulled down the shutters for the day and that caused him to play with a negative mindset. Just as he had got out to the new ball at Mohali after doing all the hard work earlier, here too, Sachin Tendulkar had fallen with just 20 minutes or so left in the days’ play.

Australia had been let back into the game really. Not once, but several times in the day. First by Virender Sehwag’s lazy shot, then by Laxman’s lazy shot and then by Tendulkar’s shut-shop negative-mindset.

India was 303-5 off 82.5 overs. Tendulkar was out for 109 off 188b with 12 4s. The partnership was worth 41 runs from 14.1 overs off a run rate of 2.89.

India got to 311-5 off 87 overs when the end of the days’ play was called.

Australia ended the day bowling 3 overs short despite the extension of play by half hour.

So what is the Match Referee doing about this?

Although India had batted well, I can’t help but feel that this was a day of missed opportunities and one concern for India. Missed opportunities because I feel Sehwag, Laxman and Tendulkar could have gone on to make more. One concern is the form and the mental state of Rahul Dravid. I am not sure what Paddy Upton is doing in/for this team. But he does need to work on Rahul Dravid to prepare him for the 2nd Innings. The way this match is shaping up, it could be a very important 2nd Innings for India and for Rahul Dravid.

Australia will feel pleased. It was a solid effort from Jason Krejza. If Australia can take the remaining Indian wickets for just 50-60 runs, Australia will be well ahead in this match.

The first session of play tomorrow will be crucial for both teams!

I give the last session to Australia and so, the SBS Score reads: India-1.0, Australia-2.0;

A crazy coincidence:

At Mohali on day-1, India finished at 311-5!

— Mohan

Very Very Special Birthdays

In a series that has already seen a few birthdays, tomorrow (1 November) will be a very very special birthday of a special batsman — V. V. S. Laxman. He is the youngest of the Fab Four — I think Peter Roebuck has termed him Ringo to Ganguly’s Paul, Dravid’s George and Tendulkar’s John! Laxman turns 34 on 1 November 2008.

This series has seen a few birthdays from both teams. Interestingly, most birthdays on this tour so far have been of the over-30s club (if we count players who turned 30 as belonging to the 30s club).

  • Virender Sehwag turned 30 on the last day of the Mohali Test (21 Oct).
  • Anil Kumble turned 38 on the 1st day of the Mohali test (Oct 17).
  • Matthew Hayden turned 37 on the 1st day of the Delhi Test (Oct 29).
  • Zaheer Khan celebrated his 30th birthday a couple of days prior to the start of the Bangalore Test (Oct 7).
  • Stuart Clark celebrated his 33rd birthday on the last day of the Australians’ tour game against Rajasthan (Sept 28).
  • Brad Haddin turned 31 two days after the conclusion of the Mohali Test match (Oct 23).
  • Brett Lee will celebrate his 32nd birthday during the Nagpur Test match (Nov 8).

There are two players that break the over-30s ring to the birthday honours list for this tour:

  • Mitchell Johnson will celebrate his 27th birthday on the last day of the Delhi Test match (Nov 2).
  • Gautam Gambhir celebrated his 27th birthday the day after the Bangalore Test concluded (Oct 4).

I stumbled on all of this when looking up the ages of the Fab Five of Indian cricket. Anil Kumble turned 38 on OCt 17 2009; Rahul Dravid will be 36 on Jan 11 2009; Sourav Ganguly already turned 36 on July 8 2008; Sachin Tendulkar will turn 36 on April 24 2009; Laxman will turn 34 on Nov 1 2008.

While Ganguly has already announced his retirement at the end of the ongoing series against Australia, it is conceivable that Anil Kumble will not be around for long. Kumble will, in all likelihood, be the next “cab off the Fab Five Rank”, especially since India has a captain-in-waiting in (M. S. Dhoni) and also a legspinner-in-waiting (Amit Mishra and two, if you count Piyush Chawla). Anil Kumble can leave the grand stage comfortably, knowing that his art as well as his leadership philosophies are in extremely good hands. Through a combination of luck, opportunity-seizing and design, there appears to be a succession plan in place for his departure with no sudden and gaping holes. What is now required is for Kumble to make his call on when he wishes to step down. I have a feeling that the two Tests against England in December this year will be his last. The thought of packing his bags for a trip to Pakistan early next year (2009) and another one to New Zealand soon after that will be enough to provide that proverbial last straw in a weary camels’ back!

— Mohan

Now Gambhir is on the “hate-list”

Question: What do Sourav Ganguly, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Sree Santh, Robin Uthappa and now, Gautam Gambhir have in common? (And let us not forget Manoj Prabhakar).

Answer: Local Australian media use adjectives such as “controversial”, “offensive”, “serial offender”, “street-fighter”, “combative” or such normally-pejorative descriptions as a prefix to their names in media reports!

Meanwhile, Merv Hughes (he who spat), Glen McGrath (he who wanted to slit an opposition players’ throat), Steve Waugh (he who coined the term “mental disintegration”), Ricky Ponting (he who had a black eye in a bar brawl), Matthew Hayden (he of “obnoxious weed” fame), et al are prefixed with words such as “saint”, “great”, “former great”, “competitive”, “battler” or “legend”!

One might think that there is something amiss here.

But no! I think the real answer lies in a fear that these new-age Indians have mimicked what the Australians have been doing for 10 years or more. What’s more? Unlike the Fab Five and others before them, this new lot are giving it back as good as they get and are doing it just that little bit better by getting completely under the collective skins of the Australians! No wonder the media lot in Australia are so irked.

The day is not far off, I feel, when the likes of Malcolm Conn will start moving the ICC to stamp out the scourge of sledging from the game!

I do feel that these new-age Indians have a fair bit to go in their studies though! They need to learn (a) to get under the radar, (b) the art of cheap theatrics. They have to learn the art of sledging surreptitiously so that they fall under the radar of the Match Referee. They also need to go to a third-grade Bollywood acting school (or talk to any soccer player) so that the moment they are touched or sledged, they roll about on the floor, flail their arms and go into seizures as though they have been felled by a tornado. They just need to look at a replay of Shane Watson in Delhi or Matthew Hayden at Mohali!

Soon, the Match Referee will start using placative phrases like “you do not want to curb natural aggression in the game” when the Indians sledge too.

But more seriously, I do believe that the Australians can’t stomach the fact that these new-age Indians are giving it back. Nick McCardle and Mark Waugh, the Foxtel TV anchors, asked Alan Border and Brendan Julian, with a fair bit of incredulousness at the post-match interview about the niggle on the field in a manner that suggested that Australia had to have sole ownership of that property!

I do believe that Australian media struggles to accept that the Indians can give back — and even initiate it. More power to the Indians. I personally would like sledging to be stamped out of the game completely — and have written on this before, lest someone accuses me of a “Conn Job”! However, I also believe that a person who throws a stone in an open drain must expect his clothes to get soiled. There are no rules here. I do not believe in either ‘lines’ or ‘sand’ in this game. If you belong to the mafia expect the head of a horse on your doorstep! Simple! You make a choice.

It is time for the Australian media to accept players like Sourav Ganguly, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Sree Santh, Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, et al (the new India players) as nothing other than good old “Aussie Battlers”. Not that these players are the first “Aussie Battlers” either! Players like Arjuna Ranatunga and Javed Miandad come to mind immediately! If these guys played for Australia, they would be celebrated as players who fought for their country with pride and didn’t give an inch on the field. Instead, what we have is this constant denigration through banal sequence of inflammatory adjectives by the media!

Having said all of this, I fully expect Gautam Gambhir to be hauled before the match referee. I expect him to even receive a hefty fine or a suspended sentence. However, if he does get docked, it would not be because of his folly, but because he wasn’t clever enough in his retort to Shane Watson!

Surely, that statement is a travesty in itself and makes a mockery of the game and its proud traditions!

— Mohan

Two funny videos…

Here is a video of Sourav Ganguly batting right-handed! Someone has taken the trouble of converting Sourav Ganguly’s 144 at Brisbane in December 2003. The poster has taken the trouble of converting this 6-minute clip to its horizontal mirror image. Interestingly Sourav Ganguly, like Michael Hussey, started life as a right-hander and converted to left-handed batting later on in their development.

Here below is the Foxtel promo for the ongoing India Vs Australia tour, India, 2008. It features Harbhajan Singh!

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: 2nd Test :: Mohali :: Day-2

As is normal in India-Australia games these days, most commentators and writers concluded their overnight reports with the following statement, “The first hour and the first session in tomorrow’s game will be crucial to the fortunes of both teams.” More than being just an oft-repeated cliche, which it is, this statement goes to the heart of why India-Australia series are such gripping contests lately. If, for all five days of a Test match “the first hour is crucial”, clearly there is some good cricket being played; clearly both teams are playing fighting cricket; clearly, both teams are in it to get something out of it right until the last day!

Session-1:

India started the day at 311-5, perhaps slightly ahead of the Australians. India needed the night-watchman, Ishant Sharma to stay and make things difficult for the Australians. The long-haired lad, playfully referred to as, “Instant Karma” by my friends’ son, did just that! He didn’t score particularly quickly. Indeed, he didn’t score much at all. But he presented a straight bat and hung around while his partner, Sourav Ganguly, settled in for the long haul. When he got out much of the morning juice was gone from the wicket too. It brought in a fresh, eager and combative M. S. Dhoni to the crease.

Dhoni commenced his scoring with a hooked 4 and a breathtaking hooked 6! He didn’t look back from there. He mixed caution and aggression and, at times, bravado, to keep the scoreboard ticking. Ishant Sharma had been thought out of the crease by a Peter Siddle bouncer. And Dhoni had hooked his first two run-scoring balls. These two may have prompted the Australians to go down the dig-the-ball-in route. It was a strange route to take on what was a placid pitch. It also played right into Dhoni’s hands. He met the bumper-challenge head-on. He trusted the bounce on the pitch and either came forward or rocked back with time and panache. He looked supremely confident and followed up his confidence with bold strokes.

Dhoni’s aggressive strategy could have back-fired. But Dhoni is not the kind of guy that takes a backward step. Self-doubts do not enter his mind at the time of execution. He bases his moves on his self-belief and once he makes a decision, he does not back down from it. This reflected in his batting too. It was free-flowing and attractive. Captaincy did not seem to burden him. Indeed, as I wrote in my Day-1 review, captaincy seems to lift his game. He digs deeper and then, seems to express himself more freely.

Soon, the bowl-it-short strategy was discarded by the Australians.

Sourav Ganguly, at the other end, collected his runs in singles. He knew that his partner was batting really well, and aggressively. So, like the previous evening, when the run-scoring pressure was off his own shoulders, the old pro just rotated the strike.

At lunch, India was 401/6 in 111.0, with Ganguly on 91 and M. S. Dhoni on 45. There was no doubt that this was India’s session and the SBS score reads [India 2.75, Australia 1.25].

Session-2:

The way Ganguly and Dhoni were batting, it looked as if a score of 500 was quite easily possible. Indeed, that may have been the target that the Indians were aiming for during the lunch break.

Soon after lunch, Ganguly got his century. It was a well-deserved, gritty century by the old-fox. The Australians call him a “serial offender”. Well, unfortunately for them, he had “offended” again. The Australians would have liked him to cower down and disappear quietly from the scene! But Ganguly had other plans! He always has other plans, when it comes to the Australians! They bring out the fighter in him! Australian media often say: “he has had this habit, right through his career, to get under the skins of the Australians.” Why? Because he scores runs? Because he was better at “mental disintegration” than Steve Waugh was? I can never quite understand it. But here he was again. Making a century on his farewell tour against his favourite opponent — something that Steve Waugh couldn’t script!

Ganguly made his century off 219 balls with just 8 4s. Quite unusual for a Ganguly century becuase of the low percentage of boundary shots. He had run the singles hard and fought his way to this century. It may not have been the most attractive of his 16 tons. But it was useful and it showed that the old pony still had a few tricks left in him. As Will Swanton says in The Age, “His biggest accomplishment has been getting up the noses of a team which succeeded in getting up the noses of everyone else — Australia.”

The romantics in the press gallery may have wanted Ganguly to take back his retirement decision. However, after the game, he made it clear that there was no way he would turn back the clock! He indicated that he is committed to his pre-series retirement announcement.

In a bid to up the scoring rate, just after reaching his century, Ganguly gave it all away — as he so often does — and swatted a Cameron White ball down Brett Lee’s throat at long on. He departed for a well-made 102. If he had hung around for longer, an India score of around 500 may have been possible. Although Dhoni found a higher gear to improve the scoring rate, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan were unable to hang around and be a menace, as they had, in Bengaluru! Dhoni started taking the aerial route in a spread-out defensive field. And it was working. He had moved to 92 and was looking good for a well-compiled century.

But Dhoni’s plans were cut adrift by a wayward umpire. Rudi Koertzen, who did not refer a close Ganguly stumping call ‘upstairs’ on day-1, decided that it was time to bring the Indian innings to a close. With Dhoni just 8 short of what would have been a fighting hundred, Rudi Koertzen declared that Dhoni was out LBW. Even if one ignored the inside-edge, the ball was sliding down the leg-side!

India had closed their innings at 469 off 129 overs at 3.64 runs per over — and in 594 mins at an over-rate of 13.03 overs per hour! This is really a terrible over-rate and I am truly surprised that the Match Referee has done nothing about it this far in the match.

Australia needed a strong start. But that was not to be! Once again, Zaheer Khan breached Matthew Hayden’s defence in the first over itself! Make that Zaheer-3, Hayden-0! Zaheer Khan had backed up his pre-match talk with on-field excellence. Matthew Hayden is an important cog in this Australian wheel. A free-scoring Hayden rubs off on the Australian team. A Hayden in self-doubt (Ashes 2005, for example) passes it on these doubts the rest of the team! On this tour, Hayden has made scores of 0, 13 and 0! It may not be time to press the panic button yet, but with Hayden’s early departure here at Mohali, Australia was in trouble and it showed in the scoring rate. That initial loss pushed them into a defensive mindset. And the moment that happens, the opposition is already on top. Australia went to Tea at 13-1 in 6 overs.

Had Australia not lost a wicket, I’d have been tempted to call that an Australia session. But with the loss of Hayden’s wicket, I called this an even session. The SBS score reads [India 3.25, Australia 1.75].

Last Session:

If there was some doubt in awarding the 2nd session of the day to either team, there was no doubt in this 3rd session. This was India’s session all the way. Once again, given Australia’s terrible over-rate earlier in the day, play had had to be extended beyond the normal curtains-down-time for the day.

First to go was Ricky Ponting. He was out LBW to his emerging nemesis, Ishant Sharma for 5 off 23 balls. Simon Katich was next to go, bowled by the leg-spinning debutant, Amit Mishra. Mishra got the ball to hit the edge of the pad, bounce off Katich’s body and clang into the stumps. There was a fair amount of rip in that delivery to cause the damage.

Things may have been worse for Australia had Dhoni latched on to a difficult catch off the edge of Michael Hussey’s bat off Harbhajan Singh’s bowling. But that wasn’t to be. Harbhajan Singh was getting some turn although he tended to look for bounce more than turn, in my view. Amit Mishra was bowling well too.

But what was most surprising was the amount of reverse swing Zaheer Khan was getting. The only thing that the Australian bowlers had swung in India’s first innings was their hips! But here, Zaheer Khan was getting a fair amount of swing.

It is Australia’s mindset that was most un-Australian. As I have said on a few occasions in the past, once Australia loses that dominance-mindset, much more than just runs are lost. Other teams can sense an opportunity and start moving in; closing the gap. With Haddin, White and Watson to follow, Australian teams of the past will not have allowed the field to gradually move further and further in to take control of the game. This Australian team seems intent on “new age cricket” and what they got again was to put themselves into “defensive mindset”!

Australia had made 102-3 off 40.4 overs (at 2.49 rpo) when Michael Clarke was LBW off the last ball of the day. Amit Mishra went around the stumps and got a ball to just straighten a bit. As he had in Bangalore, when he fell off the last ball of the day, Clarke went again in Mohali. At 102-4 Australia are not totally out of it, but they are in trouble.

At the end of the day, the SBS Score reads [India 4.25, Australia 1.75].

End points:

If India can grab a few quick wickets on day-3, much of the debate will turn to whether or not India can/will enforce the follow-on! But Australia are not out of it yet. Australia bats deep and will be looking first at Brad Haddin, Shane Watson and Cameron White to make some big scores. Haddin is a good player of spin and played well in Bengaluru. Australia will also look to the lower order to contribute strongly as India’s lower-order had, in Bengaluru. And Michael Hussey is… Michael Hussey!

Clearly, the first session of the day is going to be crucial for both teams!!

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: 2nd Test :: Mohali :: Day-1

After the drawn Test in Bengaluru, much was said and written in the three-day gap to send bloggers, TV reporters and print media into a bit of a spin. From Anil Kumble, who retorted angrily to uncharitable comments written against him to “The Australian” who write as only “The Australian” can, everyone chipped in to claim psychological victories, despite empty couches at psychiatric clinics!

Thankfully, the match commenced to put an end to speculations and barbs.

As expected, Anil Kumble did the right thing and sat out the Test match. He said that he would not play if he was 100% fit and that’s what the thorough gentleman did.

I sometimes think that players like Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid are misfits in India. Despite playing with a fractured jaw at times and despite always doing the right thing over 20 years or more in the cricket spotlight with nary a black spot on their proud record, they are still come up against the Dilip Vengsarkars of this world. While it is understandable that the Vengsarkars of this world are there to create ink-space on paper when there would be vacuum otherwise, I am sure they could do it without knocking their own! Politics of envy does run deep in India. Unfortunately, their vile feeds off and affects independent thinkers too, like some who contribute to this blog! Anil Kumble was termed a show pony by one gentleman. Another blamed him for carrying an injury into the Bangalore Test. Sigh!

Amit Mishra was chosen ahead of Munaf Patel as Kumble’s replacement in the team. At first I thought that this was a somewhat strange move for three reasons. (a) Mishra would be making his debut and hence, perhaps this would not make for a strong bowling combination, (b) Munaf Patel is really at the top of his game these days, (c) Mohali does offer something to the pace bowlers. However, after having seen the 1st Day’s play, I think the option of having a leg spinner is not such a bad option. Mishra is an orthodox give-it-plenty-of-flight type bowler and could trouble the Australians on a 4th day pitch with some bounce.

Meanwhile, Australia’s injury-woes continue. After Bryce McGain, Phil Jaques has succumbed to his back injuries and will be flying back to Sydney. His replacements have not been named, but the names David Hussey, Brad Hodge and Shaun Marsh appear to be doing the rounds!

1st Session:

M. S. Dhoni, Team India captain, won the toss and had no hesitation in batting first. If there was any movement on this track, that was extinguished in the first ball of the Test match! After that, it was pretty much up-and-down stuff. So this was a crucial toss to win, especially since Dhoni said his reading of the pitch was that it would take spin as the match progresses.

The idea would have been to occupy the crease, bat positively and bat once! The only way the Indians could get out on this track would be through laziness, bad-strokes or bad-luck. And that is pretty much what happened during the day! A combination of laziness (Gambhir), bad-stroke (Dravid) and bad luck (Sehwag, Laxman) and a stunning catch by Matthew Hayden (Tendulkar) meant that India finished the day 5 wickets down.

The Indians started off with terrific intent and without taking too many risks, had moved to 70 before Virender Sehwag fell to a faint tickle down the leg side. This was the first of two thin edges during the day. Brad Haddin, who kept well on what was more of a true-bounce Australia-style pitch, pouched both of these catches.

Gautam Gambhir, who has this wonderful ability to rotate the strike in the short form of the game, should re-think his approach to Test cricket. In the first half of the first session, runs flowed off his bat quite freely. He scored some spectacular boundaries, particularly on the off-side. Several of his off-drives would have sent the current owner of that stroke, Sourav Ganguly, back to the nets to correct technical flaws! He was in cracking form. Yet, when the field spread, Gambhir seemed to struggle to pick up the singles and twos.

Gambhir has made 1052 runs in his 18 Test matches. Indeed, on a day of landmarks and milestones, the fact that he had crossed a 1000 runs in Tests may have been missed by commentators! His milestone would have added to the milestones of Tendulkar (crossing Lara’s tally, scoring his 50th half-century and crossing 12,000 runs) and Ganguly (crossing 7000 runs). And if that wasn’t enough, Ishant Sharma crossed 100 runs in Tests too!

Gambhir’s 1052 runs have come at a somewhat disappointing, but acceptable average, of 36.27. However, the pain point is that it contains only one century — and that against Bangladesh! Since he forced his way back into the Test side, on the back of his superlative ODI form, Gautam Gambhir has been in cracking form. He has been at the very top of his game. In 5 Tests this year he has scored 427 runs at 47.44 with a high-score of 74. Somehow, Gambhir needs to find that switch inside him that enables him to convert these terrific starts into big ones. All he needs to do is walk down the pitch and talk to Virender Sehwag!

Rahul Dravid, meanwhile, left his slow-gear back in the dressing room! He walked out, at the fall of Sehwag’s wicket, with purpose and determination. The moment he commenced with a confident straight drive down the track for a well-hit boundary, I thought this was a different Dravid that we were seeing.

India finished the 1st Session at 104-1 off 25 overs! Yes, just 25 overs were bowled in the 1st Session which clearly belonged to India. I scored the SBS as [India 1.0, Australia 0.0].

2nd Session:

This was a crazy session, if ever there was one. This was also a session in which Australia was gifted a return-to-the-game ticket by the Indians! And perhaps this is being a bit uncharitable to the Australians who really sweated and fought it out. Ricky Ponting set innovative fields and tried to choke the run-flow. The bowlers bowled to these fields. But with the pitch doing absolutely nothing, batsmen who did not kick on the make a big score ought to be kicking themselves. At least, I hope they are!

When the session commenced, Rahul Dravid was on fire. He played some exquisite leg-side flicks and on-drives. He was back to his very best. And before anyone realised, India was at 146-1. A score of about 500+ was definitely possible and the “bat long, bat once” theory was starting to take shape.

Suddenly, against the run of play, Dravid under-edged a delivery from Brett Lee that was too close to his body to cut! He was bowled off the inside edge for a well-made 39. A few balls later, with the India score still on 146, Gautam Gambhir, whose runs had somewhat dried up, played a tired shot to a delivery outside off stump for Brad Haddin to accept the nick!

That bought Sachin Tendulkar and V. V. S. Laxman to the crease. Both were looking somewhat composed and ready for a big score. When Laxman had made 12 off 19, he was the second thin-edge of the day to head back! Mitchell Johnson was almost embarassed to accept the wicket — this was his 3rd wicket for the day! The delivery was wide down the legside. Laxman didn’t need to play it. But the opportunity to get a boundary was there. So it was fair enough that he, like Sehwag earlier in the day, played at it. However, what resulted was a thin edge in both cases, and Brad Haddin did the rest. India was 163-4 and suddenly a score of 300 was looking good!

Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly had other ideas though. They settled things down and took India to Tea at 174-4 in 51 overs. Just 70 runs had been scored in that session. India lost 3 wickets. Australia had bowled just 26 overs.

This was clearly an Australia session. The SBS at this time was [India 1.0, Australia 1.0].

3rd Session:

The stage was set for this to be the Sachin Tendulkar session! Tendulkar started the session just a few runs short of Brian Lara’s record for the most Test runs. Shortly after resumption, at 2.31 pm, to be precise, Sachin Tendulkar steered a Peter Siddle delivery to third-man for three runs. There was relief on his face and just as he was running his 3rd run, the fireworks went off at the Mohali stadium!

The fireworks didn’t stop for nearly 3 minutes! It looked like the Mohali organisers had taken control of the game and had held a gun to the games’ head! While it is ok to celebrate a milestone… 3 minutes of non-stop fireworks? The cricketers on the ground had a bored look on their faces! The umpires wore frowns. Even Sachin Tendulkar appeared to be embarassed — the game has always been bigger than the individual! Indeed, the fireworks could have distracted Tendulkar and Ganguly from a task that was much more important than the milestone that the organisers were intent on celebration. Tendulkar and Ganguly had to get India out of a slippery slope and instead we had the organisers taking center-stage in that midst of what was a tense Test cricket match! This was totally insane!

It turned out that the organisers had planned to have 11,954 crackers go off! In his post match interview, Tendulkar said, “The duration [of the fireworks] was bit worrying. Eventually I figured out it was 11,954 crackers or something like that.” I shake my head in dismay! Only in India!

Brian Lara’s record — he overtook Allan Border’s long-standing record at Adelaide — had stood for nearly three years (and stood for 2 years after Lara had played his last Test). In what was a milestone-break session, Tendulkar also scored his 50th half-century and he also became the first player to cross the 12,000-run mark. From here on in, he is in his own space in terms of aggregates and records! For a while, that is…

By my reckoning, unless catastrophe strikes, Ricky Ponting will overtake him one day. How long Tendulkar holds this record depends on how long he plays for and how long his body allows him to keep playing. Of the players in the 10,000+ Runs Club, only Rahul Dravid (10,341 from 127 Tests) and Ponting (10,239 from 121 Tests) are still playing. At the rate at which he is going right now, I do think that it will be a matter of time before Ricky Ponting catches up to Tendulkar.

In the session, Tendulkar also missed on on his 40th century in Tests! After crossing Brian Lara’s milestone, Tendulkar played more freely. Indeed, he played exquisitely in my view. There was timing, placement, power and art in his playing. Apart from one false stroke against Cameron White when he danced down the wicket to play a lofted shot that ought to have been caught in the deep, there was nothing wrong with his batting today. Here was a master at work. In my view, it was fitting that Tendulkar reached this milestone against Australia. Gavaskar crossed Boycott’s record against West Indies, the best team of that day. Lara and Tendulkar had created their records against Australia, the most dominant team of their times.

But records apart, there was a job to do for both Ganguly and Tendulkar. They focussed on that in the post-Tea session and played with alacrity and application. This was a flat track on which the bowlers had to toil.

Cameron White, who had been held back for much of the day — Ricky Ponting preferred to bowl Michael Clarke as his first-use spin bowler in what was perhaps Ponting’s only captaincy blemish of the day! The fields that Ponting had set right through the day were innovative and inventive. He led effectively and ran in the changes frequently. He did not let the game meander too much. But there were two question marks, in my view. One was the over-rate. The other was the under-utilisation of Cameron White (and the preference for Michael Clarke over Cameron White). More on the over-rates later.

Sourav Ganguly was somewhat lucky to still be there though! There was some doubt in a stumping appeal that Rudi Koertzen did not refer to the 3rd umpire. It was hard to say from replays whether Sourav Ganguly had brought his foot down before Brad Haddin had whipped the bails off. I’d like to believe that the 3rd umpire would have given the benefit of the doubt to the batsman. However, it does puzzle me to see umpires not using the video-umpire option more often in such close calls. We saw Steve Bucknor not refer what was a clear stumping decision in Sydney — we, of course, also saw one that was referred in Sydney that was out but not given by the Australian 3rd umpire on that day! But that is another story altogether. Close calls just have to be referred upstairs!

It seemed that Tendulkar was destined for a century. He had made 88 off 11 balls. With 3 overs left in the days’ play Tendulkar seemed to play late at a delivery from Peter Siddle that was just outside off-stump. Matthew Hayden swooped low to pull off a truly amazing slips catch. Just as Tendulkar had gifted Cameron White his first Test wicket at Bengaluru, here at Mohali, Tendulkar made another debutant Victorian bowler happy with his first Test scalp! India was 305-5 then. At the end of the days’ play, India reached 311-5 off 85 overs (at 3.65 rpo). Play had already been extended by the maximum allowable half hour at that point in time. Ishant Sharma, who had come in as night-watchman, was not out on 2 and Ganguly was not out on 54.

I score the last session as 0.75 in India’s favour because Tendulkar got out. So the SBS score reads [India 1.75, Australia 1.25].

Final Points:

I must say that India let opportunities slip on this opening day. After winning the toss, a score of 311-5 would be a bit of a disappointment with not much batting to come after Sourav Ganguly. M. S. Dhoni hasn’t done much with the bat in recent Test matches although captaincy does bring out the best in this young man. Although Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh did bat well in Bengaluru, I am not sure if we can expect the lower order to fire every time they go out to bat. Amit Mishra is no mug with the bat either (he has a highest score of 84 in first class matches). However, I can’t see India doing a “bat long, bat once” in this Test match. Australia is very much in the game. In that sense, Australia will consider themselves lucky. If Australia can take the remaining Indian wickets for 90 runs or so, they can bat long — they bat deep — and be the ones that have last use of this wicket!

Something must be done about the pathetic over rates that Australia bowl. To end the day 5 overs short even after play had been extended by half hour is a terribly poor show. All through the last summer, we at i3j3 carried stats on the pathetically poor over rates of Australia and compared this with the Indian over rates — after all Channel-9 seem to pick up only too readily Indian over rates when, if they could look beyond the end of their noses, they would see that there is a world out there! I do wish the match referee censures Ricky Ponting for this bad showing. Even considering the 5 minutes that was lost to the fireworks and celebrations, this is a poor show by a proud cricketing team.

— Mohan

Barbs fly…

After the drawn 1st Test played out at Bengaluru, each team and each set of fans will probably scramble to take the higher ground in the victory-stakes. Australia will claim that it was good to start the tour off with a draw rather than a loss. The Indians will claim “moral victory” because, after being on the back-foot right through the game, they “won” by enforcing a draw. Either way, the scoreboard will always call this a “draw”! Moral and psychological victories are for psychologists, plenty of dollars being expended and expensive leather couches! A draw is a draw is a draw!

Nevertheless, the barbs and scrambling for position has commenced!

Zaheer Khan already fired the first salvo when he said, “I have never seen an Australian team play such defensive cricket, which is a good thing for us,” at the post-match interview. Is he right? He need not be. It is just his view.

I am not a big fan of players using post-match, man-of-the-match interviews to fire barbs at the opposition. It was not in good form, in my book. Podium-interviews are to recognise your teams’ efforts, applaud the opposition, thank the sponsors, collect the cheque and make a hasty retreat. Yet, Zaheer Khan did utter those words.

Instead of accepting it and analysing it as nothing more than an opinion, several radio stations here in Melbourne do what some Australians do best — mock the opposition and run them down. A local radio station continued to play a clip from his interview in which he says, “I wanted to raise my bar” and pillory the Indian pace bowler rather than analyse what he was actually trying to say about the defensive tactics adopted by Australia. Yes, nice one guys. Shallow, no doubt. But very Australian! How is your Hindi, guys, I wonder? Naah! Let’s not go there. But more seriously, I reckon that that is the best form of respect that Zaheer Khan can get! Australian media seems to hate in-your-face sports-people. Wonder why?

So was Zaheer Khan right? He need not be. It is his view. Ricky Ponting provided a strange counter to Zaheer Khan’s barb in which he attacked the number of drawn games India play and added that Australia was the only one doing the running in the drawn Bengaluru Test.

Mahesh has provided an excellent analysis to counter Ricky Ponting’s wild (in my view) claims.

If you thought that the pre-tour lead up was without much of the customary, distasteful and disrespectful Australian reporting, you can bet your bottom dollar that it has erupted like a never-extinct volcano. There are reporters erupting wildly everywhere!

Take this vitriol-filled and bitterness-soaked gem from Channel-9’s sports reporter (as reported in the Indian Express). Here are some of the gems:

  • Serial offender Sourav Ganguly firstly persuaded the umpires to go off. Then when play resumed, Ganguly made Australia’s fielders and partner VVS Laxman wait an eternity because he’d apparently ‘forgotten to put his thigh pad on’.
  • Please! Can’t you be timed out in this game?
  • The spectators were the obvious losers in the entire exercise.
  • The players got something out of it. Pedantic officials got their moment of the glory. But billions of fans and more importantly — the game itself — got nothing out of this farcical finish in Bangalore.
  • With the match in the balance, a crucial hour’s play on the final day was lost, with not one, but two stoppages for bad light — when at times the sun was shining!
  • Umpires strutted about like Emperor Penguins, holding out their light metres — a device that like performance enhancing drugs should be banned.
  • If Test cricket continues to produce farcical finishes like this one in Bangalore, this great game’s Bradmans, Gavaskars, Tendulkars and Pontings will also be soon forgotten… Even by their mothers-in-law!

I did think, at the end of day-1 itself, that Australia’s tactics defied belief. I did decry this so-called “new age cricket”. This is un-Australian, in my view. I do not like it. I do hope Australia junk this and adopt Australia’s style of positive, dominant cricket. I knew then that this new age nonsense won’t get Australia to victory! I admire Australia’s tenacity and resolve. But this new age nonsense is chanelling that tenacity and dogged determination down the wrong channel; the boredom channel. Australia needs to play like they have in the past: attractive, dominant, foot-on-the-pedal stuff. They were, instead, trying to play like India in India! Why? Is this Guru Greg Chappell gone mad? Surely, this is not a Ricky Ponting theory? It can’t be! I can understand choking four-scoring opportunities for the free-wheeling, fat, old, puffing, lazy and immobile Indian batsmen. But it was inconceivable to me that Ricky Ponting had a spread out field with 25 overs to go, with India intent on saving the game! This is new age cricket? What was the worst that could have happened had India hit 4 sixers in a row at that point?

Australian tactics in this game did leave me a bit dumbfounded. This is not quite the dominant, foot-on-the-pedal Australia that I have seen in the past. And I can’t imagine that this emanated merely from being a quality spinner short! This is, I believe, management theory and hype running amok in the dressing room.

So, in my view, Ricky Ponting did get it wrong. The match ended in a draw. I do believe that after being on the top from the moment he called the toss correctly, Ponting let this game slip from his grasp. Apart from one single session in the game — session-9 on day-3 when Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan batted — India didn’t dominate any session comprehensively! Yet, the result was a draw! This can’t be an easy pill for the Australians to swallow. And for this, they only have themselves and their “new age nonsense” to blame. What is wrong with “plain cricket”? Will someone tell me?

— Mohan

Should Sourav Ganguly be censured?

Did Ganguly take aim at Dhoni or Sehwag?

In a strange and bitter interview, Sourav Ganguly has taken careful aim at a few people, including Dilip Vengsarkar, the previous chairman of the selection committee.

In an interview to a Bengali newspaper, Ganguly said he was very frustrated at being “the sacrificial goat all the time”.

While talking about his own frustrations is ok, it is when he trained his gun at his own dressing room that I think he crossed the line between mildly-acceptable and totally-unacceptable in my book! After all, it is not a crime to air your frustrations in the press.

And surely, the man has had to deal with many a frustration in his career. When he came into the national side, scuttlebutt was that he got in because of considerations other than his class, ability and form. When he was dropped without even having the opportunity to carry the drinks tray, people ridiculed him. He then had to endure more sniggers when he got selected for the tour of England in 1996 where he made his debut. His place in the team has always been under the microscope — even when he backed himself as leader to transform India from a bunch of sometimes-talented individuals to a team that could play against some of the very best. And then, through the Greg Chappell episode and, later, through his return to the Indian cricket playing fraternity, the microscope has always been trained on him.

So, his frustrations are perhaps understandable. He has had to, perhaps, endure more scrutiny than most in the Indian middle order.

Ganguly said, that the turning point was when he was dropped for the Irani trophy. “It was difficult to accept,” he said. “If a gun is held at your head, how far can you bear it. That too after playing 450 matches. I played badly in only one series. But others are not dropped. I have scored the highest number of runs after comeback,” he said.

All of that is not really a crime, even if it contained factual inaccuracies. After all, he is only expressing his opinions openly. Perhaps he wasn’t the most diplomatic. But acceptable? Most certainly, in my book.

He then went on to say that although he could have perhaps played on until 2009, he was not “prepared to take any more humiliation,”. Again, he was only expressing his own bitterness and frustrations. He was perhaps entitled to both!

He then made the two most personal and telling comments that, in my view, ought to earn him a strong censure and perhaps even a suspension from the BCCI.

The first statement was against a former player and the next, against a current player.

First he said, “Everything happens in Indian cricket. When Greg Chappell dropped me, he chose Tejinder Pal Singh to replace me. Where is he now?”

And then came the real bombshell: “Some have not scored any runs in the last three series, some have not scored any run during the last one year. Some have changed their hair style more number of times than the number of runs they have scored. I was dropped despite scoring the highest number of runs following my comeback.”

Now that is a total no-no in my books. While it is perfectly ok for a current contracted player to express his own frustrations and opinions on his own abilities, it just cannot be right to take aim at an ex player in the dressing room or indeed, a current player in the dressing room.

Apart from Dhoni and Sehwag, there aren’t too many Indian players who have changed their hair-styles in the last year. It is most likely that Ganguly trained his sights on Dhoni when he issued this latest unprovoked and totally irresponsible verbal volley! After all, it was Dhoni that insisted on younger-fitter players in the ODI team — an insistence that led to Sourav Ganguly being axed from the ODI side. So, was this Ganguly’s way of getting even with Dhoni? If it wasn’t Dhoni, who was it that he aimed that barb at?

Surely, such speculation cannot be good for dressing room harmony.

The senior players in the side — sans Ganguly — ought to get together with the BCCI and issue Ganguly with a serious warning and perhaps even drop him for the next Test. It is important that team members do not take pot-shots at other team members through the press.

Shane Warne, a player who got away with near-murder several times in his career, was able to find a friendly cameraman to attribute the “Can’t bowl, can’t throw” own-team-player sledge against Scott Muller. Ganguly should not be that lucky. He should be made an example of by his own team members. If not, what would stop a Rohit Sharma or a Suresh Raina questioning the ability of a Rahul Dravid via an irresponsible press interview?

As I write this piece, there is news filtering in that Ganguly has denied making these comments. But if he has made these comments, he should be made to sit out the next game!

Ganguly has been an exceptional cricketer. But in this case — and by washing dressing-room dirty linen in public in Zimbabwe — he has stepped over the lines of decency and responsible behaviour. He should suffer for it.

— Mohan

Best Test series ever!

Down memory lane…

To me, the best Test series India has ever played was against the same country touring India now.

You know the one I am talking about – the series in which Laxman and Dravid played that epic knock in Calcutta and Bhajji conjured up a hat trick. It was also the series that thrust Saurav Ganguly in to prominence as a leader. He may not have shone in that series with the bat, but he managed to rally the troops into a fighting come back. In a way it is fitting that he ends his career against the Aussies – hopefully this time, finishing up in style with the bat.

If you would like to re-live the moments of that tour, there is no better place to start than to visit the Tour archive at CricInfo –

“You just dropped the test, mate”

Steve Waugh has admitted that it was not an easy relationship with Ganguly in that series. 

Apparently, when Ganguly dropped a catch of Steve Waugh in that famous test in Calcutta, Steve Waugh, repeating his famous Word cup quip, is alleged to have said to Ganguly- “You just dropped the Test, mate”. As it happened, Bhajji soon took the wicket of Waugh and the rest, as they say – is history.

They were probably never best mates, but Ganguly did receive some high praise from Waugh in the end. When Ganguly toured Australia last Summer, Steve Waugh said – “You don’t have to like or dislike him. You have to respect him”.

Farewell the Prince

i3j3 will most likely have a post dedicated to Saurav Ganguly talking about the cricketing memories he will leave behind for us, but meanwhile CricInfo has a wonderful article tracking the time line of his rise and fall, including that famous series I just talked about –

-Mahesh-

A question of timing: Why, When and How should these gentlemen leave?

Over the last few weeks the debate on the “seniors vs replacements” debate has intensified to almost shrill tones. I have, myself, written on this for sometime now. Most major newspapers, websites and blogs have contributed to this debate. Players themselves have weighed in to the argument.

On this blog, I had a reasonably long and somewhat circuitous argument with Chandan on the whys and why-nots.

The debate has often centred on the quality of replacements. A question that has been posed often is: “Is Badrinath better than Ganguly?”. Of course he is not. Not now, anyway! “Then why replace Ganguly” is an immediate retort!

Every player has the right to think that they have one more season in them; one more tour; one more match; one more innings. Not many people like to leave the world stage. The adrenaline rush of walking down the steps of the Eden Gardens or the SCG to the screams, shouts and plaudits of the gathered throng can only be addictive; something that most players would want again (and again). It must be hard to leave. The body might send a message, but the mind will want that ego boost — a craving for more. This is not just with cricket. Actors have stayed on when the stage lights have all but dimmed. Singers have stayed on well after the sound engineer departed the studio! Sports people are no different. Cricketers are certainly no different.

The problem is that indispensability often breeds over-dependence and chokes progress.

We have to start with the following axioms (a) no one is indispensable. b) there cannot be any negotiables in selection policy — no long-kiss-goodbyes and golden-handshakes, (c) selection in times like this requires strategy and vision, and commitment to that strategy with clarity and courage.

I was asked in the comments section of a previous thread to thump Cricket Australia’s and the ECB’s (English Cricket Board) selection-vision document on the table. That must be one of the most strange requests I have had lately! Firstly, of what relevance is the ECB in this argument around cricketing excellence? Secondly, my guess is that, apart from the CEO and the Board of Directors of Cricket Australia, not many people would have access to the vision and strategy of Australia’s selection committee. But do we know that one exists? Absolutely, if one reads player biographies and other material from which one can infer the existence of a clear and defined strategy. Moreover, evidence of the existence of such data is evident from newspaper and media reports. One can point to the building of pace bench-strength in light of the imminent departure of the likes of Glen McGrath, Andy Bichel and Jason Gillespie. While one points to the barrenness of the spin stocks, that is more due to the lack of available options than a lack of effort. Cricket Australia has invested a fair bit in talent identification and nurturing in this department. These efforts have largely failed up until now!

In stark contrast, we have a governance board in India whose Secretary recently claimed that it was not possible to carry out retirement discussions with “seniors” lest there is an argument! This certainly does not inspire me with confidence on the existence of a vision and strategy, leave alone the presence of courage to act on the vision/strategy!

Can we say the same about Cricket Australia? No. I have confidence that CA moves forward in a considered and strategic manner.

Not many teams survive the loss of players like Justin Langer, Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh, Darren Lehmann, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Glen McGrath, Stuart McGill, Brad Hogg, Jason Gillespie, Andy Bichel and Michael Kasprowicz to injury, loss of form and forced-retirement over a reasonably short period of time. Australia has. And to pin Australia’s success merely on the depth of the domestic competition would be naive. Of course, some of these players were lost to retirements or loss of form. However, some of these players were retired-out of the game. If we go back, we can also point to Michael Slater, David Boon and Mark Taylor who were given tough love when it came to them being phased out of the game. There is clear evidence of tough love in the selection process. Such tough love is required when dealing with player egos. All one needs to do is read biographies of the likes of Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Darren Lehmann to know the manner in which Australian selectors have ensured that sustainability of their excellence proposition is the key plank that they work on. It is not enough to win the next match! That has to be a given! They work on where they ought to be when the next series victory needs to be seized.

Like Wayne Gretsky, they concentrate on where the puck ought to be; not just on where the puck is! In India, we have selectors that are unable to think cogently about the future because they do not wish to have arguments!

Cricketers, are not immune to ego when it comes to their position in a team. Steve Waugh was convinced that he had more seasons in him. The Chairman of selectors at the time, Trevor Hohns, thought otherwise and had a tough conversation with Steve Waugh. A date was set for transitioning both the player as well as the leadership. The selectors acted with courage.

Was there an adequate “replacement” for Steve Waugh, the player and Steve Waugh, the captain? After all, that is the question that is asked almost always in India! “Do we have adequate replacements for Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman and Kumble?”, is a question that is often asked.

Like Prem Panicker comments on his blog, I am not really sure what that question actually means! The only person that can replace Ganguly is Ganguly! We will never have another Sourav Ganguly to replace Sourav Ganguly. We can never have a Steve Waugh to replace Steve Waugh. But unless Ricky Ponting was given a good team to work with and make his own, the leader in Ricky Ponting will not have been born! If Steve Waugh had stayed on for a year or two longer — and he could have, for after all, he had a very healthy average in the last year of his career — Ricky Ponting would have inherited a team sans Warne, McGrath, Waugh, Langer, Martyn and Gilchrist! Who knows what his initial steps will have been under that situation? Under the scenario in which Steve Waugh left behind a strong team as his legacy, Ponting was afforded the luxury of making a few mistakes along the way — and he did — only to have a strong support that cleansed these errors away.

Likewise, it is best to phase in new talent in India in a gradual manner. We can’t have a situation where a fresh set of five players are thrown into the lions’ den to fill the gap created by a mass exodus of Ganguly, Laxman, Dravid, Tendulkar and Kumble.

Often, when I am asked “Is there a replacement for Ganguly”, I am stumped. What, precisely, does that question mean? There can never be a like-for-like replacement. However, I would like a player like Badrinath (say) to find his feet by playing in a team that includes Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman for at least 8-10 matches before someone like Rohit Sharma and (a set) Badrinath can play in a team that includes Dravid and Tendulkar. Over time, it is likely that Badrinath, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh will form the next Fab Four.

Why do I say that Ganguly must be the first to leave? It is just that, of the Fab Five, he seemed to me to be the most likely to have age caught up on him. Like Rohit Brijnath says, so eloquently, “But if these men once exuded a certainty, now it is less so. Confidence comes, then it dries. Tendulkar has no control over his body’s misbehaviour, Rahul Dravid no idea why technique abandoned him for a while without even a farewell note, Ganguly no certain explanation why timing briefly eluded him. Mind and body are in a slow divorce. These men have fought and defeated everything: selectors, derision, pitches, Australians, but age is beyond beating. Of course there are five-wicket hauls left in them, and strong centuries, and even great series, but they will arrive at a slower frequency. So why not go, leave to an applauding nation; why sit, in cricketing middle age, alone at home, as Ganguly must have, waiting for a phone call?”

Adam Gilchrist knew, in that instant that it took from when he dropped the catch in Adelaide to when the ball hit the ground, that it was time for him to leave the scene. It took him 1 second to realise that his time was up. And just as he turned his back and gave himself out, in that World Cup match against Sri Lanka — when he walked back to the pavillion — Gilchrist was convinced that his body was giving way. He decided that it was time to leave… on his terms. His mind was made. He talked about it in the papers the following morning. That was a courageous decision. Not many sports people know that their time has come. As Rohit Brijnath says, ”…they play because they love it, because they ache for competition, because they don’t do anything else as well, because they can still play, as Laxman might tell you… Competition is an addiction that keeps them here, that brings them back, an addiction so deep that even the perfect ending is somehow imperfect. In a way, this makes sense: how can finishing what you love most ever be satisfactory?”

So, it has to be about the selectors who make up their minds with some clarity, and then, make up the minds of our senior cricketers.

No one wants these five gentlemen to go. I certainly do not want them to go. But go, they have to! They are mortals and I would hate for these five fabulous gentlemen to go the way Kapil Dev did. We all heaved a collective sigh of relief when Kapil Dev left the scene. These five cricketers have been the best ambassadors for Indian cricket that I have known. Each one of them has been a gem. There aren’t many controversies surrounding Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Kumble and Ganguly. Yes, Ganguly has been an in-your-face cricketer and has incurred the wrath of some journalists. He has copped a few fines for slow bowling and the like. But he has worn his heart on his sleeve. He has been the one of the best leaders of men in Indian cricket. He can claim responsibility for transforming Indian cricket from a team with potential to a team that can beat the best… regularly. He and his band of gentlemen colleagues, are not just “Five Good Men”. They have been terrific role-models at a time when Indian cricket has grown from potential to strength. They have presided over a period that has been, quite undeniably, the most exciting phase of Indian cricket — with TV rights, monetary benefits, dominance on the world governing table, not to mention a strong and sustained growth in the strength of the team itself. Under their caring and watchful eye, India has won overseas Test matches and ODIs. India has started to translate its enormous potential into results on the ground. And this has been achieved by five extremely gentle, generous, well-mannered, humble, role models. History may not forgive their occasional indiscretions and tantrums. However, if they continue to overstay their tenure at the crease, history will be less kind — as it perhaps had been to Kapil Dev. We should not wish them to leave.

The responsibility for managing this exit should rest with the selectors. There can be no “deals”. There can be no voluntary retirement system in place. There should be a dignified and well-managed process for their exit. It cannot be up to the players! Anil Kumble will want to play till his arm falls off! Even last week, Anil Kumble said that he cannot put a time-frame on his retirement.

The selectors should develop the strategic roadmap and then have five independent conversations. They owe it to the Five gems. They also owe it to Indian cricket. For this to happen, as Harsha Bhogle says, “The non-negotiable here is the selector’s decision. You cannot sign a deal with a player for four games, for example, and keep him in the side if he doesn’t score a run in the first three and drop him if he makes a double hundred in the fourth. Ideally that conversation should happen before a player’s value has eroded but when the end is in sight. It should be a little nudge that says a push is round the corner. It then allows the player to either announce his retirement or take up the challenge and accept the push if the performance is not forthcoming. But for that to happen the selection committee has to be independent and their judgement non-negotiable. It is not impossible for it happens every day in places where merit is respected.”

India is lucky to have had these five dignified servants serve Indian cricket with excellence and courage. I certainly have been fortunate to have seen much of their cricket and have benefited from their frequent invasions of my living room. Indian cricket owes these Five Good Men a dignified, scripted and well-managed exit.

— Mohan