Tag Archives: Gavaskar

Conflicts of Interest…

I congratulated the BCCI in a blog post I wrote a few days back.

It was perhaps a bit too premature. The BCCI, meanwhile, has begun an exercise that it has developed a reputation for being extremely good at: Dithering.

We do not yet know if the cricketers know whether they are going to South Africa early. The cricketers involved have not been intimated. The BCCI, meanwhile, has said that Team India Test players who also play in the ODI team will have to honour their ODI commitments in the New Zealand series. I guess the BCCI is engaging in that famous dance made more famous in these parts — “1 step forward 3 steps back”!

The BCCI has made a habit of dithering. It dithers on UDRS. It dithers on the relative importance it places on Tests and ODIs. It dithers on pre-tour practice games. It dithers on allocation of matches to grounds. It dithers on its stand on anti-doping. It dithers on almost everything that does not involve money. In fact, the BCCI appears to dither on almost all aspect of the game except conflicts of interest of its officials!

That is one aspect of governance that the BCCI appears to have mastered and is quite unambiguous about! If, as owner of the Chennai Super Kings IPL franchise, N Srinivasan, the BCCI President-in-waiting, does not have a conflict of interest, then I am a banana! If Ravi Shastri — no doubt an excellent former Team India Test/ODI player — does not have a conflict of interest in his role as broadcaster and IPL Governing Council Member (and formerly NCA Director) then I am a ripe old banana!

But today’s newspapers provide another pearl as an example in the long list of BCCI officials that have (had) conflicts of interest. Mind you. Conflicts of interest are not bad, as a rule. They exist just as night follows day! These conflicts have to be (a) declared, (b) effectively managed, (c) seen to be managed. It appears that Sunil Gavaskar might have a conflict of interest with respect to the Kochi IPL franchise.

Witness this: Gavaskar was on the IPL Governing Council that approved/accepted Kochi’s bid as an IPL franchise. Today, we hear the announcement that Gavaskar has provided in-principle acceptance to Kochi to be their “cricketing director”.

What is stunning and brazen is that the same article in the Times of India quotes the Kochi IPL CEO, Gaikwad, as saying “Sunil Gavaskar had unconditionally supported Rendezvous Sports, which won the franchise rights for the team for $333.33 million (Rs.1,533 crore).”

Notwithstanding the fact that Gavaskar is no longer a member of the IPL Governing Council, what we do not know is whether Sunil Gavaskar said to the Kochi IPL franchise, “I will support you unconditionally on the condition that you appoint me cricket director once the bid is successful.”

It is very likely that Gavaskar is an honourable man. It is very likely that Gavaskar has declared and managed the conflict of interest that follows his decision to join the Kochi IPL. However, we do know that the BCCI is replete with individuals who are terribly conflicted in their interests. So the emergence of a new instance of an individual with what seems to be the taint of a potential conflict of interest comes neither as a surprise nor as a shock!

Today, Gavaskar has said, “They have asked me, individually and collectively, to come in for the cricketing part of the team. I will take a call once the internal issues are resolved.”

The BCCI, on its part, claims that it is not aware of Gavaskar’s links with the Kochi IPL franchise. Sunil Gavaskar, one remembers, had turned down a seat on the IPL Governing Council over a pay-dispute with the BCCI. It is likely that I am launching into the zone normally reserved for conspiracy theories. However, this GC-seat-turn-down by Gavaskar and the subsequent and perhaps convenient appointment to Kochi’s cricket directorship — just 2 weeks later — does beg a few questions around Gavaskar’s conflict of interest.

With Rajasthan Royals filing an appeal against their ban in the High Court, the IPL mess has just gotten bigger. My sense is that the mess will certainly get bigger before it gets even bigger. After all, with the BCCI, one cannot rule out anything!

— Mohan

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ICC’s “Best Ever” batsmen and bowlers!

The ICC has released its “Best Ever” Batting and Bowling ratings.

Its best ever batsman is Don Bradman. No arguments from anyone on that one, I’d think! The ICC’s 3rd best ever bat is Ricky Ponting. Its 6th best ever bat is Kumar Sangakkara! And the ICC 10th best ever is the recently retired Matt Hayden.

Sunil Gavaskar sneaks in at an impressive 20th, just 8 places behind that huge pillar of consistency and fluency, Mohammed Yousuf (#12), and 3 places behind the stellar Mike Hussey. But lest Gavaskar drown in his own tears, he can at least take comfort from the fact that he is three places ahead of a 23rd-placed also-ran called Brian Lara! Meanwhile Sachin Tendulkar just makes it to the top-30. He is at #26, just ahead of a somewhat inconsequential Rahul Dravid (#30) and a somewhat lazy Steve Waugh (#28)!

Javed Miandad comes in at an honourable #34, but at least he is ahead of Greg Chappell (#35), Bill Lawry (#36) and Alan Border (#37). Meanwhile, Adam Gilchrist (#42), Graham Gooch (#44) and Gundappa Vishwanath (#45) would be immensely satisfied for a former England captain — for they are all behind Matthew Vaughan (#39) in the pecking order!

Shane Warne would be highly pleased to learn that he is the 15th best ever bowler on a list that has Sydney Barnes at #1 and George Lohmann at #2.

In case anyone is wondering, George Lohmann played a whopping 18 Test matches for England in which he took an impressive 112 wickets! Shane Warne toiled for 145 Tests and some 190 ODIs taking over 1000 wickets in both forms of the game! Clearly, he was not good enough to be even in the top-10 best ever ICC bowlers!

But Shane Warne should be happy that he is marginally ahead of D. Steyn (#22), who may have died of shock this morning when he reads that he has been rated much ahead of D. K. Lillie and Kapil Dev — #34 and #35 respectively! But at least Lillie and Dev are marginally ahead of Stuart Clark (#38)! Meanwhile, the marginally effective and highly inconsistent Wasim Akram brings up the rear at an extremely healthy placing of #59! Airbrushing is easy with something like Luminess Air.

What are these ICC guys smoking these days? Would be good to toke some of that stuff while on a holiday!

These ratings are called the “Reliance Mobile ICC Best-Ever Test Championship Rating”. If I were the CEO of ‘Reliance Mobile’, I’d use this early “April Fool Joke” from the ICC as a reason for providing a pink slip to my marketing manager who signed up the naming rights’ deal for this joke!

— Mohan

Of Brains, Hair, Selectorial Leaks and Third Worlds

While Australia returned to their winning ways in the comfort of their home conditions and as India continued to mount an impressive ODI campaign against the visiting English team that is in a bit of a disarray at the moment, the usual suspects have been at it again this week.

  • Sunil Gavaskar and Ricky Ponting have continued their public spats.
  • Ricky Ponting continued his petulant wars with Ian Chappell and Alan Border.
  • The BCCI has another selection room leak to contend with.
  • Matthew Hayden continued his Third World campaign even as the sight-screen froze at The Gabba!

Ponting Vs Gavaskar, Chappell, Border, A. N. Other:

It looks like the public spat between Ricky Ponting and virtually anyone within spitting distance of the Australian captain has now consumed Sunil Gavaskar as a somewhat willing participant! It all started when Ponting was criticised by virtually everyone on his captaincy in India during the recently concluded Test series, which India won 2-0. In the Nagpur Test Ponting employed his part-time bowlers in a bid to save himself (first and then, his team) from incurring the wrath of the ICC Match Referee. It was a move that potentially cost Australia the match, the series and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Former Australian captains, Ian Chappell, Alan Border and Steve Waugh condemned the decision immediately.

Instead of offering a philosophical shrug and accepting the criticism, Ponting — as is his wont in recent times– went into overdrive in defending his actions. He even said at a luncheon in Brisbane that he had no intention of speaking to the former Australian greats for a while yet! These were classic signs of an Australian captain who seemed to have lost the plot.

As if all of that wasn’t bizarre enough, Ponting then took aim and fired in the direction of Sunil Gavaskar through the release of a section of his book in which he criticises Gavaskar, a consistent critic of the Australian team’s on-field behaviour! Ponting aimed his gun at Gavaskar, saying that the former Indian great was no angel in his playing days! For substantiation of the argument, Ponting alluded to Gavaskar attempting to stage a walk out at the MCG in 1981!

Three things come immediately to mind! (a) What has the “walk out” in 1981 got to do with Australian team behaviour in 2008? (b) Wasn’t Gavaskar’s walk out in 1981 in protest against Australian behaviour on the field, thereby substantiating Gavaskar’s argument, and not Ponting’s? (c) What has the “walk out” got to do with the price of fish anyway?

Sunil Gavaskar needs no invitation to fight. He picked up his boxing gloves. But instead of saying that Ponting’s allusion to the 1981 “walk out” merely substantiated his own argument, Gavaskar lashed out some more on Thursday 20 Nov, saying “Ponting was just seven-year-old when MCG incident happened. He does not know the background”.

As if that wasn’t enough puerile behaviour for one week, in today’s Sunday Times of India, Gavaskar has said “Ponting’s hair has grown, not his intelligence” (I can’t find an online link to this story, but will like as soon as it appears on the ToI site)! This makes reference to the sudden (re)growth of Ponting’s mop. In his vitriolic diatribe against Ponting, Gavaskar drops a pearl in a line that makes me sigh in despair. He says, “The Australians have gone home with their tail between their legs, like most dogs that bark and do not bite when confronted with another who stands up and does not run away.” Sigh!

Selection-room discussions:

The biggest story in India right now is the selection room gut-spill. The India team for the Bangalore and Cuttack ODIs against England included Irfan Pathan and Sachin Tendulkar for R. P. Singh and Murali Vijay. The selectors declared their intent, upon being chosen, that they wanted to focus on the nurturing of all-rounders. So despite his patchy bowling form, the selection of Irfan Pathan was consistent with that approach. All good, one would have thought!

But no. In a move that only the BCCI and its machinery can match, a selection committee leak to the Kolkata based ‘Anand Bazar Patrika’ revealed that India captain, M. S. Dhoni disagreed with the selectors.

If I were the BCCI, I’d identify who this idiot was that leaked discussions held in a committee and publicly flog him.

This leak does not serve anyone’s interests. The BCCI’s interests have been compromised. Dhoni’s interests have been compromised. As Dhoni himself said, “This is the pinnacle of the sport. We are selecting 15 guys for the Indian team. There will be debates inside, and that information should not be put out in the media. If it is meant to come out, then I can say we might as well have the whole meeting telecast live on television. Nobody knows what was discussed except the eight guys in the meeting. And only they know whether it’s the truth or not.”

I totally agree here. Indeed, I think that such debate and argument is healthy. I certainly hope that we do not have a robot that goes into a meeting, nods his head at the “respected elders” sitting there and comes out of the meeting with a team sheet.

It is alleged that Dhoni said, “Sir Caaptani bhi dete ho aur baat bhi nahin sunte. To caaptani ka kya faayda?” (“Sir you’ve made me captain, but do not wish to listen to me? So what’s the use of this captaincy?”)

Fair point.

Note that he hasn’t actually said, “If you do not back R. P. Singh, I will resign”, as has been commonly reported by the “braying mediocrity” (the press) here, in India. It is more of a rhetorical question and I think it is a fair question to ask in the context of a selection debate.

Debates at the selection table are what they should be: debates at the selection table. In this instance, Dhoni lost the debate and that’s fine too. He should have copped it on the chin and moved on.

He did!

After the meeting Dhoni said, “This is a selection thing and personally I don’t discuss anything outside. To some extent it does distract us. The good part is that we trust each other – every player in the team trusts the other.”

However, Kris Srikkanth and his team have much to answer in this sordid saga. I hope Srikkanth does not push the dust under the carpet. For the sake of his own integrity and the integrity of his selection committee, I do wish he hounds down the selector that leaked this to the press and gives him a sound thrashing.

The leak has put Dhoni in the invidious position of having to have conversations with R. P. Singh and Irfan Pathan. As Dhoni himself said, “There might be a scenario where all of a sudden we might want to get in touch with RP Singh and Irfan Pathan. And you don’t want RP to feel that I will go out of the way and stand and defend him and Irfan should not feel I don’t want him in the team. I will stand and defend both these players and both of them trust me. My talks with them went off well.”

While I do agree with Anand Vasu, one of the saner voices in Indian cricket media, when he says in the Hindstan Times, “What this incident does is vitiate the atmosphere in the dressing-room,” I do not agree with him when he says “There’s no need to name names, no need for the BCCI to investigate.”

Sorry. I do not agree. The integrity of the selection process has been violated. It is time that the BCCI draws a line in the sand, pulled up the culprit and hangs him out to dry. But I really can’t expect that from the BCCI.

What shocked me, however, was the reaction of a journalist like Bobilli Vijay Kumar, who, in an article in The Times of India, supports the leak wholeheartedly. In an article that sports the tone of a king crab in a lid-less container shipment of Indian crabs, Vijay Kumar hopes that “Dhoni has learnt his lesson: yes, there are no secrets in Indian cricket; no meeting, however sacrosanct it might appear, remains confidential for ever. Every word, especially one that has the contours of a controversy, will sooner or earlier end up as part of a headline.”

And some people wonder why we, at i3j3Cricket, have termed the Indian cricket media, the “braying mediocrity of Indian cricket”?

G. Rajaraman, another sane voice amidst the cacophony (the man who got is credited with enlisting that powerful quote from Kumble after the Sydney Test), offers a solution. He says: “I believe that much of the speculation would have been stifled had BCCI let Srikkanth speak for the Selectors and offer some insight into the changes. It is important for the media and the cricket fans – stakeholders of the game, after all – to understand the thinking behind such changes rather than be left to grapple for understanding on their own.”

I agree with Rajaraman. Much of the speculation arises from having people like Niranjan Shah (in the past) and G. Srinivasan (currently) front up to offer selection explanations to the key stakeholders in the game — the fans and media. That should be left to the chairman of selectors — in this case the loquacious, never-shy-in-front-of-a-microphone, I-can-speak-faster-than-I-can-think Kris Srikkanth!

This episode is not about whether R. P. Singh would have been a better choice. Nor is it about interpreting Dhoni’s words as a resignation threat. As I have said, in the context of a selection meeting, those words make perfect sense to me. I certainly do not interpret those words as a resignation threat! However, this episode is about resurrecting the integrity of the Team India selection committee. Its integrity has been shot and a proper investigation needs to be conducted. A message needs to be sent.

I do hope the BCCI has learnt its lesson. But before that, the BCCI has an important task on hand. It needs to start weeding itself of unprofessional thugs, and in my view, the rascal responsible for that leak is indeed, nothing more than an unprofessional thug.

Hayden, sight-screens and the Third World:

Matthew Hayden, started the week off by complaining about sight screens in Third World India. His comments led to much consternation, disbelief and hurt! Amidst the continual shaking of utterly dismayed heads in India, the key message that Hayden wanted to convey was, once again, lost!

I do agree with Hayden at a general level. There are many things that happen in India that make me roll my eyes, shake my head and leave me with no option but to say, “Only in India”! For example, the other day Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, walked into a game being played at Rajkot. He proceeded to sit himself down on a chair right beside the sight screen. His entourage of nearly 100 people (it seemed) circled all around him. Several of them spilled onto the sight screen area! Play was held up for nearly 5 minutes while this mess was sorted out. Surely, Narendra Modi could have been seated at some other part of the ground where play need not have been held up thus!

But then, as he often does, Hayden had the political acumen of a mosquito flying headlong into an oncoming Mortien spray burst! He should have perhaps even used the more politically conscious “developing” instead of “Third World”, especially since he professed his deep love for India and her people.

But then, as Peter Lalor says, somewhat apologetically, after there were several stoppages in the recently concluded ‘Gabba Test match, “karma [had] a way of sinking its frustrating teeth into [Hayden’s] behind”.

— 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

A few changes to playing rules

Earlier this year, David Morgan, President of the ICC, and others sought the removal of Sunil Gavaskar from the ICC Cricket Committee over his perceived conflict of interest (being a broadcaster and administrator) and his outspoken comments against Australian and English dinosaurs. Indeed, several reports, including this one by Christopher Martin-Jenkins, even said that Gavaskar had been sacked from his post! Peter Lalor weighed in to the argument too in this column on Fox Sports with a headline that reads “Sunil’s twin roles a ‘concern'”. Sunil? Duh?

Anyway, I digressed even before I began! Sunil Gavaskar chaired the ICC Cricket Committee which has come up with a list of innovations. Gavaskar’s committee — or should I follow the perfect journalistic example set by Peter Lalor and say Sunil’s committee, as though the object of discussion was my brother or my best friend? — included Mark Taylor (former Australia captain), Mickey Arthur (South Africa coach), Michael Holding (former West Indies fast bowler), Simon Taufel (ace Australian umpire), Steve Tikolo (Kenya captain) and Tim May (CEO of FICA, the players’ association).

Below are some of the major recommendations made by this committee to the ICC.

Decision Referral:

The major recommendation is that each team be allowed to refer a maximum of three decisions to the third umpire who could use technology such as Hawkeye to review the referred decision. Two things are not clear just as yet from the reports: (a) Is that three decisions each innings, each session, each day, each match? (b) If a team refers a decision and is successful in overturning the on-field umpires’ call, does that still count as a lost referral?

Although this experiment was reported to be unsuccessful when tried in English domestic one-day cricket last season, this referral system could prevent the sort of drama we saw in the Sydney Test (See this YouTube collection if you are an Indian fan and are in desperate need of a gut-wrench moment in your life!) between Australia and India early this year!

The referral experiment was said to be unsuccessful in the English domestic ODI season last year because it turns out that the 3rd umpires were largely loathe to turn on their on-field colleagues! Clearly, with some coaching, guidance, counseling and training, this issue could be overcome. The 3rd umpire has the benefit of technology as well as time and the on-field umpire should not see it as a blemish on his decision making prowess if a decision of his is turned down. Several other sports successfully manage a referral system that is aided by technology.

The ICC Cricket Committee recommended further that Hawkeye could be used only to determine the path of the ball up to the point that it struck the batsman. A wise decision in my view. The questions that could be addressed through this could be, for example, “Did it strike in line?” (for off stump LBWs), “Did the ball pitch outside leg?” (for leg stump LBWs), and “Was the impact too high on the pads?”, rather than, “Would the ball have gone on to hit the stumps?”

In another significant and good move, the committee has also recommended that the on-field umpire should eb allowed to consult the 3rd umpire on whether or not a catch was taken cleanly. That should put an end to the sort of stupid pact that Anil Kumble and Ricky Ponting signed prior to the recently concluded Australia-India Test series — a pact that was torn up after the contentious Sydney Test!

Substitute Fielders:

Apart from this major recommendation which, in all likelihood will be accepted by the ICC, the Cricket Committee also ruled out “comfort breaks” that fielders use to reign in substitutes. The Cricket Committee has indicated that substitute fielders should only be permitted in cases of injury, illness or other wholly acceptable reasons. I am not clear what “wholly acceptable reasons” means in this context. However, if a player does require a genuine “comfort break” does this then mean that the fielding team will field only 10 players for the duration of this “comfort break”? This is not entirely clear from the report. This is, however, in my view, a good suggestion that needs to be adopted. This may also put an end to the sorts of incidents we saw in the 2005 Ashes series when Ricky Ponting and Duncan Fletcher had a war of words over Englands’ use of specialist fielders as substitutes.

PowerPlays in ODIs:

Another significant recommendation is that in ODIs the timing of one of the three Power Plays would be determined by the batting side! As a result of this recommendation, there is no “Second PowerPlay” anymore. In both the 2nd as well as the 3rd PowerPlay, the fielding team can employ 3 fielders outside the restriction circle.

Again, the devil is in the detail on this one. Who decides first whether a PowerPlay is on or not? The fielding captain? What if the fielding captain as well as the batsmen simultaneously decide that they want a PowerPlay to be employed? Is that designated as a batting PowerPlay or a fielding PowerPlay?

Bowl-outs in T20 games ditched:

Thankfully, the dreaded bowl-out that decided tied Twenty20 games up until now has been replaced by a one-over-per-team play-off! Sensible, in my view.

Test League:

The committee also recommended a Test League for the top two sides in the Test Championship. I think that this is a good idea. However, I’d like the Test League to be between the top three sides in the table. Thankfully, the Super Series idea — a dud in the first place — has been killed!

— Mohan

India Vs RSA :: 1st Test :: Preview

After a well-earned, short break, India is going to play some cricket; this time at home against South Africa.

This comes a day after Sunil Gavaskar took careful aim at England and Australia in a newspaper column of his!

The South Africans have been smart with their scheduling — they have spent the last month in Bangladesh and are possibly acclimatised. Even though the opposition wasn’t as strong as India, they should have also acquired a feel for the nature of the pitches they might encounter in India. They toured Pakistan not so long ago too. So even though the only practice game that they had (against India ‘A’) was canceled, South African Coach, Mickey Arthur, wasn’t too concerned. As a result of this confidence in the conditions, the team flew back to South Africa on 14 March for a quick refresh before heading back to the sub-continent.

Although some of their players have hit form at the right time — including Greame Smith — the team has been dogged by a colour-based-selection policy. This even saw Charl Langeveldt pull out of the tour — the player did not wish to be included just on the basis of his colour! Greame Smith, the South African captain said, “We need to find a way to deal with these issues so we can concentrate on the cricket.”

Jacques Kallis weighed in to the selection debate and called the selection-saga “frustrating”. He said it is best that “the task of choosing the side is left solely to the selectors in the future.”

Langeveldt was initially included ahead of Andre Nel to fulfill a quota obligation. This has resulted in the charismatic Andre Nel threatening to quit cricket! And now, we have the Langeveldt pull-out! No replacement has been named for Langeveldt!

Amidst this backdrop, the first Test of the three-match series starts in Chennai on Wednesday 26 March 2008.

The Indians have found themselves in a bit of controversy too, since their victorious return from Australia. This has revolved around M. S. Dhoni’s alleged seniors Vs juniors comment as well as the fitness of a few players. A few have also questioned the need to continue to invest faith in Yuvraj Singh in the Test side. Anil Kumble, Team India Test captain, put down the seniors Vs juniors issue as a pure media-play and nothing else.

The two sides, meanwhile, are evenly matched, in my view. The South Africans have done well in India in the past and although they will play against a Team India Test squad that is largely refreshed by the inclusion of a few well-rested “seniors”, this may be a closer series than many Indians would like to accept!

South Africa (possible): Graeme Smith (c), Neil McKenzie, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Prince (vc), A. B. de Villiers, Mark Boucher (wk), Paul Harris, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Makhaya Ntini

Reserves: Jean-Paul Duminy, Robin Peterson, Monde Zondeki

India (possible): Virender Sehwag, Irfan Pathan, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, V. V. S. Laxman, M. S. Dhoni, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Sreesanth/Chawla, R. P. Singh

Reserves: Wasim Jaffer, Yuvraj Singh

While the South Africa lineup does not have too many doubts surrounding it, the Indian squad is, as always, punctuated by the opener conundrum and its corollary — the 4-bowler-policy. Anil Kumble has declared emphatically that Rahul Dravid will bat at #3. So, unless the team decides to go with only 4 bowlers — a risk in the humid and hot Chennai conditions — I do think that Pathan will open to accommodate an extra pace bowler (Sreesanth) or spinner (Chawla). The rest of the team picks itself and has, apart from Harbhajan Singh, Dhoni and Tendulkar, a “well-rested” look to it.

This will be a series which will, to me, indicate whether India now has it in them to add the word “consistent” to the adjectives that are used to describe the team. Indeed, this whole year will present an opportunity for Team India to prove that it can be consistently good at the highest level. A good result for Team India will mean that its #2 spot will be consolidated on the ICC Test Table.

— Mohan

No deadline for Coach!

After Greg Chappell’s resignation in March, the BCCI initially said that it would have a Team India Coach ready and appointed by the time the team left for England in late-June. That deadline passed. Then it said it would have a coach ready by the time the Twenty20 Championship came around. That deadline slipped. Then it indicated that the coach would be ready for the home series against Australia and Pakistan. That deadline came and went. Then as recently as last week, the BCCI said that the coach would be ready before the away series to Australia in December.

Now, in a thoroughly distasteful development, the BCCI postponed todays’ coach-selection meeting at Bangalore and, furthermore, issued a statement that it was not going to fix any deadline on the appointment of a coach!

Initially, the reason provided for the delay was the non-availability of Messers Gavaskar and Shastri, who were both busy on commentary duty! And yet, it is Ravi Shastri who has been approached to Chair the National Cricket Academy, post Kapil Dev’s sacking! One does wonder if Gavaskar and Shastri were the only two cricketers to ever play for India! No one can and will deny that these two fine gentlemen did play for India — and with distinction too — but surely there are a few hundred other honest ex-cricketers in search of a plum job!

Why was the recent coach-selection meeting postponed? Well, because, “Our president (Sharad Pawar) was not available for the meeting. We have not met yet and gone through any applications for the job that have been received by us,” BCCI Treasurer, N. Srinivasan said.

So rather than embarass themselves once again — surely, they must be used to it by now after a string of repeat performances on-demand and at will — the BCCI refused to put any further deadline on the coach-appointment. Aaah! Smart thinking 99. However, N. Srinivasan did commit to the appointment being, “done in reasonably quick time“.

But the real pearl from the media release was this one, “There has been little time. Players have just come back from England and then from the World Twenty20 Cup. We have back-to-back matches against Australia,” he added.

Hang on a minute! Are the players playing these matches or are Srinivasan, Pandove, Pawar, Shastri, Gavaskar, Venkatraghavan and Shetty playing for India? Haven’t these dills understood that their role is to select the coach and not to either play the game or indeed, watch it! There is a job to be done guys. The players will play. You guys need to administer the game!

— Mohan