Tag Archives: Indian Cricket

The Indian fan can dream… again!

The Indian fan can dream. The Indian fan first started dreaming in 2001 after “that series”! Team India fans will not need to know either the opponent or the score or the city. The term “that series” is sufficient to know that what we are talking about is 2001, Kolkata, Laxman, Harbhajan, 281!

The dreams were premature then.

India was not able to reproduce that 281 intensity in a consistently strong manner. There were several ills in the system that needed fixing. They are not fixed yet! Although the leadership, through Sourav Ganguly, tried to instill a sense of passion and pride, the playing group could still not be accused of either having or yearning for a “winning mindset”.

Although the ills in the system are still not fixed — the BCCI is the only organisation that is capable of making both the Zimbabwean Board as well as the ICC look good — and although these ills still exist, the Indian fan can dream again because of her players and the attitude that they bring to the table these days.

The ills in the system commence from grass roots selection and weed all the way through to talent nurturing, jobs-for-the-boys, organisation and more. Much more.

However, what a cricket fan dreams about is playing well and winning. And winning in cricket is about having the right resources, the right support systems, the right leadership, the right systems, the right processes, the right media, the right talent and the right attitude — not necessarily in that order.

Digging into all of the above-mentioned pillars of success is an article or two at least and perhaps we should undertake a detailed inventory of where Indian cricket is exactly at. But not right now! But briefly, one could argue that the resources in India have improved. We have several Cricket Academies. Every man and his dog has opened an Academy hoping to teach cricket-skills to wide-eyed kids. One could concede that these Academies are producing a truck load of bright young kids that do exceedingly well at the Under-19 level. Moreover, where cricket was essentially for the city-dwelling elite and middle-class in India — when it came to big-league opportunities — newer players have come for far-flung places. Dhoni is from Ranchi (in interior Jharkhand), a place without a single player to have ever played for India! The domination of Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai are no longer present. We have players in the team that used to practice their cricket on railway platforms in Ranchi — indeed, he leads the team today!

The representative level is well-organised and run in India. The Ranji system is strong, although I think that even after splitting the competition into two leagues, the Elite league has 4 teams too many! There is more work to do there, but I do believe that the foundations are better now than they were a 10 years back.

The media in India has always been an issue and a problem. There are sane voices that lead the team towards a better future. But the commercial TV channels and some near-jingoistic broadsheets ruin it for everyone. Unfortunately, there is an audience for sensationalism in India! One hopes that the saner, stronger voices win in the end — and there are plenty of those to give me hope!

As I have said before, in Gary Kirsten, India has the right man. He has no compelling need to be either in the drivers’ seat or indeed, near a microphone! He stays in the background and does his job in much the way that John Wright did. I feel that this man will take Indian cricket forward. Time will tell.

What matters most to me is the right leadership, talent and attitude.

Sourav Ganguly was, in my view, the first real leader of the Indian cricket team. I have been saying that for years. Rahul Dravid would have made a sensational leader of the Australian cricket team! Alas! He was in a place that needed a Ganguly or a Dhoni! He was a cultural misfit! The role needs a leader who was/is able to approach leadership by inspiring inwards and managing outwards! Dravid was a misfit as a leader. Right man, wrong place! Kumble was a “holding pattern” and in Sydney alone he showed qualities that I have not seen in leaders in a long time.

Peter Roebuck has written eloquently about M. S. Dhoni. What he has said does not need repeating.

As a Team India fan dreams again, Dhoni is the right man for the job. Indeed, he is perhaps the one that inspires these dreams!

However, the most important reason for these dreams is the talent and mindset.

The Indian team in Nagpur showed that winning was important for it. Although on day-5 the team did look ragged and confused, the moment they got a wicket or two, neo-normalcy seemed to be restored. Indian teams of old would have caved in. This team regrouped and stuck to its plan again — as it had on day-3 after playing lose cricket at the end of day-2. They had their minds on the job in a focussed manner. In the past, Indian teams could not be accused of either focus or determination, leave alone steely-resolve! This team has all of that in spades and moreover, plays with a hiterto unobserved pride!

There was an almost Australia-like cut-throat edge to its game.

Over the last few years, the timidity and servility that represented Indian teams of the past had given way to aggression, attitude, determination, grit, fight and free-spirit. Agreed! All of the above come to the fore compellingly only when India plays Australia or Pakistan. However, there is a new breed of player that is more and more reflective of the new, brash, bold, adventurous, expressive India! I am not a fan of it, but I realise that that is where the country and its people are at this point in time.

Moreover, with the onset of central contracts and the IPL, I feel that India players play with far greater security. This has always been a concern in Indian cricket. In the past, the India player has had to play with the next game and pay-cheque in mind! But today, a Gautam Gambhir is able to play his natural aggressive game without worrying too much about his next contract or his next pay cheque! He has got it, in spades already.

And I do believe that this last element adds significantly to the make up of the winning mindset. Suddenly, Gautam Gambhir’s existence is no longer an issue. His performance is. He can focus more on giving his best to his country. Even a Joginder Sharma or a Praveen Kumar can come in for a game here or a game there and give off his best. The IPL and central contracts ensure that all that the player needs to focus on is in giving off his best in the game that he is chosen for.

Suddenly there are more players for spots!

Let us look at the list of players that are in contention:

  • Openers: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Murali Vijay, Wasim Jaffer, Akash Chopra [5]
  • Middle-order Batsmen: Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V. V. S. Laxman, Rohit Sharma, S. Badrinath, Suresh Raina, Mohammed Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, Cheteshwar Pujara, Robin Uthappa, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Tanmay Srivastava, Shikar Dhawan [14]
  • Pacemen: Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, R. P. Singh, Sree Santh, Irfan Pathan, Praveen Kumar, Pankaj Singh, Manpreet Gony, Ashok Dinda, Siddharth Trivedi, Pradeep Sangwan, Ranadeb Bose [13]
  • Spinners: Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra, Piyush Chawla, Pragyan Ojha, Yusuf Pathan, Romesh Powar, Mohnish Parmar [7]
  • Keepers: M. S. Dhoni, Parthiv Patel, Wriddhiman Saha, Dinesh Karthik [4]

That’s a total of 43 players. It is an impressive list of young players. I may have missed out a few and some may question the presence of players like Mohnish Parmar or Shikar Dhawan or Tanmay Srivastava. This is perhaps nothing more than a list of players who are in contention for both the Test as well as the ODI team. Most of the above players have either played for India already (in any of the three forms of the game) or are about to.

India should expand its contract list to include players who regularly turn out for India-A games. India-A should tour continuously and if no one wants to play with India-A, should play against itself! Match readiness should be the name of the game and not the next central contract! A core bunch of about 50 players needs to be identified, nurtured and maintained. They should also be match-ready so that the careers of players like Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan, Tendulkar, Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and M. S. Dhoni can be well-managed.

Cheteshwar Pujara has scored three triple centuries in his last four games including one in the recently completed Ranji round! One can’t keep him away from the big league for too long. Gavaskar was pushing for young Pujara even when news of Gautam Gambhir’s Nagpur suspension was filtering through. The selectors went for M. Vijay in that instance.

However, Rahul Dravid will need to now work intensely hard to keep players like Badrinath, Pujara, Rohit Shrama, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina at bay! Kris Srikkanth has said that he has faith in Dravid and feels that a big innings is just around the corner.

I am conservative in this regard — a close friend labeled be “dogged” in this regard. Be that as it may, I am not for a “spill and fill” approach. We have just seen the departure of Kumble and Ganguly from the team. It may be seductive to wipe the slate clean and go for a thrush of youngsters! With important series against England, Pakistan and New Zealand coming up in the next 6 months, if I were selector, I’d give Dravid up until the end of the New Zealand series to make up his mind on the timing of his departure. If he wishes to leave the game before that time, then that would be his call to make. I do believe we need his experience in the team until the New Zealand series at least.

Either way you look at it, it is an impressive collection of players.

After that 281, the Team India fan can dream again!

— Mohan

On why the game needs more Asian Match Referees…

I know I have said a few times that cricket needs more Asian Match Referees. I will qualify that a bit more. The game needs more new-age Asian Match Referees. Currently, we have Asian gentlemen like Ranjan Madugalle, Roshan Mahanama and Javagal Srinath as match referees (G. R. Vishwanath was a Match Referee from the recent past).

The current Asian Match Referees are, in my view, not strong enough, in my view, and do not make the decisions against the old-block countries that Chris Broad and Mike Procter are regularly able to take against Asian players! Furthermore, the current Asian Match Referees are, in my view, not able to afford the Asian Teams the same amount of largesse that old-block Referees like Procter and Broad afford to non-Asian players!

This is a potentially inflammatory statement and I am certain there will be many from Sampath Kumar to Peter Lalor that will jump up and down and scream “shades of racism” in the statement above.

But this statement is beyond racism, in my view. It can be supported by documented evidence from a catalogue of wrong-doings. It is even beyond a need that I and the average sub-continental fan may have to throw off the shackles of imperialistic overtures that some of us have had to live and work through. It is even beyond feelings of inadequacy that one may — perhaps even legitimately — be accused of. Although I am leaving myself exposed to all of the above, I do believe that the game needs a good hard re-jig if it needs to move forward in an environment of trust.

And that shake up can and must occur through the induction of more new-age Asian Match Referees and officials.

I would like a new-Age match umpire, for example, that has the guts to put his finger to his lips and shut Ricky Ponting up when the latter argues vehemently with the match official. Is that possible? Well, when Billy Bowden can shut up V. V. S. Laxman’s polite protest, I am not sure why he would want to tolerate a spray from Ponting? Unless of course, he felt
(a) fearful of Ponting or
(b) that Laxman was a piece of dispensable old cloth
(c) that unlike Laxman, Ponting was a “good bloke who ought to be implicitly trusted but is just indulging in bit of a decent argument after all”?

I suspect it is a bit of (a), (b) and (c) above!

This is why I, as a fan, have a deep sense of mistrust towards someone like Billy Bowden or Steve Bucknor. It has nothing to do with the colour of their skin or indeed the colour of Laxman’s skin! It has more to do with consistency. A person that deals with Laxman with utter disdain and can yet tolerate virulent abuse from Ponting is inconsistent and does not engender trust in me the viewer! I suspect that such a person will not have the trust of a player like (say) Gautam Gambhir either.

This is why I feel that change is necessary before an environment of greater trust can be built. This environment of trust does not exist in world cricket and the ICC is incompetent to do anything about it.

I have felt that this change was necessary since the fractious SCG Test.

India has not been able to forget the anger, the utter pain and the agony of the fractious SCG Test and went to extraordinary lengths — like the setting of 8-1 fields — to win the recently concluded Test series in India against Australia. That one SCG Test was responsible for the breakdown of a talented player (Symonds) and triggered the retirements of two of crickets’ modern-day greats (Gilchrist and Kumble).

The SCG-anger led to M. S. Dhoni digging into the Mahabharata to explain why he adopted 8-1 fields in a bid to win the Nagpur Test match at “all costs”.

Dhoni used the epic battle in the Mahabharata as his motivation for the win in Nagpur.

In the Mahabharata, Lord Krishna told the archer, Arjuna, to forget everything else in the epic battle against the enemy and aim his arrow not at the dangling fish target but instead at the eye of the fish. Dhoni took inspiration from this Epic and told his troops to focus on the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and nothing else. Nothing else mattered. Everything else was left in the peripheral vision. Even Dhoni’s own natural aggressive instincts were discarded. Nothing else was important. The team went to extraordinary lengths to deliver that single-minded — ruthless, perhaps — focus in order to secure the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. I can’t imagine that this was just because they played Australia.

Indeed, I am certain that it was because they were playing the team that played against them at the SCG.

The ghosts of the SCG had to be purged. Has that SCG Test anger been purged? It is hard to say. For the Indian fan, it may never ever be purged. For the team, perhaps under Dhoni and with newer players on the scene, the anger may dissolve over time.

This anger and fire is constantly stoked by counter allegations from the likes of Gilchrist, Ponting and Symonds who continue to yell out that they were right and the Indians were all wrong.

Perhaps we are all at wrong here.

But there will be many more fish that lose eyes before we can all sit down and understand the deepness of the hurt that was caused in Sydney.

That is a back-drop and provides further context for the contentious and anger-laden statement I made above.

I will say it again: The current Asian Match Referees are, in my view, not strong enough, in my view, and do not make the decisions against the old-block countries that Chris Broad and Mike Procter are regularly able to take against Asian players! Furthermore, the current Asian Match Referees are, in my view, not able to afford the Asian Teams the same amount of largesse that old-block Referees like Procter and Broad afford to non-Asian players!

Let is consider two two acts that provide the benchmarks for the above, perhaps startling, call for more new-age Asian Match Referees.

Act-1:

In August 2006, Darryl Hair accused the Pakistan team of ball tampering at the famously chaotic and horribly ill-fated Oval Test against England. Hair was a good umpire. In my view, he was also an umpire who thought he was bigger than the game — how else can one explain his no-balling of Muralidharan on Boxing Day when all the cameras were on him? He was bigger than the game itself! At least, one can discern quite easily that he and Simon Taufel do not share any genetic material!

But be that as it may. On that day in 2006, Hair had basically insinuated that the Pakistan team was a collection of cheats. Maybe they were? Who knows? But the events that led to that public insinuation raised more than eyebrows! Hair plucked the ball, kept it and pronounced his judgement in an utterly callous fashion. Did he have evidence? No. Did he check footage from any of the 20-odd cameras at the Oval ground to verify if his — perhaps valid and perhaps even legitimate — suspicions were valid? No. He ploughed on regardless like a crazed bull that ran amok in a busy China shop! Indeed, the subsequent investigation revealed that apart from a few dints and dents suffered from some brutally hammered boundary hits against the boundary advertisement hoardings, the ball was, in fact in perfectly good shape!

Was Hair prejudiced? You make up your own minds!

And by the way, here is the answer to the question you had perhaps asked earlier… You perhaps asked innocently “Who was the Match Referee in that infamous game at The Oval>”. Did you not?

Well, it was Mike Procter! The same Match Referee that handled the SCG Test match!

Cut to 2008, to the Test match just concluded in Nagpur.

During a bizarre passage of play when the wheels were falling of the Australian truck named “sanity”, we saw TV footage of an incident that would have made an average cricket fan draw breath! The footage showed Cameron White plucking something red off a red object in his hands! The red object that he had in his hand wasn’t an apple. And the stuff that he plucked from what may have looked like an apple wasn’t a dead leaf or residual stem. He had plucked leather that was sticking out of a badly scuffed up cricket ball. TV cameras captured this. Everyone saw what happened. Chris Broad, the Match Referee, would have seen that too.

Was the ball altered in any way whatsoever? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt.

Cameron White would have known that what he did was utterly wrong. He was captain of Victoria when Michael Lewis was probed for ball-tampering. Thumbnails and seam were allegedly involved in that incident. Cameron White would have attended the enquiry and would have known what constitutes ball tampering. Cameron White would have known from that at least — if not from playing at junior level and club level — that a player cannot alter the condition of the ball. He did. If there is a problem with the ball, you simply hand it over to the umpire.

It is quite likely and indeed, highly probable that Cameron White was not malicious in his intent. He had just pulled leather off. He had not lifted the seam. But was he wrong? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt, yes. Vehemently yes.

But it does make me angry when I think that Chris Broad, the Match Referee did not — to the best of my knowledge — even question White on that incident! It is quite likely that he thought, “I trust my basic instincts that Cameron White, this good, honest Australian bloke did something silly and not something with unscrupulous intent.”

I have nothing against that instinct. But I have to ask, “Would Chris Broad afford the same luxury to an Asian bloke?” My view is “No”.

Cut to South Africa in 2001.

Sachin Tendulkar had cleaned dirt off the seam of the ball. No finger nails were used. Just thumb. This was captured on TV cameras.

Why was Cameron White’s action different from Sachin Tendulkar cleaning the seam of the ball with his thumb (not thumbnails) in South Africa? The Match Referee in that instance was Mike Denness, in that initial dark hour of world cricket when India first flexed its muscles on the world stage.

Mike Denness first accused Sachin Tendulkar of “ball tampering” and and then issued this statement that claimed that he fined Tendulkar for not cleaning the ball “under the supervision of the umpires, which Tendulkar failed to do”.

Was Cameron White doing anything different? Was he not, also, cleaning the ball in a manner other than under the supervision of the umpires? Was he not, therefore, altering the condition of the ball?

He was.

The umpire in this instance was Aleem Dar, a mild natured man. A good man. If the umpire had been Darryl Hair and if the offender had been Sachin Tendulkar or Salman Butt, the player would have been accused of being a cheat! After all, Hair had acted pompously at The Oval with far less to go by way of evidence!

Aleem Dar had a quiet word with Ricky Ponting and the issue was killed then and there. There was no grandstanding. The game was bigger than Allem Dar, the man. The game moved on.

Chris Broad could have done something about it. He did not.

My point is that Broad did not have either the bravery or the integrity to pull up Cameron White when the evidence was there for all to see, while Hair, Procter, Broad and Denness would have no problems at all in picking off the Pakistani team or a randomly dispensable Indian player in order to prove that the game is beyond an individual.

To men like Broad, Denness, Procter and Hair, it would seem that rules must be obeyed by Asian players. However, there is an implicit level of trust deeply embedded within them that “players from Australia and England are good, honest blokes who play good, hard cricket and occasionally make genuine errors”.

Now, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with that implicit level of trust. What is, however, wrong is that that same implicit level of trust is not afforded to the average Asian player — not even to Sachin Tendulkar!

When I saw the Cameron White incident, I commented about it and immediately thought back to Darry Hair and The Oval! Scorpicity, who comments on i3j3Cricket frequently, has written about this too.

What is required is that we have Match Referees that have the integrity and the courage to act against unacceptable behaviour of Australians and Englishmen.

Remember that Procter was the Match Referee who once said, “[Team-X] has always played pretty tough cricket, I don’t think anyone wants them to change the way they play. They are a wonderful side and play in the spirit of the game.”

What was “Team-X” in the above direct quote? Australia.

What was the context of the quote? The McGrath-Sarawan incident.

What did Procter do at the time? Nothing.

[Exit Stage Left]

Act-2:

Act-2 has borrowed heavily from Samir Chopra’s article in CricInfo’s Blog “Different Strokes” titled ‘Why is the Indian Fan So Angry’.

Samir Chopra is spot on.

My distrust with the officials that run the game comes from the totally insulting and perilously supercilious (in my view) actions of umpires like Billy Bowden when they deal with Asian players. Picture these following scenarios and take a check of your heart-rate if you are from the subcontinent. Let me know if it is anything below 85 bpm!

  • Peter Willey shooing away the 12th man in Kolkata who was bringing in spare gloves for the batsman, as though the 12th man were nothing but odour coming out of rotting food,
  • Steve Bucknor reprimanding Partiv Patel in Sydney as though the latter were a truant schoolboy,
  • Billy Bowden shutting up Laxman in Delhi (in the recently concluded Test) as though the latter were an irritating fly.

In the third example above, Laxman had just attempted to complete a run. Bowden had ruled that Laxman had run on the pitch and deducted the run. Fair enough. But Laxman said, “How else could I complete the run?”, to which Bowden put his fingers to his lips and shooed Laxman back to the crease.

Now if that was the way Bowden always acts, that would be perhaps fine. But the same Bowden was repeatedly abused by Ricky Ponting questioning the authority of the umpire on everything from the legitimacy of an overthrow that went for 5 runs to the shape of the ball!

There are many many more examples that I can cite like the ones above. But these give you an example of the images that stay in the mind for a long long time. I have absolutely no trust in these gentlemen that run our beautiful game.

I would like to know that these images that I have are because Indians are inherently bad and not because it is inherently possible for the Bowedns, Bucknors and Willeys to act in this manner with Indians and get away with it.

As Samir Chopra says, these images make even the unthinkable very possible! For an Indian fan, what is perhaps most inconceivable, seems totally accceptable: Aleem Dar, Asad Rauf and even Ashoka DeSilva seem more acceptable as officials in a game involving India! They provide a calming influence!

Now, coming from a generation of Indian fans that were fed a staple diet of mistrust of Pakistani officialdom that included officials like Shakoor Rana, that statement is actually saying one heck of a lot!

[Exit Stage Left]

So, when I wrote above (and on previous occasions) that new-age Asians ought to be queuing up for ICC Match Referee positions this is exactly what I meant.

I would like Sourav Ganguly, for example, be a Match Refereee. I’d like him to officiate the game from an Asian point of view. Is it necessary? I do think so.

I would have wanted Billy Bowden to put his fingers to his lips when Ricky Ponting was abusing him on the field. Ponting was abusing Bowden’s authority. No doubt about it! And this was not the first time Ponting was doing it. He did it at Mohali too. But the officials will not pull Ponting up. They would rather concentrate their energies on the Laxmans of the world.

Chris Broad lacked the integrity to pull up Cameron White. He ought to have.

Just as there is no way Billy Bowden will put his fingers on his lips and motion (say) Matthew Hayden to shut up when the latter asks a genuine question of him, there is no way Chris Broad will pull Ponting up for anything other than kicking an opposition player!

This is the cricket world we live in. And I just don’t think it is good for the game.

We will see many more SCG Tests and many more Asian cricketers will re-read the Mahabharata (or similar Epics) to draw inspiration from before delivering ruthless focus to their game in a bid to “win at all costs”.

There will be fewer fish around — or plenty of fish with only one eye!

The game will be the loser for it all…

– Mohan

Anil Kumble: A legend of our times…

When Anil Kumble announced his retirement from all forms of cricket — that’s right, not just cricket, but from all forms of cricket — I was immediately reminded of Adam Gilchrist’s shock retirement during the Adelaide Test match against India. There was a parallel of sorts in the retirements of these two contemporary greats of modern cricket. Adam Gilchrist had, earlier, indicated that the tense Sydney Test was what prompted his retirement thoughts. Anil Kumble too indicated that the tour of Australia, and particularly the Sydney Test match, was what prompted him to think about the rigours of playing mentally and physically tough cricket constantly. Already, the fractious Sydney Test match had claimed its first victim in Andrew Symonds who was disenchanted with the circus that surrounded the game; the circus that emanated (in my view) from the actions that he must claim some responsibility for. Now, that Sydney Test had claimed its third victim in Anil Kumble!

However, it was that Sydney Test that defined for me one of the most dignified players of our generation. Through the morass of Sydney, he alone stood tall, with poise, empathy, alacrity, simplicity and integrity.

In the words of Harsha Bhogle: “In course of time, like with the legends, we will remember Kumble by his numbers. They are extraordinary but the picture they paint is beautiful and incomplete. They will not tell you of the dignity with which he played the game, of the integrity he stood for and of the extraordinary respect he carried in the cricketing world; as a bowler but even more so, as a man.”

In reality, although the Anil Kumble retirement was coming and one sensed that it was around the corner, I thought Kumble would continue till after the two-Test series against England in December 2008. However, Kumble had other plans and got out of the road of Amit Mishra’s progress the moment he acquired a crushing injury to the little finger of his left hand. Anil Kumble felt that his body had taken a beating after 18 years — and a few shoulder operations. Moreover, he felt comfortable that he was handing over the spinners’ baton as well as the captaincy mantle to able soldiers.

Indeed, Kumble is probably leaving Indian cricket in a better shape today than it was when he took over the reigns as captain.

When Kumble took over the captaincy reign in 2007, Rahul Dravid had suddenly resigned. The tour of England left Dravid with few friends in (and little support from) the establishment. Rahul Dravid, the captain was disenchanted and disgruntled. The team had no coach and had to make do with Chandu Borde as “coach” on the tour of England. While the establishment wanted the decks cleared in the shorter versions of the game, the clarion calls for the retirement of the “Fab Five” were getting shriller. What was needed was a stabilising force and a cool head. The establishment was unwilling to risk Dhoni as the Test captain. Sachin Tendulkar, after showing some initial interest, had turned down the job. To give the captaincy to Sourav Ganguly would be a retrogressive step. The selectors turned to Anil Kumble. We at i3j3Cricket predicted the choice of Kumble as captain. It was a wise move especially since there were two important tours against Pakistan and Australia coming up.

In walked Anil Kumble.

A year later, the team has a more stable look to it.

India has a coach who prefers the obscurity of the last seat of the bus rather than the one closest to both the steering wheel as well as any microphone!

Harbhajan Singh has stepped up and accepted his role as the senior spinner in the game. Without anyone quite realising it, he stands on the cusp of getting his 300th wicket in Test cricket! And in Amit Mishra and Piyush Chawla, India has two reasonably good spinners. India also has Pragyan Ojha with his brand of left-arm spin. This time last year, there were a few question marks on India’s spin talent.

Although the fast bowling bench strength has sported a healthy look, it is only in the last year that we have seen the emergence of Ishant Sharma as an exciting talent on the world stage. Along with Zaheer Khan, the Indian fast bowling option sports a healthy look. It is quite likely that Ishant Sharma, with his flowing locks and exciting action, will be the most exciting pace bowler in the world today!

And with pace bowlers like Munaf Patel, R. P. Singh, Irfan Pathan, Sree Santh, Praveen Kumar, Manpreet Gony, Pankaj Singh, Siddharth Trivedi, Ashok Dinda and Pradeep Sangwan, India can boast of a healthy look to its fast bowling stable.

Batting has always been India’s strength. But it looks like there are players that are able and willing to step into the large shoes of the batting ‘Fab Four’ when they leave the world stage. Gautam Gambhir has made enormous strides in the last year under Dhoni and Kumble. In the middle-order, there are players like S. Badrinath, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh and Cheteshwar Pujara to look forward to a future when players like Sourav Ganguly (in five days’ time), Rahul Dravid (perhaps in a 9-months’ time from now), V. V. S. Laxman (perhaps in 18 months’ time from now) and Sachin Tendulkar (perhaps in 36 months from now) leave the arena.

And finally, we have a captain-in-waiting who is able, young, lively, energetic and hungry for success.

We are witnessing the start of the end of an era in Indian cricket. But there is a future that doesn’t quite look as bleak as it possibly did a year ago.

And Anil Kumble can claim some credit for this transformation. He is certainly leaving the place better than he found it.

It started with him developing a “vision” statement for Indian cricket. It is his blueprint that is being implemented today. He wanted to beat Australia in Australia and wanted to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. His efforts at beating Australia in Australia was achieved spectacularly at Perth with an against-all-odds victory. He may be successful in helping India regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy if India plays another five days of good cricket at Nagpur.

Before his first Test match as captain, he handed his “vision” document to his team. He had no coach like John Buchanan or Greg Chappell or Tom Moody or John Wright to craft it for him. It was his vision. It was simple and yet deep.

He wanted the his wards to “Play fearless cricket in a team where team goals come first.”

What’s more? He insisted that the BCCI percolate this “vision” to the Under-15 level.

Here was a cricketer who had the health and well-being of Indian cricket pumping in his every heart beat.

Who can ever forget his bowling spell in Antigua when he bowled 15 overs with a badly fractured jaw? Kumble had been struck on the jaw by Mervyn Dillon while batting. The jaw was splintered into position although a few teeth were moving!

Viv Richards, the West Indian batting legend, has surely seen many a brave deed on the cricket field. But that one event compelled Sir Viv Richards to say “It was one of the bravest things I have ever seen on a cricket field”! Kumble bowled his heart (and his jaw) out to strain for an Indian victory. It didn’t quite happen. He returned home to get the jaw fixed but not before saying, “At least I can now go home with the thought that I tried my best.”

And it was not just his cricket either.

He carried himself with dignity and humility. His words and actions after the Sydney Test match made the world sit up and take notice. He did not need to beat his chest. He did not need to thump tables. There were others that were doing enough of that. He got about his job quietly and impressively. He said what he had to with poise, alacrity and dignity. The world noticed and were dumbstruck by the severity as well as the simplicity of his message.

There is something about cricketers from Bangalore. Right from the times of the off-spinning gentle colossus Prasanna, who was once referred to by Ian Chappell as the best spinner he had ever faced, we have had players like Chandrashekar, Gundappa Vishwanath, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Rahul Dravid, Venkatesh Prasad, et al. The one word that captures all of these players is perhaps “dignity”. There is a certain lack of brashness and arrogance. There is a certain poise, humility and dignity about all of the players in that list. They are gentlemen first. Almost all of them are all well read. They are soft spoken (Robin Uthappa is a strange exception to this rule, I hasten to add). They go about their business in a quiet, compelling and committed manner. And yet, they leave their mark and their impact in a significant manner.

But in this of greats from Bangalore, none, in my view, will be greater than Anil Kumble. Like Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble depended on 3 D’s: “Determination, discipline, dedication”.

These are the qualities that made the MCC recruit Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid into its World Cricket Committee. The committee includes, Mike Atherton, Mike Brearley, Geoffrey Boycott, Martin Crowe, Tony Dodemaide, Rahul Dravid, Andy Flower, Mike Gatting, Majid Khan, Barry Richards, David Shepherd, Alec Stewart, Courtney Walsh and Steve Waugh.

To put things into perspective:

  • Anil Kumble played 132 Test matches (bowled 40850 balls), gave 18355 runs for his 619 wickets (at an average of 29.65 and a strike rate of 65.9).
  • Bishen Bedi played 67 Tests (bowled 21364 balls), gave 7637 runs for his 266 wickets (at 28.71 and at a strike rate of 80.3).
  • Chandrashekar played 58 Tests (bowled 15963 balls), gave 7199 runs for his 242 wickets (at 29.74 and a strike rate of 65.9). Interesting to note that Chandra’s strike rate and Kumble’s strike rate are identical!
  • Prasanna played 49 Tests (bowled 14353 balls), gave 5742 runs for his 189 wickets (at 30.38 and a strike rate of 75.9).
  • Kapil Dev, generally regarded India’s best bowlerr ever, played one less Test match than Anil Kumble for his 434 wickets! Kapil Dev played 131 Tests (bowled 27740) balls, gave away 12867 runs for his 434 wickets (at an average of 29.64 and strike rate of 63.9)

In other words, Kumble has bowled 4/5ths of the total number of balls bowled by the Prasanna-Bedi-Chandra spin trinity who bowled a total of 51680 balls, giving away a total of 20578 runs for their 697 wickets (at an average of 29.52). In other words, Kumble has taken almost as many wickets as India’s spin-trinity. Surely, that is the work load for a warrior!

Suresh Menon writes, “[Kumble] bowled India to more victories than the entire spin quartet of the 1970s, yet he was condemned to being defined by negatives. The pundits told us he did not spin the ball, that he did not have the classic legspinner’s loop, that he did not bowl slowly enough to get the ball to bite. Kumble was described by what he did not do rather than by what he did.”

Dileep Premachandran called it best, I thought, when he write, “After all was said and done and the match called off, he came back out to be chaired around the ground, part of the way on the shoulders of the man who will succeed him as captain. For someone who scaled the greatest heights, it was one of the very few occasions during the 18 years when his feet actually left the ground.”

Towards the end of his career though, Kumble did show his irritation with the media in India. In the face of stinging criticism after the two defeats in Sri Lanka and amidst the growing shrillness of the tone in the Indian media over the continued inclusion of the “Fab Five” in the Test team, Kumble lashed out at the unjustified criticism and, more particularly, the unjustified and uncharitable comments . He deplored the trend for sensationalism in the Indian media that led to wild speculation around the existence of a voluntary retirement scheme that was offered to the ‘seniors’ by the BCCI!

However, in the end, Kumble left the game on his own terms. He arrived fighting for a credible spot in the team. There were many that questioned his ability, his uncharacteristic action, his studiousness as well as his desire. He fought all of that to become a quiet warrior and a dignified champion.

He left on his own terms too and that, to me, was a complete picture.

In his retirement, one hopes that he will continue to serve Indian cricket as he did when he was a player. Indian cricket needs players like him: Players who have Indian cricket’s hopes and fortunes in their every heart beat. Players who have achieved a lot in their playing time. Players who created an impact. Players who left the game better than they found it. And more importantly, players who played the game with integrity and with dignity.

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: Test 3 :: Delhi :: Day-5

At the end of my abridged day-4 report, I wrote: “I was disappointed by Australia’s approach. Australia batted on till it got to 39 runs behind India’s tour.With just 13 overs left in the days’ play, there was no way India was going to make the running on a pitch that was offering nothing much to the bowlers even on day-4. I thought Australia should have declared at least 100 behind. This would have forced India to make the running in this match. Remember, India does not need to win this match, although India would like to. Australia has to win this match although, by drawing this match, it keeps its hopes alive in the series. So the attacking ploy for Australia would have been to declare about 100 runs behind India’s total. Unfortunately, that was not to be. What we saw was the initiation of a defensive ploy from Australia and a continuation of this ploy by India.

I gave the 2nd session as well as the 3rd session of day-4 to Australia and so, the SBS Score reads: India 5.5, Australia 6.5!”

Overnight, Gautam Gambhir was called a “serial pest” by Chloe Saltau!

India played badly on day-4. But Australia too, I thought missed a trick on day-4. Unless India play horribly to collapse in a manner reminiscent of India teams from 10 years ago (or English teams that play in Adelaide), the 5th day isn’t going to have much fun for either teams I believe.

India could probably use the day to get Rahul Dravid, their only out-of-runs batsmen in this series, into a good score ahead of the Nagpur Test. Although Dravid has been batting well, he hasn’t been making the big scores and here was his opportunity. India may also look to keep the Australians in the field for a long time ahead of Nagpur.

There was nothing in the Kotla pitch unless one pitches it in the ‘rough’ — and provided the fielders take the catches, of course! The curator had promised a “present for Kumble”! His pitch was akin to ordering a bouquet of roses for Valentines Day only to be delivered a wreath by the florist!

The Australian bowlers have nothing to lose really. They can go all out and attack relentlessly without the need for a gun license! If the Indians collapse, the Australian bowlers would come out on top. If the Indians bat through a grinding innings, the bowlers will have no reason for shame. So the match is really set up well for the Australians.

Session-1:

The game started along predictable lines. Balls outside off stump — and there were plenty of those — were left alone by the Indian batsmen, who played with much discipline and alacrity. Gambhir even had the temerity to advance once to Stuart Clark! There were no dangers in this pitch.

I have received a few emails saying that I was wrong to criticise Australia for not forcing the pace in this match.

There is another reason for me saying this. Australia would have known that without Harbhajan Singh and without Anil Kumble being 100% fit, the bowling attack was somewhat weakened. So, batting in the 4th innings on day-5 would not hold too many fears on this pitch! With this in mind, I am quite convinced that Australia should have declared way behind to force the pace in this game. They didn’t. India do not have to make the pace. The result is an inexorable march towards a draw!

But the breakthrough that Australia (and the game) needed, came with India on 53-2. A fuller ball from Brett Lee found the inside-edge of Rahul Dravid’s off-drive and crashed into the base of the stumps. Rahul Dravid’s misery continued. He continues to bat well, but gets out to inside-edges and silly shots.

Australia was playing an attractive brand of cricket. It was an attacking brand of cricket too; one that I have grown to like and enjoy over the years (one that was also absent in Bengaluru and Mohali). Stuart Clark kept things very tight at one end bowling wide of off stump. Brett Lee bowled an attacking line at the other end. I would imagine that the roles would be much the same with the Watson-Mitchell bowling partnership — with the former bowling tight lines and the latter, attacking. This was good stuff from the Australians. As a result of this approach, India was reigned in and not allowed to get away with the scoring; not that there was much danger of India running away, given the defensive ‘mindset’ that the Indians had appeared to adopt!

At the drinks’ break, India had reached 71-3. Australia had bowled 13 overs! This from a team that was trying to win the game? The lead for India was 107.

Michael Clarke was into the attack after the drinks’ break. Not a bad move, if he can eschew the “flat and fired-in” stuff and seek turn off the ‘rough’.

The pitch was so easy to play on even on day-5 that Gambhir and Tendulkar were able to play easily off the back foot and off he pitch! The turn was slow, if there was any at all! The odd ball was kicking up from the ‘rough’. Other than that, there wasn’t much in the pitch. The only way anything would happen would be if the batsmen played a needlessly aggressive shot — like Dravid attempted to do.

Which is why I feel more and more that Australia screwed up by not declaring 100 runs behind. If they had, the Indian batsmen may have forced the pace and maybe, in the process, got out. They would have had no option but to force the pace from about 100-120 ahead.

Anyway, that’s spilt milk.

Against the run of play, just when everything was looking steady and solid, Mitchell Johnson got a ball to swing way down leg-side. The resulting appeal for LBW — I am presuming that the appeal was for LBW and not for relief from boredom — was upheld. The only conclusion I could reach was that Aleem Dar was bored and wanted some action out there in the middle, especially since it appeared that he started raising his hand even before the appeal was made! That was a shocking decision and Gautam Gambhir was given a spanking and set off to the dressing room.

This was certainly Aleem Dar’s present to Mitchell Johnson on the bowlers’ 27th birthday.

At this stage, India was 93-4 and India lead by 129 runs.

Mitchell Johnson was bowling with his tail up on his birthday after having lapped up Aleem Dar’s present! He proceeded to get stuck into V. V. S. Laxman, the new batsman and one didn’t need a course in lip-reading to know that, several times, the ‘F’ word was used by Mitchell Johnson. Laxman smiled at this the first time and then replied back the second and the third times. The umpires got into the game at this stage and had a word with Ricky Ponting.

I am surprised that the Match Referees and Umpires only get into the game when the one who is provoked takes an extreme retaliatory action to the abuse that is copped on the field. Gavaskar wants the abuser to be nipped in the bud. I agree wholeheartedly.

Despite Chloe Saltau’s (potentially) and Mark Waugh’s attempts to describe Mitchell Johnson as the genial and gentle pace bowler who just used the verbal stoushes to pump himself up, there is a serious point here to be made. The man at the other end who got pumped up enough to respond to Mitchell Johnsons’ foul mouthed spray is the gentlest of gentle giants? Is Chloe Saltau now going to embarrass herself in public yet again and term Laxman an “aggressive lout and a spoilt brat for having the temerity to talk back at Mitchell Johnson”?

Predictably, instead of responding to Sunil Gavaskar’s point about the “instigator being docked before the provoked is” and “what’s the need for a string of ‘F’ words on the cricket pitch”, Mark Waugh said, “Yes, this was the man who wanted to walk off the pitch at the MCG”. To which Nick McCardle whipped out the exact date on which Gavaskar attempted to walk out of the MCG.

What this had to do with the price of fish only Nick McCardle and Mark Waugh will know.

But since we are delving into the realm of utter irrationality, wasn’t Mark Waugh the guy that took money from a certain John for a pitch report? Would this not mean that we discard anything that this goose says?

At lunch, India was 99-4 (135 runs ahead with 63 overs left in the days’ play). The session belonged to Australia. No doubt about that. The SBS Score reads: India 5.5, Australia 7.5.

Session-2:

I had little doubt in my mind that the Australian attitude and mindset, which was absent for much of the series up until now, had Australia in the position that she was in. Similarly, it was the Indian “defensive mindset” that had the team in the position it was in.

To me, however, it was nice to see Australia attack the way the team has. Australia played with self-belief and aggression. It had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Australia had fought back from the brink and that was great to see.

If the team could only stamp out the on-field nonsense, it would be even better for me.

I suspect, however, that the team plays to a different audience and to different standards. For example, at the drinks’ break, Mark Waugh, talking in the Foxtel studios, chided V. V. S. Laxman for talking back to Mitchell Johnson and thereby, making a “big deal out of it”. Someone tell me Mark Waugh didn’t see the theatrics of Matthew Hayden (Mohali) and Shane Watson (Kotla)!

My gripe with Indian players is that they haven’t reacted like sorry soccer players each time a string of expletives is thrown at them! If they did, more Australians would be reported too more often, would they not?

Australia started after the break with Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson. Clarke was bowling from around the stumps and to a good line. It was surprising to me that we didn’t see Simon Katich yet!

India was 109-4, a few overs after lunch, with 59 overs left in the days’ play. India only had a very ordinary, low-intensity day in the field on day-4 to blame for this situation.

But I was comfortable with this grit-situation that India was presented with, for two reasons:

  • After the heady success of Mohali and a huge 1st Innings lead, India had relaxed completely. Complacency had set in a manner that only Indians seem to muster. There is nothing better than a situation like this to shake the team out of its collective sluggish contentment.
  • India has a terrible win-one-lose-one-immediately record in Test matches. This backs-to-the-wall effort could not have come at a better time, especially after the mammoth score that India had put up in the 1st Innings!

Both of the above points mean that a backs-to-the-wall effort here would do this team good — the equivalent of a kick-up-the-backside wake-up-call.

Although Michael Clarke was flighting the odd ball, most of his balls were fired in at between 86 and 90 kmph from around the wickets. As a result, he wasn’t getting much bite and purchase from the pitch. It was time to get Katich in, I’d have thought! Indeed, I’d have got Katich in ahead of Michael Clarke. A finger spinner would be a better option, I’d have thought.

But it was Cameron White that came onto bowl and he immediately proceeded to leak runs and ease the pressure. I wasn’t sure about this decision. I’d have liked to see Katich on this pitch. I’d be willing to bet that he would get some purchase here. At the other end, though, we had Shane Watson come in for a bowl. His first ball want for 4! Suddenly, it appeared as if the pressure valve had been lifted.

This was strange captaincy by Ricky Ponting! With a fit and fighting set of alternatives like Stuart Clark, Brett Lee and Simon Katich, I just could not understand this Watson-White strategy!

In the 2nd over from Watson, Aleem Dar perhaps ought to have given Tendulkar out LBW! I could not believe that Aleem Dar would not give this out when he gave Gautam Gambhir out for one that was clearly sliding down leg! Perhaps he had decided that Shane Watson did not deserve a birthday gift when it wasn’t his birthday! At this stage, India was 140-4 (176 ahead with about 45 overs to play). The decision won’t have made a difference, as India was taking this match into a draw situation. But the inconsistency of decision making seemed a bit strange!

I was proved wrong a few overs later when Sachin Tendulkar poked at a Cameron White delivery to be caught by Matthew Hayden at slips for 47! But in all seriousness, this was a nothing shot to a nothing delivery; a soft dismissal. India had reached 145-5, 181 runs ahead with about 43 overs for Australia to get it if India was all out in the over that was being bowled. It was already becoming a hard ask.

It may not be a bad ploy, I’d have thought for Ganguly and Dhoni to indulge in a flurry of strokes in a bid to set Australia target of about 210 off 37 or so overs.

Michael Clarke replaced Cameron White. This was a reasonable move. Ganguly had a recent history of outs to left armers. Having said that, these were more to left arm Chinamen bowlers (Brad Hogg and Simon Katich). So again, Katich’s absence from bowling duties was a bit strange — unless of course, he was injured.

The match was drifting towards a draw. It would be good if India — 207 runs ahead with 37 overs to make it in — would declare. If nothing, to regain psychological ascendancy. Australia would need to make these runs at 5.6 rpo. Almost impossible, I’d have thought. It would be good, nevertheless, for India to throw the gauntlet at the Australians and have a crack at the visitors!

India went to Tea on 193-5 from 69 overs. At this stage India led by 229 runs. If India declared at Tea, Australia would need to score 230 runs from 31 overs (at 7.4 rpo).

I give this session to India and this makes the SBS Score India 6.5, Australia 7.5.

Session-3:

The only interest from here on in was how and when the captains would call the game off. Was there enough time for Laxman to get a century? Sidelights like this dominated thoughts at the Tea Break. This match, which had promised so much, was tailing off into a draw.

After Tea, Australia started with Brett Lee and Michael Clarke; still no sign of Simon Katich!

About 20 minutes after the Tea break, news filtered through that Anil Kumble had decided to retire from Test cricket after the current Test match.

After 18 years of terrific contributions (I hate the word ‘service’) to Indian cricket, this great cricketer, and wonderful competitor had decided to retire… He was a thorough gentleman of the game when several of the competitors that he played against were anything but! He retired from the game with not a blot or a blemish against his name. He played cricket within the rules and always gave 120% to everything that he did in the game. World cricket was losing a warrior and a gentleman.

It would make more sense, therefore, for India to declare and for Anil Kumble to retire “on the field”, perhaps with an additional, last wicket too!

And on 208-5 with a lead of 244 and with 23 overs left in the days’ play, India declared. This was a sentimental move; one that took Australia by surprise too.

It will be interesting to see how Australia take this. Australia would have to score at 10.5 rpo. Would Australia go hell for leather and make a game of it?

Anil Kumble even took the new ball for India! This was now a Twenty20 game! What an exciting end to a game that looked like it was petering towards a draw! But instead of sending out Shane Watson and Matthew Hayden, for example, to open the Australian innings, Australia went down the normal Test match route and opened with Matthew Hayden and Simon Katich!

At the other end, India opened with Virender Sehwag! Off the very first ball, he got sharp turn! Katich got off strike with a false stroke.

After just 2 overs, Amit Mishra — Kumble’s heir apparent — replaced Virender Sehwag. However, there wasn’t much happening though.

Anil Kumble bowled his last over for India — the 16th of the innings — and brought to an end a glorious chapter in Indian cricket. The next over was bowled by Amit Mishra and at the end of that, the curtains came down on a Test match and a career.

To complete the SBS scoring, I give this session to India for having ensured that the game ended in a draw without much by way of panic. This makes the SBS Score India 7.5, Australia 7.5.

Not surprisingly, the match ended in a draw!

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: Test 3 :: Delhi :: Day-4

In all interviews I heard since the end of day-3, talk has been about Australia trying hard to save the game. Even Matthew Hayden, in his post-match interview, talked only about Australia saving the game. He said (and I am paraphrasing), “We know we can’t win, so we have our backs to the wall.”

I find this strange. Thanks to a superb batting display on day-3, Australia are in a position where they can win the game too! I know that this is a slim possibility, but it is probable!

Australia is only 275 behind.

If Australia bat all day today and make 350 runs (say), they will be 75 runs ahead at the end of days’ play. Another 75 runs tomorrow might mean that India will have to play last on this pitch!

Another scenario is that if Australia are all out after scoring say 50 more runs, Dhoni will need to make a choice as to whether or not to enforce the follow on (with tired bowlers in his ranks) or play on for a while and unleash a fresh set of bowlers on the Australians batting last. He may not want to give the bat-last advantage to the Australians by enforcing the follow on.

Moreover, if Australia avoid the follow-on, India will have to set a target. The target will depend on the extent of the lead and also on India’s aggressive intent. This won’t be easy.

So, I am a bit puzzled by the negative Australian attitude. They must think more than just “saving the game”, I feel. The game is still a bit open — although favouring the Indians slightly — in my view.

The absence of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble has hurt the Indians a lot in this Test match. But them’s the breaks.

The first session will be vital for both teams. Australia cannot afford to lose early wickets. Indian heads will droop if Australia bats out the first session without losing a wicket. Australias’ approach will be to bat out and see out the 1st session.

After 8 days of pressure-less cricket, the pressure is on the Indians for the first time since the Bengaluru Test. India will be looking to wrap the series in Delhi. The Indians will not want to go into the Nagpur Test just 1-0 up in the series. If India go into Nagpur either 1-0 (or worse, 1-1), the momentum could shift completely to Australia. As I maintained, in a back-to-back situation, the draw at Bangalore worked in India’s favour. So will a draw here in Delhi. The momentum will have shifted in Australia’s favour.

So the Indians will be desperate to win here at Delhi to maximise its chances of regaining the Border-Gavaskar-Trophy.

Session-1:

After a happy-birthday-tune to celebrate V. V. S. Laxman’s birthday, proceedings got underway with the talented Zaheer Khan bowling to an aggressive and recently-fined Shane Watson.

Off the 4th over of the morning, Michael Clarke was dropped at mid off by a leaping Ishant Sharma off the bowling of Amit Mishra. These catches ought to be taken. India could well pay dearly for this lapse. Mishra had the measure of Michael Clarke in yesterdays’ session and had started in pretty much the same vein this morning. However, for success, bowlers need to depend on fielders unless of course you are Virender Sehwag (two clean bowled and 1 LBW)!

The morning was going Australia’s way. The partnership between Clarke and Watson was developing well. Watson was starting to play his shots and look more confident with each ball. Mishra continued to bowl a hit-me ball every over. The dropped catch seemed to have dropped shoulders just that little bit on the field. After 8 overs, Australia had scored 31 runs with not much fuss — apart from that dropped catch — and the deficit was only 244 runs!

Ishant Sharma, the culprit of the catch let-off, came on to bowl. But with him and Mishra bowling a hit-me ball every over, Australia started to slowly but irrevocably draw closer to their first target for the day — avoiding the follow-on. Something needed to happen for India.. and soon. Watson, in particular, was batting quite well, despite the odd edgy stroke past the thinly populated slips area.

I thought Dhoni missed a trick here in not starting with Virender Sehwag, the best of the three spinners on view yesterday. Mishra was more inexperienced than Sehwag, who would have kept it tight as well.

Sehwag ultimately came in for Mishra in the 11th over of the morning. He started off with a maiden over! For India, the way to do this would have been for Ishant Sharma to swallow his ego and bowl a line outside slightly wide of the off-stump and attack with Sehwag and Mishra from the other end. However, Ishant Sharma continued to bowl and attacking line and leaked runs.

After another Sehwag maiden over, drinks was called. At drinks break, Australia had scored 57 runs from 14 overs. This was just what the doctor had ordered for Australia. Australia had reached 395-4.

Interestingly, Anil Kumble came in for a bowl after the drinks’ break! Here was a warrior striding in for his team after 11 stitches to the little finger of his left hand, with 2 of his fingers taped together, a few cortisone injections and perhaps even a plastic plate inserted to protect the left hand.

I was surprised that Kumble was allowed to bowl. Isn’t there a requirement that he had to spend as much time on the field as he did off it before he could bowl?

With Kumble and Sehwag on, the bowling was tighter and runs were harder to come by. I thought that Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra bowled quite badly this morning. For the first time in the series, the Indian bowling looked insipid and lazy — somewhat like the Australian bowling has looked this series (with due apologies to fans of the Australian team who visit this blog)!

And the tightness of the bowling caused Sehwag to bowl Shane Watson. Sehwag seems to have made up his mind to not depend on the fielders in this match! He has 3 clean bowleds and 1 LBW thus far in this game. This ball pitched well outside off stump, spun sharply and clipped the top of Watson’s leg stump. I have little doubt that the tightness of the Kumble-Sehwag bowling was what caused this wicket to fall.

We had a new man, Brad Haddin, at the crease and suddenly things were happening. There was more in the pitch, it seemed. Sehwag (at 66-4) had his best figures in a Test match. Since his introduction, Sehwag had bowled 3 maidens and had taken a wicket! Watson had departed for a well-made 36 in a partnership of 73 runs off 20.1 overs with Michael Clarke.

In the next over from Kumble, Clarke danced down the wicket to hit it over the top. The boundary gave Clarke his half-century and also brought up Australia’s 400.

In Kumble’s next over, he hit Haddin bang in front of the stumps. Hadding was a foot down the pitch, but wasn’t playing a shot at the ball, which struck him in front of middle stump! Umpires are loathe to give these balls out even though the batsman does not offer a stroke to it. I find this a strange policy.

Soon after, the follow-on target was avoided. The first target had been achieved for Australia. It was a mammoth effort from a team that had had 8 days of Test cricket under the pump and behind the 8-ball. Although they were helped by an easy pitch and by the absence of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble yesterday, this was a great backs-to-the-wall effort. The fact that all top five batsmen made a half century (with none of them, yet, going on to make a century) was an indicator of the superlative team-effort that Australia had put in.

I felt that although Kumble was bowling tight and although it was fabulous stuff from a committed Indian warrior, he missed a trick by not bowling from around the wicket and into the ‘rough’.

Sehwag was bowling brilliantly. He was showing us a complete repertoire. The top spinner, the slow spinner, flight, the one that goes straight and the faster one. It just showed how badly under-used this talented cricketer is in India.

And then, after some 85 overs since his last wicket in Test cricket, Anil Kumble bowled a slow-through-the-air googly to get Brad Haddin stumped brilliantly by Dhoni. The indefatigable warrior had struck for India. Australia was 426-6.

Haddin was gone for 17 off 35 balls with 1 four and a six.

In the very next over, Gambhir almost created a a half-chance at forward short-leg as Michael Clarke poked at a Sehwag delivery. It was a hard one to convert to a catch. The fact that Gambhir almost made it into a catch should augur well for India’s close-fielding stables.

At lunch, Australia had reached 436-6. India had bowled 31 overs and Australia had made 98 runs, losing 2 wickets. Australia had made the runs at 3.16 rpo.

In the pre-lunch session, India had bowled 31 overs. This is how teams should approach their cricket. Not in the recalcitrant, unprofessional, lazy and sloppy manner in which Australia treats the viewing spectator. And while Australia thumbs its lazy nose at the ICC establishment, the ICC goes around finding the next Asian to ping for a wrong-doing when the wrongdoers are right under its nose. What I struggle most with is the manner in which Match Referees allow and encourage such recalcitrance from Australia, the world champion team when it comes to over rates.

Australia will be happy to wipe off the deficit and reach the follow-on target. India will rue the missed catch and also the bad bowling from Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Mishra that they started off with.

Given that Australia lost two important wickets, I call this an even session too. The SBS Score reads: India 5.5, Australia 4.5!

Session-2:

Surprisingly, India started with Zaheer Khan bowling after lunch. Given that Kumble and Sehwag did all the pre-lunch damage, this decision was somewhat surprising, unless Kumble wanted to change the end from which he was bowling.

Sehwag bowled from the end that Kumble was bowling pre-lunch. So it may be that Kumble was using Zaheer Khan to help him swap ends with Sehwag — not a bad ploy.

Australia will be looking to do a Zaheer-Harbhajan-Bengaluru in this session being about 170 behind India. The closer they could get to India’s total, the better it would be for them.

A few overs after lunch, Virender Sehwag became India’s one of the most employed bowler in this innings! At this stage, Sehwag had already bowled 35 overs, which was the same number of overs that Mishra had bowled! Given Kumble’s injury and Harbhajan Singh’s absence, this was a tremendous bonus for Anil Kumble and further underlined Sehwag’s value in this team.

Zaheer Khan continued to bowl. The tactic was somewhat unclear to me although Zaheer Khan was getting the ball to tail in to the right hander.

The folly of the Zaheer Khan strategy had become more obvious as the runs started to come quite freely. One of the advantages of Kumble bowling in tandem with Sehwag was that both ends offered little by way of release of pressure. There was hardly any venom in Zaheer Khan’s bowling for the batsmen to try anything silly off Sehwag’s bowling. India was missing a trick by not bowling either Mishra or Kumble here, I felt.

After three overs of the Zaheer Khan spell, Kumble brought himself on to bowl. Australia had moved to 465-6, only 148 runs behind. The complexion of the game was slowly starting to change. At the other end, Sehwag was changed for Amit Mishra.

Australia had developed a string of partnerships — with not a single player (yet) going on to make a century — and another one was developing between Cameron White and Michael Clarke. Their partnership had reached 50 runs and the danger signal for India was that they had done it really easily!

Mishra has upped his pace and was bowling with less flight and faster through the air to try and get some purchase from the pitch. Kumble was trying, in the meanwhile, to bowl a few tight overs.

[I could not write more last night. This piece is written more for completeness and has been written a day later.]

India continued to play ordinary cricket and let off Michael Clarke a few more times before they were able to wrap up the innings.

I was disappointed by Australia’s approach. Australia batted on till it got to 39 runs behind India’s tour.With just 13 overs left in the days’ play, there was no way India was going to make the running on a pitch that was offering nothing much to the bowlers even on day-4. I thought Australia should have declared at least 100 behind. This would have forced India to make the running in this match. Remember, India does not need to win this match, although India would like to. Australia has to win this match although, by drawing this match, it keeps its hopes alive in the series. So the attacking ploy for Australia would have been to declare about 100 runs behind India’s total. Unfortunately, that was not to be. What we saw was the initiation of a defensive ploy from Australia and a continuation of this ploy by India.

I gave the 2nd session as well as the 3rd session of day-4 to Australia and so, the SBS Score reads: India 5.5, Australia 6.5!

— Mohan

EXCLUSIVE :: Excerpt from Tendulkar’s soon-to-be-written biography…

Here is an exclusive scoop for i3j3Cricket!

This is an excerpt from Sachin Tendulkar’s not-yet-written, but hopefully soon-to-be-written biography. This is so exclusive that we scratched this straight from Tendulkar’s mind!


Chapter-23: Gilchrist: A funny bloke, good player, big ears!

I played quite a few games against Adam Gilchrist. Funny bloke. I laughed every time I saw him. Not when he spoke though. He wasn’t funny when he spoke. He did not have much humour. How can you if you live life with those flaps? He wasn’t funny when he batted either because the helmet would cover the flaps. Moreover, he would always bat Australia out of trouble. Good batsman. Strong hitter. So it wasn’t funny when he batted.

But whenever I saw him, I cracked up!

Gilchrist was always a great bloke. He walked funny. But he always walked when he was out. Never waited for the umpire’s decision. I once told him, “You are mad, man. If you receive decisions like I did from Bucknor in Brisbane in 2003, why would you walk? It all evens out in the end. There are Type-A errors and Type-B errors. Type-A is when you are not out but given out. Type-B is when you are out but given not out. In the end, you hope it all evens out. Why continue life with only Type-A errors? My hypothesis is that it all evens out in the end.”

Gilchrist replied, “What does hypothesis mean?”

I changed the topic.

But whenever I saw him, I always cracked up! Big ears. You know what they say, “Big ears, big nose, big do-da”.

So I asked him about it one day after a match. We had lost! Again! Gilchrist came around to the dressing room. He wanted to shake hands.

Shaking hands:

I don’t know why these Aussies always had an obsession with shaking hands. When I was in the field, I would constantly see Ricky Ponting spit into his hands. And then after the match, he would always want to shake my hands. I found it offensive. But what could I do. When we were brought up our parents always said, “Treat others with respect and do what pleases them most.” Shaking hands after spitting in it was a done thing in Australia. It rankled me. But I remembered what my parents said and just stuck my hand out. I’d then rush to the wash room to cleanse all the germs away! I did not wish to be culturally insensitive you see!

But this day I wanted to ask Gilchrist after a game that we had lost — again! — about the correlation between his flaps, nose and his do-da. He came into the dressing room.

Now my habit after a game, whether we won or lost is to first have a private conversation with my father. Then I would call my mother. In India, more than “cursing each other on the field and then making friends when one is drunk after the game”, we have a different culture. We first call our parents and tell them how the game went. They would have seen it too on TV and they would also be depressed that we had lost. Again! But we would still try and let them know how it went. After that call, we would then call the wife and our children and talk to them. Often I would have to also talk to Harbhajan Singh’s mother. She would be crying that we had lost. Again! Harbhajan Singh would be incapable of consoling her. So I would have to do that for my good friend. We would then have to call our uncles and aunts. And then we all sit down and offer prayers to God for helping us not lose so badly as we could have! We would then sit down cross legged and meditate. Finally, we would perform a dance-in-a-trance routine, which normally enabled us to forget the loss! That is our culture.

These rituals would take about an hour or so!

But then every time we visited Australia, there was a queue of hands to shake. Each hand would use that handshake ritual to cleanse the acquired on-field guilt — the mouth that owned the hand would have cursed the oppositions’ mother or sister or father on the field, you see. And this ritual was a quick guilt-cleanse; a ritual akin to a confession. At least, that is how I understood the handshake ritual. It was ok with me. After all, when visiting a new place, I was instructed by my parents to understand that cultures’ sensitivities and peculiarities.

And after the guilt-cleanse handshake these hands would also want to guilt-cleanse further by sitting down to cleanse the throat too with oodles of beer sliding down said throat! This would distract us from our normal cultural habits: phone calls, prayers, meditation and dance-in-a-trance. But then we used to say to each other, “Let’s just shake their hands, have a quick beer with these guys, assist them with their guilt-cleanse process and get these guys quickly out of the dressing room. We can then follow our rituals in peace.” Again, we had been taught to respect our hosts/guests and not offend their cultural sensitivities.

So in this match too, Gilchrist came around and stuck his hand out. I thought I grabbed his hand, but to my chagrin, I had his ears in my hand!

This then prompted me to ask him, “So is there a correlation between the size of your ears, your nose and your do-da?”.

Gilchrist asked, “What does correlation mean?”

I changed the topic!

I decided in the next series that I would not bother with the handshake-beer routine. I decided to bury myself in a hidden room within the dressing room to do my normal post-match phone calls, prayers, meditation and dance-in-a-trance routine.

On the 24th of October 2008, I read that Adam Gilchrist said in his autobiography, “In the Australian mentality, we play it hard and are then quick to shake hands and leave it all on the field. Some of our opponents don’t do it that way. Sachin Tendulkar, for instance, can be hard to find for a changing room handshake after we have beaten India. Harbhajan can also be hard to find.”

I am not surprised! If the Australians had waited an hour before the handshake-and-beer routine, they would have found more than myself and Harbhajan Singh! They would have found both of us, the entire team and about 3000 Indian expatriates who would suddenly lay claim to being our long-lost cousins or uncles or aunts. These 3000 expatriate Indians would often be waiting in a queue to take us to their plush homes to feed us the chicken curry that they had cooked the previous day! The Australians could then have shaken my hand, Harbhajan Singh’s hand and about 3000 other hands!

What better way to guilt-cleanse than shake a whole lot of hands! Right? Of course, our collective beer-bill would have gone up. But if they complained about the cost-increase, we would have got the IPL to pick up the tab!

Anyway, after the first two tours of Australia I said to myself, I can’t stand this handshake-beer routine with people who do not understand the “phone calls, prayers, meditation and dance-in-a-trance routine!”

I know I had incurred the wrath of my mother for not respecting the guest/host. However, I had done the handshake-routine for a long time with people who did not understand what the word “correlation” meant! It was getting a bit tiring. Moreover, the dressing room had younger people like Robin Uthappa, Sree Santh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and others that started to say, “Let us follow our own cultural norms. Is it not up to them to follow our cultural norms too? Why should we be the only ones bending over backwards?”

I resisted this new-India initially. I tried telling these new guys, “Look they are like this only (head-shake). They have been like this only (double head-shake). They will always be like this only (triple head-shake). And we are like this only (head nearly fell off!).” However, this new-India force in the dressing room won. This was a new, vibrant and expressive India. One that I had to concede ground to. This new-India, unlike us oldies in the team, didn’t really care too much about people that did not care about her. This new-India was respectful only of cultures that respected her. It thumbed its collective nose at anyone else that didn’t make even a small effort to understand her.

So, I reluctantly agreed to do the “phone calls, prayers, meditation and dance-in-a-trance routine” and not worry about Gilchrist’s views and despondency at not having an Indian hand glued to the end of his own hand!

Thankfully, as a result of this team policy-change, I did not need to shake Ricky Ponting’s spit-filled hand!

Unfortunately, the Australians never really appreciated our cultural needs and differences. For many years, we had tried to (as the young ones in the new India team had said) “bend over backwards” but the only thing I got from all of that was a broken spine and not much respect from the Australians anyway!

Perhaps these young ones were right after all?

The post match beer routine:

I recall a funny story about the post match beer routine that Australians always like to indulge in.

This concerned the Andrew Symonds episode which has been termed “Monkeygate” by the press.

On that 2007-2008 tour, Harbhajan Singh wanted to get much closer to the Australians! Previously, all of our pre-tour cultural-briefings came from our parents. And they always used to say things like: Respect your elders, Stand up when elders talk to you, Touch the feet of elders even in Australia to offer your salutations and seek their blessings, Do not spit in your hands and then shake someone else’s hand, If you have a big flap hide it, and so on.

But then, in 2005 (I think) the BCCI started to get quite professional about it all. They started arranging pre-tour cultural-briefings. Just prior to boarding the plane for Australia in December 2007, we had our pre-tour briefing. This was the first time we were receiving a pre-tour cultural-briefing prior to a tour of Australia. So although I wanted to rush to my first class plane seat to start seeing the in-flight entertainment program, I was all agog! We were asked to try and be-friend the Australian players. We were also told that there were three sure-fire ways to achieve this objective:
(a) tap someone’s bottom — a sure sign of mateship,
(b) say something nasty about someone’s mother or sister — only mates have sledge-rights on mothers and sisters,
(c) wait for the post-day drink-frenzy to make friends over glasses of beer when one loses ones mind and hence, all sense of rational thinking. But whatever you take with you, for optimal results, the post-match drink-frenzy has to be an intellect-free-zone, which, by the way will not be hard for the Australians.

I thought this was pretty cool. I have always wanted to be close to Adam Gilchrist to ask about the correlation between the size of his flaps, nose and do-da!

Such sharing of beer and war-stories, we were told, are to be compulsorily had after the “what’s said on the field is left on the field” type “hard but fair” Australian way of playing!

Harbhajan Singh took that advice really seriously and set about sledging Brett Lee about his sister on the very first day!

Lee turned back and said, “Mate I do not have a sister, try someone else”! Bummer!

Harbhajan Singh then decided to dump that tack and went on several drink-frenzy trips at the end of the days’ play in Melbourne. He remembered from the briefings that he had to drink lots of beer, exchange war-stories and leave his mind behind in the hotel room too! He had an advantage in the sense that he did not need to try very hard to leave his mind behind. By the time the second Test of that series was on us in Sydney, Harbhajan Singh was already a bit tired of all the beer that had been consumed in the tour up until then.

Every word that was said up until then on the field had been drowned with these glasses of beer that just had to be consumed as war-stories were exchanged. Moreover, the drunken haze left him with not much money, a lot of friends — that he actually did not want — and not much memory of what was actually said the previous night!

It was working well, in one sense, but for someone with not that much money and for someone not used to consuming as much beer and for someone with not much mind-space to retain all the unnecessary stuff that he had heard up until then, it was all getting a bit too much!

After the Melbourne match, which we lost — again! — I saw Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist rush to me. One of them had his hands-outstretched while the other had a large bodily object ahead of him! May have been his ears, but I couldn’t tell. I rushed into the dressing room and commenced my post-match, post-loss — again! — “phone calls, prayers, meditation and dance-in-a-trance routine!”

In Sydney, Harbhajan Singh told me that he wanted to try another tack at making friends with the Australians! He was batting well at this stage with me and, together, we had pulled India out of trouble after Bucknor had insisted on “putting us in our place”.

Emboldened by the amount of beer he had consumed the previous day, Harbhajan Singh was willing to risk option (a) of patting someone’s backside.

After surveying the field, his eyes focussed on Brett Lee’s well-appointed hind as a quick route to making friends with Lee — as his pre-tour cultural briefings indicated!

Rather than wait for the post-match drink-frenzy, he proceeded to tap Brett Lee on the bowlers’ well-appointed bottom. He may have chosen the right bottom to pat — especially since he actually got a positive response from Bertt Lee!. However, what Harbhajan Singh did not realise was that Andrew Symonds also had his eyes on that piece of choice real estate!

When Andrew Symonds saw the bum-tap, he saw red! He proceeded to claim exclusive, perpetual and royalty-free rights for performing said task on Brett Lee’s bottom!

He threw a sledge in Harbhajan Singh’s direction. And it sure was a nasty sledge that involved bottoms, tops and other body-parts of mothers, fathers, sisters and cousins. Now, I am not normally shocked by anything I hear on the ground when playing against Australia. But this one was quite a mouthful. It was also clever because Andrew Symonds — at best, you could describe him as a “somewhat simple fellow” — had managed to bring in a whole constellation of relatives into the one sentence and interspersed the whole construction with some choice four-letter words that involved body parts and body functions of these said relatives. As I said, I was impressed that Symonds was able to muster all his intellect to compile and throw that sledge in the direction of Harbhajan Singh. I was in the process of concluding my analysis with a, “Surely, this very simple man cannot have come up with such a clever construction unless he hated the recipient of the choice words utterly vehemently”, when I observed that Harbhajan Singh had grown red under the collar. Perhaps he was upset that Symonds had managed to even drag into the sentence construction, a third-cousin that Harbhajan Singh once had a mild dalliance with?

But Harbhajan Singh was upset. I know when Harbhajan Singh gets upset. He picks up his bat like a mace and wanders up and down the pitch purposefully.

He was quite miffed at being reprimanded for his quite legitimate bum-tap. He was quite annoyed at having to now wait for the post-day what’s-said-on-the-field-is-left-on-the-field drink-frenzy to make friends with this hard-but-fair bunch of muscular Australians. He may have also been upset that this third cousin and her various body parts had been the subject of ridicule by Andrew Symonds. I don’t know. It is often hard to read Harbhajan Singh’s mind even when he speaks. But given that there is not much in his mind, I know that he only operates in two gears: “cool” and “hot”! Right then, he was “hot” mode!

He proceeded to hurl the words “abey tere maan ki …” towards Andrew Symonds.

His pre-tour cultural briefings may have told him that if a bottom-pat didn’t work, an abuse would — especially if it involved sisters and mothers — only mates have sledge-rights on sisters and mothers! After all, play “hard but fair” is the national way of playing in Australia with this supremely muscular bunch of whats-said-on-the-field-is-left-on-the-field Australians who would forget everything in a drunken haze at the end of days’ play!

So, it is likely that Harbhajan Singh may have wanted to start proceedings early in an anxious bid to not wait for the post-day “what’s said on the field is left on the field” drunken stupor!

Unfortunately, Andrew Symonds heard “maan ki” as “monkey” and, the rest, as we say is history. We had “Monkeygate”.

It was Harbhajan Singh’s fault. He should have chosen Brad Hogg’s bum to pat. I doubt anyone in the Australian team would have been as protective of Hogg’s backside real estate as they would be of Brett Lee’s. And we would not have had “Monkeygate” either!

Leave it on the field:

Now this is one area where I have a real problem with the Australians. They are wonderful players. But this is an area where they have got it wrong.

They say that they are happy to “leave it on the field”. In fact, just the other day, I was reading Adam Gilchrists’ biography.

My copy of that book has a lot of dog-ears in it! I took a long time to read it. Also two of the pages are torn in it and stick out of the book like ears! Funny that!

Adam Gilchrist, in his book, says “In the Australian mentality, we play it hard and are then quick to shake hands and leave it all on the field. Some of our opponents don’t do it that way. Sachin Tendulkar, for instance, can be hard to find for a changing room handshake after we have beaten India. Harbhajan can also be hard to find.”

I have already talked about the handshake-and-beer routine.

Yes, there are cultural misunderstandings.

They misunderstand us! Simple.

But take this thing about “shake hands and leave it all on the field.”

I think this is rubbish.

I normally do not call anything black and white. But in this instance, I do.

For example, the other day an interviewer asked me “Is Shah Rukh Khan a better actor or is Amir Khan a better actor?”

I said “They are both good. One is Shah Rukh Khan. The other is Amir Khan.”.

The interviewers’ jaw dropped. She looked at me incredulously. And then persisted with her line of questioning and said, “Phew! What an answer! I hadn’t realised that Shah Rukh Khan was Shah Rukh Khan and Amir Khan was Amir Khan till you pointed it out! But on a boring afternoon, after a Test match finished really early after you lost — Again! — whose movie would you watch? A Shah Rukh Khan movie or an Amir Khan movie?”

I said, “I’d see them both on a split screen TV!”

Profound stuff, I thought! I stuck to my normal bet-each-way response. As I said, I normally do not like to call things as black and white. The whole world is grey to me!

But I do think that this “Leave it on the field” stuff that the Australians say is rubbish.

If it has all been left on the field, why did Andrew Symonds sulk for such a long time? Why was he kicked out of the Australian team for his fishing expedition. Surely, if he had “left it on the field” he would have just moved on. Words were spoken. We did not all agree. But surely if we had all “left it on the field”, we will not be sulking and bringing it up in every conversation! Why did Adam Gilchrist continue to rake old muck despite the time lapse and despite his retirement? It appears that he had not “left it on the field” as he has advised other teams and other players to do! Funny man. Funny walk. Funny ears!

My conclusion, therefore, is that I do not believe the Australians leave it on the field. Certainly they leave their stuff on the field. They certainly would like other teams to leave Australian stuff on the field. But they carry what other teams have said with them, as baggage, for a long long time, despite the handshakes of spit-soiled hands and despite the fact that we continually gave up our precious “phone calls, prayers, meditation and dance-in-a-trance” routine in order to do their handshake-and-beer routine with them.

Shall I tell you how we Indians really leave it on the field?

We invite two Australians to captain our IPL teams. We invite a whole bunch of Australians to play in the IPL. What’s more? We make the person at the centre of Monkeygate the second highest paid cricketer in the IPL. That is how you really leave it on the field. We do not beat our chest and promote this “leave it on the field” nonsense as a cultural stereotype. We do not need to. We demonstrate it through actions. Did the Australians play in the IPL and grab all that cash that was on offer? Yes they did. Quite shamelessly, I may add.

So, I think the best way to “leave it on the field” is not through empty words, cliches or words spoken through beer-filled mugs in smoke-filled rooms.

You “leave it on the field” through real actions.

Now, apart from Michael Clarke, all of the Australians came to the first grand season of the IPL. They earned lots of money. Went back. I do not begrudge them earning lots of money. Most of them deserved it. I made lots of money too. However, the Australians went back and started criticising the hand that fed. That is a slap in the face of your host. We do not do that in our Indian culture, but understand the Australian compulsion to do so. That is the way we are.

Adam Gilchrist is right. There are cultural misunderstandings. The Australians just do not understand us!

[To be continued…]

🙂

Ps: Watch this YouTube video and look out for Sachin Tendulkar [Courtesy: Prem Panicker’s Blog]

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

Fab Four Retirement — Can we please not debate this again?

[This article was submitted by Pranav Ram Gandhi, a regular reader of i3j3Cricket]

Here we go again, get ready cricket fans, its time (once again and again and again) to discuss the retirement of one of the Fab Four. This time it’s the Prince’s turn: Sourav Ganguly.

The question at hand: Since Sourav Ganguly was not selected for the Irani trophy, should he retire? Has the board struck a two-test deal for him to go out gracefully?

This time around the debate is about Sourav Ganguly. In a few months it will be about Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman and then it may be about Sachin Tendulkar. So in the interest of saving a discussion for the future, let me just pen down (hopefully for the final time) the story on the retirement of any of India’s Fab Four. Will they? Wont they? Should they? Shouldn’t they?

Vijay Merchants’ famous “Retire when people ask ‘why’ and not ‘why not’” statement when asked on why he was retiring set a trend in sport on how a certain sportsperson chooses on when to retire. For those of us who were too young to know what the esteemed batsman was referring to, on his sudden retirement announcement he was asked why? He responded that he would rather retire when people were asking him “why and not why not”

A noble thought, no doubt but is this the Golden Rule that all sportsmen must follow? Can this be the measuring stick of making ones’ decision? Let’s take a look and see how many of the greats truly stick by the same philosophy? The list is pretty well balanced.

The Merchant Conformists:

Bjorn Borg retired at a stage when most people believe he had a few grand slams left in him. He walked away from the game and never looked back. A few years later he tried to make a comeback with a wooden racket in a time of graphite power. Needless to say, the comeback was a disaster. But his original retirement still stands as his official one. Most at the time did ask why.

Shane Warne and Glen Mcgrath retired at a time when most people believed that they could have easily continued to be the leading bowling combination in the world. A big deal was not made of their retirement simply because they had played so much cricket. However, no one doubted their ability to still play at the highest level. Both performed superbly in the IPL, which was played well after they retired. There were a few that asked why, you can still perform we all said.

Justine Henin shocked the world when she retired as the number one women’s player in the world.
Others on this list include Michael Schumacher and Barry Sanders (American Football Player).

The Merchant Non conformists:

Kapil Dev stretched on his career just to break Richard Hadlee’s record of the total number of Test wickets. At a private party, a senior Indian cricket official (who shall go unnamed) said, “It is so embarrassing, Kapil is bowling so slow that the ball is not even reaching the wicket keeper. But what can we do? He just wont go.”

Michael Jordan retired, then came back, then retired again, then came back again and then retired again. The first and second retirements were in line with the Merchant philosophy, the third one, not so…

Muhammad Ali even came back one too many times. His last comeback at 37 led to an embarrassing defeat to Larry Holmes.

We now have the possibility of Lance Armstrong making his 3rd comeback. His second comeback from retirement was a stunning success. What will the 3rd coming hold in store for all of us?

Right time:

So what is the correct time to retire? When the press, media and most importantly the public push a sportsman to retire they have one of two reasons. Reason 1- You should retire now before you ruin your legacy. Reason 2- You are hampering the team’s success (in case of team sports), so please retire and get out of the way of the younger players.

Let us examine these reasons:

Legacy: The word legacy is so sacrosanct in sport that no one wants to tamper with it. If you have been great enough to have a legacy, why run the risk of ruining it right? I have a question for the legacy protectors: When Michael Jordan came back a third time and played with the Washington Wizards did he ruin his legacy? Is he no longer considered the greatest player ever to play the game of basketball and one of the greatest sporting icons ever? Is Kapil Dev not considered to be one of India’s greatest cricketers? What do we remember about Jordan? Is it his last shot in a Bulls Uniform in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA finals or his tumultuous two years in Washington? Is our image of Kapil Dev that of a struggling bowler who had a tough time in his last few tests? Or of him lifting the 1983 World Cup at Lords’?

Are the non-conformists at the risk of ruining their legacy? Not a chance. If you are great enough to have a legacy, no one can ever take that away from you. Muhammad Ali will always be the greatest, Michael Jordan will always be His Airness and Sachin Tendulkar will always be one of the greatest to play the game. That is one thing you can never take away from these men.

Younger players: There is a school of though that elder statesmen stand in the way of younger players and can often hamper the teams’ success. This question poses a dilemma. In the case of Kapil Dev, for example, this was a valid criticism. The team was suffering and no new bowlers were getting an opportunity. Yet there is another side to this as well. Sourav Ganguly was ousted and basically told by almost everyone outside of the West Bengal region that his time was over and that he should just retire. He went on to make one of the great comebacks in Indian cricket.

So who is to judge? Looking at the above examples, how do we know whether it is time for retirement, or it’s a slump in a long great career? The answer is that we don’t. Nobody really does. Not even the sportsperson themselves. For them to accept that they can no longer play at the highest level is more often than not unfathomable. In 2007 Sourav Ganguly was India’s highest scorer in Test cricket, and the world’s second highest scorer in Test cricket. He averaged 46.33 in his last 15 tests, well over his career average of 41.75. Sachin Tendulkar is averaging above 50 in his last 15 Tests while V. V. S. Laxman is averaging 53.40, which is almost 10 runs over his career average of 43.80. So do you really expect these batsmen to hang up their bats and call it a day? Do you really expect them to think that they can’t do it anymore and that they should retire? That is not happening my friends; they will argue that stats prove that they are still performing.

The only thing that might get the thought brewing in their heads is the recent tour of Sri Lanka where all of them struggled and two younger players in Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir performed. However, I think it will take a lot more than one lousy tour to convince them that the end is near.
So what does that say for the Fab Four? Is their legacy in jeopardy? Not a chance. Sourav Ganguly will always be one of India’s greatest captains, a god on the offside, and the man who changed the way India plays cricket on the field. Rahul Dravid will always be The Wall, India’s greatest number three batsmen, and a class act. Laxman will always be the prettiest Indian batsman to watch, his 281 will remain in the folklores of Indian cricket and he will always be the man that the World Champion Australians “did not know where to bowl to”. And there will only ever be one Sachin Tendulkar. Enough said!

In conclusion, are they hampering the team? Should they be dropped? Should they call it a day? You will have ten people arguing for and ten others arguing against each one of these dilemmas. At the end of the day, they are going to retire when they want to. So leave them alone. Let us stop wasting paper, airtime on television, your time and most importantly my time in this wasteful and directionless discussion.

— Pranav Ram Gandhi

Preview: Sri Lanka vs. India, Third Test

The following article was contributed by CWO.

Sri Lanka (1-1-0) vs. India (1-1-0)
Friday, August 8 2008 – Tuesday, August 12 2008
10:15 local, 04:45 GMT
P Saravanamuttu Stadium, Colombo

It all comes down to this, mono e mono. As much we may analyze the last two Test Matches, Sri Lanka is not the clear-cut favourite to win this 3rd Test. Sri Lanka has a great track record on their home grounds; however, they just lost a Test which at one point looked like the continuation of the first Test at SCC. Sri Lanka needs to get its act together and play to win this series.

Sri Lanka has many things in its favour. To list a few obvious ones:

  • They have the home field advantage.
  • India is without a coach for the rest of the series.
  • Indian middle order has not proven to be any more than a minor inconvenience for the Lankan bowlers.

But this does not mean Sri Lanka has what it takes to win the Test and series.

This game could be Sri Lanka’s for the taking, with the exception of one major factor: the confidence that India now seems to have, and Sri Lanka’s lack there of. The Indian team is hungry for a win. They have just come off a great come-from-behind victory in which one player has seemingly found an answer for the Ajanta Mendis surprise factor. And for once, the whole Team India seems to be jumping on the bandwagon of Anil Kumble cricket (I will post this in more detail another time). India is playing without a coach, which gives Kumble more incentive to step up and play with a lot of fire. Ishant Sharma seems to be getting a grasp of the Sri Lankan pitches, and he did very well extracting bounce from a four day old pitch — and there is no reason why he wouldn’t continue his phenomenal form. The Indian batsmen will have practice and they will concentrate at playing spin from Mendis and reacting to his different variations — especially given that one Team India player has seemingly conquered the surprise.

Sri Lanka will be on their back foot to win this series; the pressure is all on them. They have questions to answer on how to get a good start in the innings. In the last Test, the Sri Lankan openers had partnerships of 4 and 4. This does not bode well for the Sri Lankans. They also have a weak opening bowling attack. The team misses the potency of Lasith Malinga — amply shown by the opening stands (of 167 and 90) between Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir at Galle.

Now for the good news, Ajanta Mendis and Muthiah Muralidharan have taken 34 of the 40 wickets in the first two Tests. This means that as long as the Sri Lankans keep their spin going, they will continue to give themselves their best chance of a win.

India on the other hand has the confidence and quite possibly one of the better bowling attacks to match that of the Sri Lanka’s, giving them a great chance to win this 3rd Test and the series. India will not have to change their second Test game plan too much to win. They will use the track which is suited for spin, and expect the new ball brilliance to continue from their two spearheads, Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan. With a well balanced bowling attack their only question will be around the middle-order stepping up to the plate. Will Sachin Tendulkar finally let go of the pressure of becoming the #1 accumulator of runs in Test cricket? Will Tendulkar play the way he did in Australia? Will Rahul Dravid once again become a “Wall” and frustrate bowlers as he did in the England series last year? Will Sourav Ganguly step out of his cocoon and become the prolific scorer he has been in the past decade? If these questions answer positively for India, then we will witness something special, as India has not won a series in Sri Lanka in 15 years!

At this stage, it is anybody’s series, but India has the upper hand, even if just slightly.

— CWO

“Even my father’s name is Sachin Tendulkar…”

A lengthy interview with Sachin Tendulkar by Anjali Rao from CNN Talk Asia on Rediff.

Tendulkar says that, after 19 years in the business, “there is definitely cricket left in me. And I want to just go out and enjoy my game and not think about other things.”

— Mohan