Tag Archives: Sri Lanka

Assembly of bowlers

There are two teams in world cricket whose bowling unit amuses me nowadays. Not because how they perform, that is a different story and I take different sides. The two sides I am talking about are Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Both Pakistan and Sri Lanka produce bowlers with interesting actions. And they are unique in that. Or, less imitable. There are many of them. Sri Lanka has Ajantha Mendis, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, for sample. Pakistan had Shoaib Akhtar, has Wahab Riaz, Saeed Ajmal, Sohail Tanvir among many others.

Sri Lanka brought out Ajantha Mendis and nobody knew what he was doing. What seemed to be a simple action seemed to reap complex results. Kumar Sangakkara confessed that he could figure out what was coming only when he was standing behind the stumps, and not in front of it. Mendis would waltz through the sides playing against Sri Lanka for a brief period.

Mendis gave birth to the term “carrom ball”. Nobody knew what it was. Nobody knew how to bowl/mimic it for a while. I’ve seen people try to do that and direct the ball at the clueless forward short leg. Not many batsmen had a clue about how to play that ball either. I think it was Mahendra Singh Dhoni who started prodding his front foot miles outside to negate the turn, after reading the ball off the pitch seemed tougher than his team-mates had thought. That bought some time, and they were able to analyse the mystery.

Ajantha Mendis served in the army. He was spotted long before he was introduced in the international stage. He was told to continue what he was doing. He was bestowed with the confidence of the cricket community to perfect his art. He returned their confidence with wonderful rewards.

Dilhara Fernando jogs to the bowling crease like he is on a morning jog. But in the final stride he exerts so much energy that he bowls fast, hitting the 90 mph mark multiple times. He gets injured a lot. He comes back more. The best part about him is his slower ball. Almost un-readable. The “split-finger” slow ball must be tough. I couldn’t split that quickly. And I don’t see other bowlers trying that method, so it must be something that takes a lot of effort and control. It is a pity his health punctured his career a lot.

Unrelated, but interesting: Dilhara Fernando bowled a lot of no-balls. So many, that a bus stop near his home was re-named “The No Ball Stop”.

The most interesting bowling action today in the Sri Lankan outfit must be Lasith Malinga. I will call him the most accurate bowler just for what he does. Not only is he the most prolific member of the I Can Bowl Yorkers Association, the members of whom are fast depleting, but he can york a batsman very frequently. At a quick pace. With that action. When I try to mimic that (and you know that, since you have tried too), I either fall down, or bowl to square leg. If I am having a good day, to fine leg.

And a mandatory mention- his yorkers. He trains himself to become more accurate at bowling yorkers by placing a pair of shoes at the crease in the practice sessions (nets). He then runs in and bowls at the shoes. It is similar to the handkerchief bowling practice conceptually, but has a different purpose. And I am not sure anybody else tries it- because nobody else seems to be interested in bowling a yorker.

Sohail Tanvir’s bowling looked like a man speed-walking to the crease and bowling somewhere between two steps. It was as weird as watching an Olympic walking race. He didn’t (doesn’t?) have a notable jump/stride while nearing the crease. He does not bowl off his wrong foot, though. Some commentators have seen his footwork replayed multiple times and still can’t get over the fact that he doesn’t bowl off his wrong foot.

Saeed Ajmal came in, the charming, smiling bowling assassin. Just when we thought wrist spin in offies was dying (with Muttiah Muralitharan), Saeed Ajmal presented himself. Him and Muralitharan are probably the only two bowlers who I felt had justified bowling to right handers from around the wicket. They were the ones who spun the ball big enough to have the batsmen at their mercy from that angle. Most other bowlers do that because they tried everything else in vain, or are plain bored and want to improve their economy.

I find Wahab Riaz interesting because when he is bowling, he looks like a gardener chasing a rabbit- pouncing, leaping, and not exactly in a fluid motion. And despite that, he was able to give the Pakistani fans some wonderful memories. Especially “Wahabyou been?” days from that wretched tour of England.

I read that Pakistani board held trials for bowlers to try out at a large ground, and promising bowlers would be shortlisted. That is an open dance floor. It was a chance for anyone and everyone to show up. And from what I heard, the ground was flooded, more than what was expected. Believe me, “expectations” are already high, number wise, in a country like Pakistan where a talented fast bowler is born every day in every city. I was excited when I heard that. Young bowlers who had developed themselves, their own technique, their own style can now come and bowl in front of people who can change their lives for the better.

That was an amazing story. And that is against the normal flow of things in that world. A kid who wants to get into a cricket team in most part of the world has to get up at 5 am in the morning and go to practice sessions, follow coach’s advice from placing the landing foot to holding the seam in position. And then the kid returns home to get ready to attend his secondary school.

If the kid is in India, then you can just assume that the kid loses at least 4 hours a day to cricket. “Loses” may be replaced with the word “dedicated” in some cases.  I am not sure the kid knows what is happening. He wants to be a bowler that he dreamt of becoming? Or, is he just becoming a bowler because the coach said so? And thereby, doing what the coach said, and hence becoming the bowler the coach dreamt of becoming? The kids go into an assembly processor and come out as batch products, each resembling the last.

I forgot the source and the coach, but I read this on the internet when a coach of under-age cricket team said that when the kids are young, you mustn’t try to coach them. The kids should enjoy the game first, develop a liking to a skill, to a part of the game and try to do something on their own. Once the kid takes up a vocational path, and is ready to take the next step, he/she will come to you. That is when you teach them where to pitch, how to swing, how to keep your body from falling, etc.

I love West Indian cricket, and they have a wonderful bowling unit. But I am bored of watching Jerome Taylor, Dwayne Bravo, Kemar Roach and Andre Russell bowl with fairly similar actions. Praveen Kumar and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar have similar actions. One Indian bowler who has been unique (just because of his release) whenever he does get to bowl is S. Sreesanth. And that is just lovely to watch.

I don’t know much about the new set of Australian bowlers, but the last time I saw they just seemed the same assembly products with faster pace. That’s all. Don’t get me wrong. Many of them are great bowlers, making batsmen say their prayers before every delivery, and that must have been absorbed some wonderful coaching and tutoring into doing that. Just that I don’t see much variety nowadays.

And I don’t understand why there are 23962374 slow left arm spinners in International cricket all of a sudden. Special annual ICC Sweepstakes for them?

New Zealand’s Chris Martin and (now England’s?) Iain O’Brien had some uniqueness to their action. Mark Gillespie had a leap. Doug Bracewell looks a blast from the past. Maybe there is some charm left there in the Kiwi Isles? I would like to hope so.

My uncle told me once, “All the bowlers look like machines today, every coach wants to correct their action. When Kapil Dev bowled, his action made him look like he had paralysis. No coach would recommend that action to any of the present age bowlers. But, look at what Kapil was able to achieve with his freedom!”

Do let me know whose bowling action you enjoy the most. And, since I have been out of touch a bit, tell me which new kid has a unique action?

-Bagrat

Advertisements

Deserving the Asia Cup

It was a deserving day of cricket. But only Bangladesh deserved to win the finals. Even before players could wake up. Everybody in the world was sure that Bangladesh will win the Asia Cup, because, well, they deserved it, making the whole point of playing the game an utter waste of time. But ah well, some ICC Rule number 137897.124.124.124.623.5.32.5.2 section a. said that it deserves to be played.

So, if Holy Fans of The Holy Game were to have it, the Holy Finals would…errr…should have panned out, deserving-ly, like this –

Toss – The match referee flips the coin, Misbah calls “heads”, and the referee catches the coin, puts it in the pocket and shrugs to Misbah, “Hey, Bangladesh deserves to win the toss, mate.”

So, Bangladesh wins the toss and they opt to bowl. They deserve to.

Hafeez and Jamshed walk out to open, and Athar Ali Khan already has uttered “My Word” 47 times. That’s alright. He deserves to do that.

Mashrafe Mortaza will open the bowling for Bangladesh. Wonderful bowler. Destroys India, does nothing more than that. Has more injuries than wickets. And Bangladeshi crowd goes berserk when he gets dropped for non-performance or even injury. That candidate always deserves a spot in the team.

So, here he comes, bustling like a train, and it’s a wide to start the innings. Wide down the leg side, and Mushfiq had to jump like a toad to pouch that one. But don’t worry, the umpire doesn’t signal a wide. Mashrafe has been through a lot. He deserves a good first ball.

A few overs go by, in which the other fast bowler, whose name I don’t remember now, and as I deserve for that, I get flak for forgetting, gets two wickets. One because the umpire gave an lbw when the ball seemed away and comfortably went  to the keeper’s hands. But, well, that ball deserved an LBW to its credit. And the other wicket was because Hafeez thought the bowler should deserve another wicket for being a fast bowler on the Bangladeshi cricket team. So, he shoulders arms and lets the ball come and hit his stumps. Bangladeshi Polka Dots dressed fans are ecstatic. Hafeez tells them that they deserve to be happy, just like Sacramento Kings’ fans must be.

Also, Mr My Word and Mr Safety are replaced by Mr Running The First One Hard (imagine saying hard in #huan tone) and Mr Just 65 Runs To Go For The Century.

Pakistan are 143/3 after 32 overs. They now decide that the Bangladeshi bowlers deserve to have done better. so, Pakistan’s score is revised to 123/4. Shakib is a wonderful bowler. My word. Also, Mahudullah, Suhrawadi Shuvo, Abdur Razzak and the other 17 spinners in the side. So, they all deserve to see a better score on that big screen.

Pakistan will not get their batting powerplay. Come on… Why should they? They don’t deserve to hit more runs.

And Afridi deserves to be out. So, the bowler bowls the ball, keeper collects it, returns it to the bowler and the bowler dismantles the bails. And appeals. All batsmen are inside their respective creases. But, Bangladesh deserve to get rid of Afridi early. So, Afridi is out. Striker standing inside the batting crease is run out at the non-striker end. Bangladesh deserve to make history.

Shakib al Hasan finishes with figures of 10-1-42-2. Wonderful bowling. He deserves some more overs. So, he gets to bowl 4 more overs. Gets 2 more wickets at the expense of just 8 runs. My Word.

Pakistan end their innings at 254/8, after some rocking and rolling smashing hits from Misbah and Umar Gul. Fans did not expect this, so they weren’t sure if they deserved it or not. So, they were granted the permission to score freely.

Oxford dictionary meanwhile announce that they decided to award the word “Myword” to Athar Ali Khan. Their press release said “He deserves to have a word of his own, so he doesn’t abuse other words.”

Tournament organizers decide that Bangladesh deserve another win in the tournament. So, they toggle the result of the tournament opener and award Bangladesh with the win over Pakistan in the opener. The organizer said “Nasir Jamshed did not deserve to play that kind of innings.” So, Bangladesh have topped the league table.

There is no rain, but the D/L method score will be applied on the Pakistani Score. D/L – Deserve to Lose. So, the target for Bangladesh is not a paltry 132 runs in the whole 50 overs.

Umar Gul will open the attack. And sends in a toe crushing yorker at Tamim Iqbal, who totally misses the ball trying to play it across the line, and the middle and leg stump for the same angle that Afridi forms with his arms while celebrating a wicket. The umpire then goes to Gul and says, “Hey, Tamim deserves a second change.” And, Tamim can stay.

But Gul manages to remove Tamim Iqbal three more times in the same over, and Tamim had to leave. Even some Bangladeshi fans were irritated and said that Tamim doesn’t deserve another chance. Pakistan have made a breakthrough. They had to go back and close the flood gates thrice in the same over, but they can finally leave it open.

Afridi comes in to bowl along with Ajmal. Afridi has been removed off the attack because of moral policing. People complained that he is only 18 years of age and has been faking an increase in age for the last 13 years. So, he doesn’t deserve to bowl. And yes, as is the general opinion amongst everybody, Ajmal doesn’t deserve to bowl at all.

So, Pakistan are reduced to bowling out the overs with Gul, Hafeez, Cheema, Younis Khan and Hammad Azam. In spite of Bangladesh losing wickets now and then, they get some runs on the board through Shakib al Hasan’s bat. He deserves to be the number one all-rounder in the whole universe. Martians deserve to immortalize Shakib by planting a statue of his when they visit Saturn next.

It all comes down to the last over. Cheema has to bowl to Shakib and Shahadat Hossain. Bangladesh need 9 off the last over, only 2 wickets remain. How it came this close is anybody’s guess. You deserve to make a guess, you have a beautiful mind. It’s alright if you didn’t make it to IIT and then into IIM and earned $$$$$$$$$$$ in business. But you deserve to make a guess.

Cheema runs in, the 33-year-old coach bustling in with enthusiasm….and suddenly, the umpire stops Cheema on his tracks, asks for the ball, pockets the ball, tips the bail off the stump and declares “Bangladesh, we all know you deserve to win this. you win.”

And Yes. Bangladesh have won the Asia Cup. Congratulations, Bangladesh. Shakib deserved and got the Man Of The Final Over, Man Of  The Match, (and while Shakib goes to collect his man Of The Series Award, LSK exclaims “He is running the first one haaaard”), Man Of The Series, and also in advance, the man Of The World Cup and The Best All Rounder Award for the years 2012 to 2018.

Also, congratulations Sri Lanka on winning last year’s World Cup. You deserved it. We were just trolling you by winning it for ourselves. We are selfish like that – winning World Cups and all.

– Bagrat

I was wrong…

There are many things I am constantly wrong about. No. I am not at Church, it is not Sunday today, and this is not a confession!

But yes, there are many things I am wrong about. Take this recently concluded Test series against Sri Lanka, for example! I was wrong about:

  • Suresh Raina’s abilities as a Test cricketer,
  • Sri Lanka being capable of producing a good Test wicket,
  • India’s cances of winning a Test in Sri Lanka in this series.

Suresh Raina did confound his critics; including me. I had branded him a ODI and T20 player and had even indicated in a post here that he had jumped the queue, ahead of players like S. Badrinath, Rohit Sharma, et al. But Suresh Raina showed enough in the few appearances he had to indicate he has the ticker, application, determination and skill to last at this level. He even negotiated the many bouncers hurled in his direction. He looked composed, compact and confident. He looked like he belongs at this level. Just on the basis of these outings, I would be happy to ink his name for quite some time at #6 in the Test batting line-up even if he fails against Australia in October and (later on in the year) against South Africa.

I was wrong about Raina…

I was wrong too about Sri Lanka’s ability to produce a good Test wicket. The wicket that was on offer at the P. Sara Oval for the 3rd Test was a Test-wicket beauty. After the flat highway that represented the 2nd Test at the SSC ground, I had all but switched off my TV set for the reminder of the Test series. This series was starting to resemble a few previous series in Sri Lanka where teams would go on to make 3597 runs for 2 declared and then the opposition would go on to make 9656 runs for 3 declared — all before Tea on day-2! You would either have that or have a situation where Muralitharan would take 20 wickets for 3 runs before Tea on day-1 on a pitch made out of un-compacted sawdust from the wood factory down the road! But the pitch that was prepared for the 3rd Test at the P Sara Oval was spot on for Test cricket. I do wish the Sri Lankan cricket Board sack Anurudda Polonowita, the curator of the SSC pitch! Even after a truck-load of runs were scored on the SSC pitch during the 2nd Test, with the loss of only a few wickets — and that too to run outs and batsmen error — the SSC curator managed to hide his head in the sand and blamed the bowlers of both teams for the dull draw in the 2nd Test! But the 3rd Test wicket offered everyone a chance — good batsmen, spinners and pace bowlers. Sri Lanka is, after all, capable of producing good Test match wickets.

I was wrong about Sri Lankan pitches…

Right from the time MS Dhoni lost the toss at the start of the 3rd Test match, I did not think India had a chance of winning the 3rd Test match. At the end of day-1, Sri Lanka was 293/4. In order for me to have India ahead at the end of the first days’ play, India needed another wicket at least and also needed to have conceded about 20 fewer runs. Although India did make inroads with the ball on day-2 and although India did get Sri Lanka all out for 425, I did think it was a good 1st innings total in the context of this wicket. India ended day-2 at 180-2, which was the only day of the Test that India ended well, in my books — apart from the last days’ ending when India had won the Test! On day-2, I had India ahead not because the team had made 180-2 (nearly 245 runs behind), which was a healthy score already. I had India ahead because these runs were secured in just 35 overs! But then the quick loss of Tendulkar and Sehwag on day-3 meant that India was again playing catch up in this game. The fact that India made more 1st Innings runs than Sri Lanka was good but in my view the slender lead wasn’t quite enough! At the end of day-3, although Sri Lanka was 45-2, I still had Sri Lanka ahead. On day-4, India had her best session of the game when the spinners wrecked the Sri Lankan batting. However, Mendis and Samaraweera ensured that Sri Lanka put up a competitive target. That and the fact that India lost 3 wickets for not much meant that, in my books, Sri Lanka was once again ahead at the end of day-4. I thought India would not be able to pull this match off on day-5 on a pitch that was deteriorating. I did not expect India to win in the end.

I was wrong…

In the end, this was an amazing come-from-behind win for Team India — one that this team can take a lot of pride in. Perhaps this will not be an automatic inclusion choice in the “Great Indian Test Victories” DVD compilation. This compilation would automatically include Kolkata, Leeds, Adelaide, Multan or Perth — great victories in the annals of Indian circket history. However, taken in the context of the personnel that MS Dhoni had at his disposal, I would happily vote for placing “Colombo (P Sara), 2010” alongside famous Indian victories in the recent decade.

To me this big-list list reads: Kolkata 2001 (v Australia), Leeds 2002 (v England), Adelaide 2003 (v Australia), Multan 2004 (v Pakistan), Sabina Park 2006 (v West Indies), Johannesburg 2006 (v South Africa), Perth 2008 (v Australia), Mohali 2008 (v Australia), Chennai 2008 (v England), Colombo (P Sara) 2010 (v Sri Lanka).

I say this because India achieved this victory without a first-XI opening batsman and 3 of its four strike bowlers. Let us not forget that Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth, Harbhajan Singh and Gautam Gambhir were absent from the team that secured this victory. Yes, we might point to the fact that the team did still have great players like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni, et al. However, the best batsmen are rendered useless by un-tested bowlers. In this context, the P. Sara victory is an important one for India. The team showed that it can still do it despite ruthless depletions to the team sheet.

As a Team India fan, the future is, still, a worry for me.

I do not worry too much about the day when Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman will, inevitably, exit stage-left! When Rahul Dravid got out in the 1st Innings of the 3rd Test, Tony Greig, who was commentating at the time, emotionally appealed for Cheteshwar Pujara to be inked into the team sheet immediately! I am confident Pujara will wear a Team India cap one day. Just as night follows day, for me, Pujara has his named etched on a Team India spot already. However, he will wait his time till when Dravid hangs up his boots. Like Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble, the other two members of the Fab-Five, I am confident that Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman will chose the timing of their exit appropriately. These are some of the most upright Team India sportspeople of our times; a time dominated by Commonwealth Games scandals and 83-year-olds being elected to the Presidency of a national sports body! The Fab-Five stand tall and stand in a separate playing field altogether in an Indian sports space dominated by sleaze, money and power politics.

But when the remaining members of the Fab-Five do exit the scene, I am confident that in Cheteshwar Pujara, M Vijay, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Sourabh Tiwary, S. Badrinath, Abhinav Mukund, Ajinkya Rahane, et al, India has the batting personnel to step into their big shoes. Pujara will never be a Dravid, just as Dravid was never a Mohinder Amarnath or a Dilip Vengsarkar. Similarly, Suresh Raina will never be a Sourav Ganguly. Rohit Sharma will never be a Sachin Tendulkar. But I believe that Cheteshwar Pujara, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, M. Vijay, Abhinav Mukund, et al, will carve their own stellar paths just as the Fab Four did when they built their careers.

What worries me most as a Team India fan is the bowling resources. Bowlers keep breaking apart at the seams. Bowlers that burst onto the scene with much promise and fan-fare vanish a few seasons later. Witness the decline of Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan, RP Singh, Munaf Patel, Sreesanth, VRV Singh, Pankaj Singh, Dhawal Kulkarni, et al. Will we add Abhimanyu Mithun to the above list in a year from now? This is certainly a worry for me. Mind you, the spin options are just not good enough for me either.

So it is the bowling and not the batting that is a worry to me as a Team India fan.

However, just as I was wrong with a few things in this recently concluded Test series against Sri Lanka, I hope I am able to point to a future Team India bowling attached and say again: “I was wrong…”

— Mohan

The ICC launches into another controversy

As if it wasn’t enough for the ICC to get bogged down by a bankruptcy of ideas and control of the game, the organisation has now found a new way to embarrass itself. It has stumbled to a new low resting point through a shocking mis-management of the process for electing John Howard as President-Elect of the august body!

In his article on Cricinfo, Gideon Haigh states, “Say what you like about the members of the International Cricket Council, they are utterly consistent. No matter how far you lower your expectations, they always find a way to underperform.”

Hilarious opening to an interesting opinion piece. I do not agree with much of what Haigh says in this article, but it certainly paints a mobid picture of a moribund organisation! The problem with Haigh is that he has declared his cards as a person that views the BCCI, IPL, Modi and Indian cricket with suspicion if not disdain! In the past he has stopped short of stating that the only cricket that really matters is that which is regularly held between England and Australia for a little urn. So I certainly have that grain of salt handy when I read anything he writes!

But he does have a point. The ICC finds stunningly innovative ways of repeatedly embarrassing itself in public.

The ICC Presidency chair is a rotating beast. So it cannot and should not really get political. If it is a Boards’ turn to have a crack at the top job, it ought to have all linen washed internally (as New Zealand and Australia did in choosing John Howard) before offering up a candidate who ought to be elected unopposed. That is how a rotating chair ought to work. There is, however, a danger in such a method because, before you know it, when it is Zimbabwe’s turn we may be forced to stare at Robert Mugabe’s smirk on the ICC website for four long and painful years! Hence there has been a proxy election in place. It has never, however, been used up until now.

It has been used now! The result is that Australia feels insulted. New Zealand is probably saying “I told you he sucked as a candidate”. England is embarrassed through no fault of theirs — again! And the ICC is in some disarray as a result of (a) a terrible, terrible choice of candidate (in my view), (b) the organisations’ ineptness in making decisions other than those driven by consensus, and, most importantly (c) the organisation being unable to state to the losing candidate why (s)he lost!

Ever since the International Cricket Council was formed (after its predecessors, the Imperial Cricket Conference and the International Cricket Conference were canned) we have had this rotation system work near-perfectly: England had Lord Colin Cowderey as President of the ICC (from 1989-1993). West Indies had the great Sir Clyde Walcott from 1993-1997. India had that wily combatant, Jagmohan Dalmiya as ICC President from 1997–2000. Australia had Malcolm Gray from 2000–2003 followed by Pakistan’s Ehsaan Mani from 2003–2006. This was followed by Percy Sonn (2006-2007) and Ray Mali (2007–2008), a dual South African act on account of the fact that Sonn passed away while ‘in office’. This then saw an England-India double act in David Morgan (2008-2010) and Sharad Pawar (2010-2012).

The system has been working well in so far as providing a mechanism for tokens and lollipops to be routinely handed out to the member countries as appeasements.

That is up until now, when the word “trust” has started to take on much more of a meaning in our collective dictionary than ever before. Moreover, through a combination of their collective increase in their self-confidence as well as an improved ability on the field and (especially for India) their money power, the word “trust” has also been bandied about more often than necessary. Muscles have been flexed!

John Howards’ rejection has to be seen in this light and should not be seen as a collective insult to the Australian people.

Malcolm Speed has reacted angrily to the insult in his emotional outburst. He even suggests that Australia and New Zealand should give up their automatic right to a lollipop hand-out and, instead, hand it over to the next set of boards in the lollipop queue: Bangladesh and Pakistan!

Gideon Haigh has reacted emotionally and bemoaned the insult to the man who was so loved by the Australian people that they elected him not once, not twice, not three times, but no less than four times! Gosh! Of course, that must mean so much to a rag picker in Southern Mumbai. Right?

Wrong!

John Howard was a brave man when he was in power as Australian Prime Minister. He had views on most things and did not take a backward step in going forward on things he believed in. He routinely commented on things cricket. He loved his cricket. He even bowled once when in Pakistan when on a tour there — never mind the fact that few of the balls even reached the hapless batsmen! He also came out in the open and called Muthiah Muralitharan a “chucker”!

Do you think the people of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan Board would trust a man at the top of the ICC tree after his utterances against their beloved son — utterances made by an incredibly honorable man while in a position of the power that was bestowed on him by the good people of Australia no less than four times?

The fact that the good people of Australia showered their love on John Howard — and I have no doubt he is an incredibly honorable man — four times should mean diddly squat to the people of Sri Lanka or officials on their cricket board! However, the fact that Howard ignored the opinions of bio-mechanics experts and chose to comment on Muralidharan’s chucking, would have made the Sri Lankan Board and her people sit up and view Howard with some suspicion. Let us not forget that one of the men close to the officials that run the cricket board in that country is Arjuna Ranatunga, the captain that labored through that awful awful time for Sri Lankan cricket; a time made worse by John Howards’ comments. Sri Lanka simply does not have trust in the ICC-man Australia has chosen. Simple. Ditto Zimbabwe, given Howard’s utterances against that country and its cricket.

Was Howard right with his views? That is not really the issue. The issue is one of trust deficit.

Ultimately, Howard just did not have friends in ICC member countries. This is not an insult to Australians or to Howard.

Gideon Haigh emits his true colors, though, when he yells, “Ultimately, however, responsibility lies with the chaotic, fratricidal, law-unto-itself Board of Control for Cricket in India, for had it chosen to back Howard, the decision would have gone through on the nod. The BCCI likes to think of itself as cricket’s leader – as, indeed, it is, by any economic measure. But where was it when actual leadership was required? Sunk in its own macchiavellian intrigues, busy trying to claw back a facilitation fee from World Sports Group, and poring over Lalit Modi’s hotel and limousine expenses. Suggestions in the Indian media are that the rejection stems from internal upheavals at the BCCI, where ICC president Sharad Pawar, who supported Howard’s nomination, is on the nose with his former colleagues for being too close to Modi. Who knows? And who, ultimately, cares?”

If Gideon Haigh did not care, why would he devote so much eyeball space to the BCCI and its “fratricidal” ways? I have a feeling that Gideon Haigh will soon drop the blame for world hunger and world peace at the door steps of the BCCI!

Yes, there was indeed a report in a few Indian media outlets that the BCCI’s decision not to support Howard stemmed from the current BCCI leaderships’ desire to stick it to Sharad Pawar! And Gideon Haigh, a reputed and thorough journalist, fell for that piece of unfounded and ill-informed junk? The initial story quoted no source nor attribution. Nor did it have a basis. It was a story that I read and discarded. Gideon Haigh must perhaps learn to develop a few filters, especially when reading Indian media — most of whom are story tellers who look at the phrase “breaking story” and pay more attention to the word “story” than the word “breaking”!

Leadership by the BCCI has minimal role to play here in this, in my view.

There was, in my view, a leadership vacuum in Australia and New Zealand when the choice of John Howard was made. I could have predicted this outcome the day John Howard was put up as a choice.

Indeed, let us have a look at what our own Soundar Iyer wrote on i3j3cricket after a conversation with Gideon Haigh. Soundar writes that in the view of Haigh, the decision to back John Howard “largely revolved around the relative merits of each candidate pertinent to their ability to handle the behemoth that was the BCCI. The view was that Howard, the wily politician that he was, was probably the best equipped. Time will tell.”

Time did tell.

An alternative view to that which Gideon Haigh formed above — when he laid the blame for the Howard-shafting on BCCI’s doorstep — could be that the BCCI perhaps showed immense leadership and foresight by saying:

  • We know Australia and New Zealand have selected a candidate that has been expressly chosen to shaft us,
  • We know that that choice is bad because South Africa, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka have enough gripes to reject the man without us getting involved in the scrum,
  • We will openly show our support for the choice,
  • We will then protect our relationship with Australia and New Zealand by watching as this terrible choice is torn down by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka!

Unfortunately, if the above hypothesis is correct, the BCCI did nothing more than protecting its self-interest! Protecting self-interest is not wrong in itself. After all, look at what England and Australia did in the formative years of cricket! Moreover, everyone looks after their self-interest.

What is wrong is putting self-interest so high that the game itself is compromised or ruined in the process.

The latter would happen if John Howard was the only human being left in Australia and New Zealand! The last time I looked though, despite negative growth rates, New Zealand and Australia do still have a few people left! I am sure one of them would be an acceptable candidate — and even a strong candidate — for the whole of the ICC. Indeed, before Australia pushed hard for John Howard, New Zealand wanted to pursue John Anderson — former chairman of the New Zealand board and a terrific cricket administrator. Surely, he would have been elected unanimously and we would not have had to assess whether the Australian people had been viscously insulted and victimized!

Therefore, in my view, the mistake lies not in the doorstep of the BCCI or Sri Lanka. The mistake was in the choice of John Howard who had perhaps made many an enemy in the cricketing world.

That said, the ICC, sunk to new lows because it showed again that it is political, moribund and powerless.

The saddest thing about this episode is that it is a clear signal that cricket is divided with England, Australia and New Zealand on one side and with India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh on the other and with South Africa and West Indies developing collective sore backsides from time to time! Despite strong and stellar attempts by Australia, and in particular, James Sutherland, in recent times, the trust deficit exists.

As Sambit Bal says,

But in recent years cricket seemed to have moved away from post-colonial angst into the lap of naked capitalism. Self-interest remained the guiding principle, but alliances based on commerce rather than race seemed far more palatable. The use of the term Asian Bloc – it had a pejorative ring to it – became rarer as India and Australia, the richest board and the strongest team, moved closer.

It’s premature to proclaim an official split or speculate what immediate impact it will have on global cricket, but on the Howard issue it was evident who stood where. Australia and New Zealand stood by their nominated candidate, and they had only England by their side.”

So why is Howard’s rejection at the ICC table wrong? And why do I think the ICC is moribund?

Any candidate is owed the duty of care and the dignity of feedback in any transparent election process. If they are not selected they need to understand why they were not chosen. The only feedback that John Howard will have received, as Sambit Bal has noted, is from the Sri Lankan Board that stated openly that they did not rate Howards’ sport administration skills!

On dear! Really! A man who led a country cannot run a cricket board? Clearly then, Sri Lanka rates Sharad Pawar’s sport administration skills highly. They probably took one good look at him asleep at the wheel while Lalit Modi diddled the IPL books and decided that Sharad Pawar ought to receive their backing! Right!

Clearly, the reason offered by Sri Lanka has much to do with wool and eyes. But at least Sri Lanka offered a reason; albeit one that cannot be countered or defended in such a process. The rest of the members in the cast played some back room games, cast their vote and moved on with the same disdain that England and Australia used to dish out when the only cricket that mattered was that which the two of them played!

Roles have reversed. The owners of the despicable attitudes have changed. Cricket stumbles through darkness yet again!

As Sambit Bal writes, these actions “threaten to drag cricket back to the age of acrimony and mistrust.”

— Mohan

India v SL :: 1st Test… a Dull Draw

India and Sri Lanka played out a dull and boring draw in the 1st Test on a pitch which may not have yielded a result had the teams played on it for 10 days!

So while we have the #2 and #3 ranked teams in the world and while we have both eyeing the #1 spot, the BCCI prepared a wicket on which there was absolutely no chance of a result.

While the ICC is powerless to do anything about it, it is the BCCI has to take responsibility for this sordid preparation — it is the home team that is responsible for pitch-preparation. Then again, at a time when the ODI game and the T20 version top up coffers that are already brimming, the BCCI has little interest in making Test cricket more compelling — despite the rhetoric about the sactity of Test cricket mouthed by everyone from the President to the Secretary to the watchman! It is in BCCI’s interest to kill off Test cricket! Moreover, contracts with TV companies in India are written in such a manner as to force games to go into the last day. The TV deal has been struck on the basis of the number of days of TV coverage of Test matches and not on the basis of the number of Test matches! So, it is in BCCI’s interest to prolong Test matches to the last ball of the last day of all Test matches. And, in order to be fail-safe, why would they not let all matches go beyond the last ball of the last day of Test matches? I would, if I was given such a contract and was asked by my boss to maximise revenues with such a “dud deal”!

That is, if I were also short-sighted.

Unfortunately, short-sightedness seems to be a pre-requisite for a BCCI post!

Dileep Premachandran writes about the high percentage of draws in the flat pitchers of India, when compared to result-oriented pitches presented in countries like Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka. They are focussed on becoming the best team in the world. The BCCI is focussed on being the richest in the world. Misplaced priorities.

Meanwhile, neither team can draw much from the match — apart from the draw that is!

After the first session of the Test, no bowler really had a good outing in this game! It was nice to see Zaheer Khan back in action. He seemed to bowl with fire and accuracy. Ishant Sharma is bowling well but needs a pitch that does something. Harbhajan Singh tried his hardest and Amit Mishra just landed it. The one worry might be Amit Mishra’s lack of penetration. If the Kanpur pitch has a tinge of grass on it, I will not be surprised to see Sree Santh ahead of Amit Mishra. Despite the wobbly start, the Indian batsmen were excellent. It was nice to see Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, M. S. Dhoni, Viernder Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar and V. V. S. Laxman get amongst the runs for India.

Sri Lanka had a terrific outing too. But neither team emerged better than the other.

This was just a terribly boring game. Hope there is more on offer in Kanpur. However, that would depend completely on the BCCI!

— Mohan

India win Compaq Cup

An undercooked Team India, which was coming out of a long lay-off and with a few star players (Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Zaheer Khan) injured, won the Compaq Cup in Sri Lanka after beating the hosts in a close game in the Finals.

India’s win came on the back of Sachin Tendulkar’s 44th ODI Ton and owed thanks to Harbhajan Singh’s 3rd 5-wicket haul!

For the first time, in my view, India got her batting order right. Dinesh Karthik, who killed off his Test career on India’s last tour of Sri Lanka, probably did much the same to his ODI career in the first two games that he played in the Compaq Cup. I reiterate that I have nothing against the lad. He is a good player and more power to him. However, when it comes to crunch situations, he repeatedly fails to deliver. Prior to the start of the series, I had predicted that he would carry drinks for India. Thanks to Gautam Gambhir’s injury and Team India’s muddled thinking, Karthik was asked to open in the first two ODIs. He failed in both. Further, his batting meant that Sachin Tendulkar had to change his style of play.

In yesterdays’ game, Tendulkar opened with Rahul Dravid, whose stability allowed Tendulkar to play the way he normally does — really well and freely.

The other change that I have yelled for was for captain M. S. Dhoni to walk in at the fall of the first wicket. In yesterdays’ game, he did so and the change was remarkable. He brought a calm solidity to the batting. Although he fell just when things were starting to get interesting (when the batting PowerPlay was taken), he had built a solid foundation to India’s innings by the time he left.

In the end, thanks to that foundation, although I thought India floundered a bit between overs 40-45, the score was respectable and good.

That Sri Lanka gave that total a real shake is a credit to their emergence as a strong ODI team these days. I do like the look of the Sri Lanka team. The team has some excellent bowlers and with the rapid strides made of late by Samaraweera, Kandamby and Dilshan — not to mention his now famous DilScoop — the batting looks strong too, especially when you consider the experience provided by Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardane.

In the end, India emerged winners. The margin of victory (46 runs) might seem comfortable. However, India did have some scares, not to mention poor fielding and dropped catches. India needs to do more work in these departments before it can think of laying a fingerprint on the Champions Trophy.

However, it was nice to see Harbhajan Singh get a 5-fer with good bowling and not the spear-em-in sort that he normally resorts to in ODIs. This bodes well for India in the season ahead.

— Mohan

Compaq Cup — Sri Lanka, NZ, India

And so, after a long break from cricket (and i3j3cricket.com) in which there were a few sporadic games (and posts), we are back into a busy period of cricket (and posts) for India (and i3j3)!

The season commences with the Compaq Cup in Sri Lanka between New Zealand, Sri Lanka and India. The first game of the 4-match series resulted in a Samaraweera-inspired win for Sri Lanka over New Zealand.

The India Team is in Sri Lanka and is eyeing the #1 ODI spot, which India will make if it manages to win all 3 games in the Compaq Cup.

The Corporate Cup in India will have helped dust the cobwebs in the minds and bodies of the players. A few of the players did get to match fitness with some important scores. Suresh Raina made some runs and so did M. S. Dhoni and Rahul Dravid. R. P. Singh and Ishant Sharma bowled well in patches. So with all of that done and dusted, the real action commences. Unfortunately for the Team India fan, the next few months is going to be a sequence of ODIs!

The team is a good one, in my view.

The batting is good and strong. One might have mounted an argument for Rohit Sharma. But in all fairness Rohit, like Uthappa, does need to do some work on his own. It isn’t quite about ability or talent. It is really about rising to the big occasion. Perhaps it is more a question mental toughness than anything else.

The batting has a settled and set feel to it and offers tremendous flexibility as well as depth. The openers may as well pad up now! There is no questioning who will open the innings! There are a few questions though: (a) will both all-rounders play? (b) will Rahul Dravid play? (c) will Suresh Raina play? (d) what will Dhoni’s batting position be?

I am certainly glad to see Abhishek Nayar and Yusuf Pathan there in the team. In my view, both of these must play and so must Rahul Dravid. And in what must be a somewhat radical suggestion, I recommend that Suresh Raina competes with Rahul Dravid for a spot and both of them bat way low in the batting order, behind the big hitters and even the all rounders. Dravid has the finishing ability and so does Raina. In my view, Raina’s talent is wasted at #3 and it would be best if Dhoni occupies that spot. Dhoni’s big hitting talent is wasted at #5 or #6.

In terms of bowling, I feel that both Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma are automatic picks and in all probability they will open the bowling. Ashish Nehra and R. P. Singh might compete for the 3rd pace bowlers spot. With Amit Mishra unlikely to shake off Harbhajan Singh’s hold on the spinners’ slot, the 4th main bowler’s spot is also taken. There are plenty of options for the 5th bowler’s spot with Yusuf Pathan, Abhishek Nayar, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina (if he plays) vying for an over or two!

The team also has competition in the drinks waiter department! Karthik is my first choice followed by Amit Mishra!

Is this team capable of taking the #1 spot by winning all 3 games? Possibly. But, given the lack of match practice, I won’t be holding my breath.

In my view, it is all a bit of fun and games!

My team:

Sachin Tendulkar
Gautam Gambhir
MS Dhoni
Yuvraj Singh
Abhishek Nayar
Yusuf Pathan
Rahul Dravid / Suresh Raina
Harbhajan Singh
Praveen Kumar
Ashish Nehra / R. P. Singh
Ishant Sharma

DRINKS: Dinesh Karthik / Amit Mishra

So, let the season begin and here’s looking forward to more posts on i3j3cricket!

— Mohan