Tag Archives: India

The Great Cricket Debate: India’s #1 Status and The BCCI

There is a lot of rankling outside of the sphere of India and her fans that, India have basically lucked in to the #1 Test Side status, since they have not beaten neither Australia nor South Africa in a test series away! (Apparently there is an unwritten rule in test match rankings that you had to wrest the #1 status from the cold, dead fingers of the previous holder of the title).

I was roped in by the good folks at World Cricket Watch to enter a debate with one of their columnist, Matt Wood (who is an Aussie living in Canada). So, Matt and I, started an email back and forth, conducted over a few days discussing India’s #1 test status and the workings of the BCCI. We thought we could include a discussion on the upcoming Australia’s tour of India but the debate quickly got out of control and so, we left it out for another time.

Click here for the debate published at WCW. Your thoughts and comments are most welcome.

Ten Things about Group Captain Sachin Tendulkar

Source: AFP

On September 3, 2010, Indian batting ace, Sachin Tendulkar was awarded the honorary rank of group captain by the chief of the Indian Air Force (IAF) for his contribution to cricket. Instead of an honorary award, what if he really was a group captain in the IAF?

1.  Tendulkar will be the first airman to fly 200 sorties in one day. Everybody knew from the day he entered the Indian air force and started flying them planes, he was gonna be the one to break the 200 barrier. Some thought this day might never happen and have to live with the fact that a Pakistani group captain had the record for the most number of sorties in a day.

2. When Tendulkar enters the peak of his prowess as a true dog fight legend, his wingmen would be extremely terrible. They would be so inept that they can’t even do the one job that is asked of them — hold one end up with some fake firefight and pretend to shoot at the enemy here and there.

3. For the majority of his flying career, he would be saddled with hand me down jets from the previous era which malfunction constantly with failures at the most inopportune times. During an epic battle against an archenemy, he would get 136 kills over the skies of Chennai and leave the rest of the squadron to shoot down just 17 more, as his back engine was fouling up but alas, that wouldn’t happen!

4. In the “Battle of the Hero Cup”, when senior and more experienced fighter pilots like Devil Kap were dithering over whether they could deal the deciding blow, Young Tendulkar would volunteer to take control and launch in to a certain suicide mission, only to emerge victorious.

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Century, Interrupted

I wanted to avoid writing this. People have talked ad nauseam. TV anchors yelled questions at six different panelists, simultaneously, which included the eminent scout of Javelin throwers, Bishen Bedi, who narrated stories not relevant to the topic of conversation. Typical. Fans have vented on Twitter and Facebook. Some of them were gob smacked at the vanishing spirit of Cricket while others shrugged off – Happens all the time, dude. Batsmen don’t walk any more even if they know, as sure as the sun rising in the East, they have nicked one behind. Batsmen employ delaying tactics to avoid facing that extra over before stumps. Bowlers and fielders appeal even when they know they don’t have a case, to coax an error out of the umpire. Bowlers bowling wides to avoid the opposing batsmen hitting the winning runs. It’s all part of the game. So, when a bowler deliberately (seemingly anyway, at first look) overstepped by a generous foot to prevent a batsman from getting to his 100, it’s no big deal. Meh.

But the Sri Lankan Cricket Board didn’t think so. Earlier today, they handed down, at the end of their own internal investigation – this must be the quickest ever investigation in the history of internal investigations – a one-match ban to Suraj Randiv, and loss of match fees and loss of match fees to the apparent instigator Tillakaratne Dilshan, as well. You already know the circumstances surrounding the controversy, so I won’t rehash it.

At the end of the match, when Sehwag realized he didn’t actually get to his century, he in his unique way, brushed it off, saying that teams do these sort of things to prevent the batsman from getting to a personal landmark. By then he had not seen the replays and wasn’t really aware of the egregiousness of that no ball. A spinner who doesn’t really bowl no balls oversteps so much that his back foot is at the popping crease. So this was a premeditated effort to deny Sehwag his century. When asked later, Sehwag agreed that it looked very intentional and premeditated, and reportedly not as generous or forgiving as he was at the end of the match. (Would you be? I am not so sure.)

However, reports came out later that the bowler, Suraj Randiv, had apologized to Sehwag and even Sri Lankan Cricket did too. Sehwag accepted it and it was time for all of us to move on, with the knowledge that even Sri Lanka, two time recipient of the ICC Spirit of Cricket Team award (’07 and ’08), is not above cheap tricks. As Sambit Bal, The editor of Cricinfo put forth: “The bowler apologised, the batsman accepted; where do the rest of us come in?

That’s when the Indian media machine stepped in. In the only way it knows to analyze (I am using the term analyze very loosely) any situation, it blew it out of proportion. Every damn network started piling on. They brought in people to transcribe the conversation picked up by stump microphone (as one anchor put it – real people who know real Sinhalese. Who said investigative journalism is dead?). They were positive it was Sangakkara who made Randiv do the dastardly act. The real people who know real Sinhalese told the anchor, “Sangakkara told the bowler not to give the batsman a run”. Of course. Which captain ever tells his bowler not to give away the winning run? Game, Set and Match. Some started comparing the situation to all the other times any Indian cricket player was ever wronged. Sydney 2008 was duly hashed and rehashed. The racist card couldn’t be played as those real Sri Lankans are of the same race as these real Indians. As much as I am not a fan of Sangakkara and his over appealing, sweet talking tactics, he was quickly sullied without proper proof. But after the SL Cricket Board’s punishments have come out, it has become clear that Dishan played the instigator and advised Randiv to bowl a monster no ball. The raving TV anchor is not going to apologize to Sangakkara but that is only to be expected. The story quickly moved on to demonising Dilshan.

I had a few conversations during the day on social networking sites and just good ol’ fashioned chats with some friends. The topic revolved around, not the usual “OMG, how could Randiv do that?” but more on the lines of, “Did SLC have to do this? Was the punishment too much?” [especially considering Mr. Broad Jr is getting away with only a portion of match fees docked for throwing a ball at a batsman and for general wussy-ness].

With just the video evidence, it is hard to prove that Randiv’s action was pre-meditated. People bowl big no balls and wides. Ask Steve Harmison. He has bowled a ball so wide, it bypassed the keeper, the pitch and went straight in to the hands of second slip. And so, yeah, it happens. I asked one of my friends from my undergraduate days – he is a trained umpire in the Asian Cricket Council – and he responded thus: “The umpire should have called the ball dead and cautioned the bowler for misconduct if to him it was delibrate, as he is empowered to under the “preamble” spirit of cricket points number 3 and 4. Clearly the offence”intention” to deny sehwag occured before the noball was bowled.” However, one cannot get inside the head of Randiv to know for sure, what he was thinking. The ICC couldn’t have interfered in this as technically, Randiv has not broken any of the game’s written laws.

I commend the fact that SLC Board decided to step in and nip the issue in the bud and do their own investigation, through which they have determined that Dilshan prodded Randiv to bowl the no ball. Good on them. In my opinion, Dilshan should at least have received the same punishment as Randiv, if not more. Dilshan is an experienced international player and should have known better than to resort to such idiocy. If he felt so compelled to deny Sehwag, he should have taken the ball and bowled that over instead of Randhiv.

But did SLC had to do this in the first place? No, of course not. There may be any number of reasons why they did it. It’s possible that the Board was ticked off with the team losing the 2009 Spirit of Cricket award to the Kiwis, or,  may be they are just really good Buddhists, or they are dependent on BCCI for solvency and so wanted to avoid any drawn out, media driven controversy.

I wonder if SLC Board would have been this stringent and swift with “justice” if it weren’t Randhiv – a relative newcomer on the cricketing scene – but one of their main bowlers and the following match was a semi-final or a final. But that’s neither here nor there. So what have we learned from this?

The spirit of cricket is a big bogus thing. In the current days of big time commercialization of cricket, the old practices of what used to be a “gentleman’s game” is slowly but surely drifting out the window. Secondly, Indian media is a non-stop non-sense circus where street corner preachers are masquerading as TV anchors blowing every possible issue out of proportion and propagating the view that one of ours was wronged and so we will drag you through hell. Thirdly, SLC Board cares about its team’s “spirit of cricket” image for one reason or another and they decided to display it by over-penalizing a new comer.

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Sehwag – The Inimitable Genius

Way back in the early Oughts, Prem Panicker, used to have an online talk-chat show called “Panix Station” (before podcast was even part of the public parlance) where people could send questions in by email. The show’s producer would read the question and Prem would give his take on it. It has since been discontinued and Prem has moved on to bigger and better things.

During the entire life of that show, I had sent in one question/comment only. It went something like this: “I don’t know why people are cribbing so much about how Virender Sehwag bats. He is a free spirit and he brings that refreshing attitude to his batting. Sure, there will be times when he gets out in a silly looking manner, but the team management seems to be okay with it. They seem perfectly happy with the way he goes about it as more often than not, he pulls it off and puts the opposition bowlers under tremendous pressure. We, as fans, should quit quibbling about his batting style and enjoy it while it lasts.”

Picture source: topnews.in

If you had seen the way Virender got out in the 2nd test match against Sri Lanka, you would either be banging your head against a wall for he has thrown out an opportunity for a fourth century on trot, or just shrug the shoulder with a nod of the head, acknowledging, “That’s the way he bats.”  Loads of ink and acres of webspace have been used up in trying to describe this inimitable genius. Of course, there is more method to the seeming madness.

Batting, when performed correctly, is an absolute work of art. Especially in test match Cricket. Sehwag, with a bat in hand, distills this art form to its purest core – See ball, Hit ball. He has been quoted many times that he doesn’t like to play “boring cricket”. Does this mean he wants to score a boundary of every ball? Of course not. There is a big difference between purposeful batting that is full of intent and general savagery where the batsman goes after everything.

I was looking for opportunities to score runs wherever I could,” Sehwag said of what he was trying to do when, for the third time in the series, he faced short and wide deliveries with a square third man, a deep point and a sweeper-cover in place. “If fielders are there I can hit towards mid-off, midwicket or mid-on. Whatever reasons. Because I don’t want to, you know, play boring Test cricket.

An argument has been made that Sehwag gets “bored” when the fields get defensive and the bowler is pitching the ball two feet outside the off stump. I think that’s a pile of garbage. No “bored” batsman could score the mountains of runs that Sehwag scores if he were actually to get “bored”. Sehwag has the highest percentage of 150+ scores  of all batsmen with at least 10 test centuries to their name. All this does is point out the irrefutable fact that when he gets “in”, he kicks on to a very big score.  That is not a sign of a batsman that gets “bored”, is it? The bowling and fielding placements get boring, but Sehwag? I don’t think so.

In test cricket, Sehwag gives the bowler the respect he deserves, not because of the bowler’s pedigree or his reputation, but how he is performing that day, that over. He plays out maidens, with rock solid front food defense but the moment he senses any weakness in the bowler, he launches in to him. When bowling to Sehwag, the bowler’s margins for error, diminish rather rapidly to the point of being almost non-existent. If there is a slight mistake in the length or the line, Sehwag duly cashes in with his lightning bat speed, with a typical flay over point. This undoubtedly has a significant effect on bowlers who are not made of sterner stuff.

Imagine you are Uda Walawwe Mahim Bandaralage Chanaka Asanga Welegedara (Now, say that three times fast and all your wishes will be granted!). A decent bowler with moderate talent and medium pace. You are gently trundling along in your run up and you are about to deliver to Sehwag. In the back of your mind, you know you have to be inch perfect. A little bit towards the middle, he will flick you over squareleg. A little wide, you will be slashed over point. Too full, you will be driven down the ground. Too short, pulled over  midwicket. This is where Sehwag wins more than half his battles. The bowlers need to be perfect, or they are going to be carted for runs. Quite easily.

In 2003-04 test series in Australia, Sehwag was on the threshold of doing something quite unique in the 3rd test of the series at the MCG – a ravishing double hundred on the opening day of the test – and he was only a shot away at 195. He had just hit the part-time crock of Katich for a six over long on. While trying to repeat the same stroke to get to 201, he holed out. The Indian score was 311-3 and India were bowled out for 366 soon after.

Two things grab your attention: One, The Australian bowlers, including Brett Lee, in home conditions, were bowling pretty well as they got the other 9 wickets for 171 runs and Two, Sehwag made a mockery of that bowling and the conditions. He owned them and tried to bat his way to 200 the only way he knows and in the process he got out, and the rest folded. This has happened a few times where the batting conditions look easy and the bowling benign, when Sehwag is still in, and the rest of the Indian batting just folds up after he is out. Perhaps, they are induced in to a false sense of confidence by the ease with which Sehwag has been dealing.

As a man who had the front row seat to that epic inning at the MCG (and many others during their time together at Ranji trophy matches), I asked former Indian opener Aakash Chopra about this on Twitter and he responded:

Absolutely…he does make it look so simple. The trick is not to believe it.

If this isn’t the sign of a genius, I don’t know what is. He plays with such ease that can only come from the clarity of the mind. There are millions of fans of Indian cricket who will swear by their allegiance for and devotion to Sachin Tendulkar, for the pure joy he has brought to the fans and his unquestionable influence on all batting records. But if you ask them for an honest answer as to who the key to an Indian victory is, the answer will have to be “Virender Sehwag”. In the days following the dastardly terrorist attacks in Mumbai, England agreed to come back and play the test matches in India. The first match was in Chennai and England set an unlikely 387 for India to chase in the 4th innings. Sehwag launched an assault on the English bowling that sunny afternoon at the Chepauk stadium by scoring a blistering 83 of just 66 balls that left a manageable 256 to get on the fifth day which Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh did with aplomb.

One of my friends put this up on his facebook page and I don’t think I can say it any better.

They can debate about the best batsman in the world all they want but there’s no other delight for the fans and no other nemesis for the opposition in cricket today than Sehwag.

A slightly modified version of this article is published at World Cricket Watch. My debut article there. Support WCW. (They have highlights videos of all matches).

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Bird’s the word

Yuvraj Singh, the potential star to take the middle order spot in the Indian test squad, but for now warming up the bench, was caught in a huge uproar on the first day of the third test match between India and Sri Lanka. I scoured the newspapers, websites and blogs to find out what really happened.

Apparently, he was playing the role of “Bobby Boucher” for his team. As you very well know, India-Sri Lanka test matches are the worst thing to happen to…. test matches. In fact, CIA is  showing these test matches live to their prisoners enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay as part of their remodeled psychological torture methods. In his efforts to be more funny than Adam Sandler (which is actually not that hard),  and entertain the sparse crowd at the P Saravanamuttu stadium, Yuvraj Singh flipped the bird, and all hell broke loose. He didn’t just flip any bird, it was the Jungle Fowl, The national bird of Sri Lanka. Oops!

I like flippin' birds for mah fans - Yuvraj

Yuvraj image source: Khaskhabar.com

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Muralitharan is a funny motherf**ker

Or he just confused his turbaned Indian spinners. Of course, Murali is the highest wicket taker in the history of test match cricket, and so, I generally tend to put some trust in his words when he makes comments about spinners, especially off-spinners.

Can you tell who's ordinary? Apparently, Murali cannot.

When I read the interview comments he made before the start of what was gonna be his last test match, I was mildly surprised to hear that he thought Harbhajan Singh Plaha was the only bowler that has any chance of breaking his record tally of wickets. May be, he saw something that none of us – except for the Plaha family, saw.

I was even more surprised to hear further comments from Murali during the second match at the concrete roads of SSC that he thinks Bishen Singh Bedi is just an  ordinary spinner. (So surprised was I, my eyebrows did a Colbert.) It is generally known and accepted especially from fans that saw/heard Bedi bowl and the batsmen that faced him that Bedi was a brilliant practitioner of the art of finger spin. He would constantly change the loop and the pace, vary the angles and lengths and tease the batsmen out. I read somewhere that the cricket ball was like a top in Bedi’s hands. Of course, Bedi has for a very long time, maintained that Murali is actually a Javelin thrower stuck in the wrong sport.  So, may be, Murali has some grudges against Bedi?

By making the pre-series statement about Plaha being the only one to have any chance at 800+ wickets, Murali, while trying to sound all genuine, completely messed with his mind. He put the pressure on Plaha. So much so, that Plaha has plahowed and plahadded along for brilliant returns of 2 for 304 at the end of two matches. At this rate, he will only need to play just 444 test matches more to put Murali in the rearview mirror. May be, Murali thought Plaha is the bionic man or the six million dollar man. Whatever the reason, he messes with the minds of Sardarjis and that makes him one funny motherf**ker!

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A good father

Herman Van Werkhoven. He and I have been friends for about 5 years now since he came to U.S. from South Africa, during which time we played together on the university club team. He moved away for a couple of years to Arizona and now he is back. We just spent the evening talking Cricket over a few beers and my possible plans of visiting South Africa in December when India will be playing South Africa in a test series. Herman was explaining to my wife why South Africa, although a very talented team, has not won anything meaningful in Cricket and whatever the fuck has happened to J. P. Duminy! (Herman even used the “C word” – Choke.)

It looks like the only test match I would be able to watch if I were to be able to go to South Africa would be the 2nd test match of the series at Durban. This led to us talking about Andrew Hudson top scoring for South Africa in the opening test match of the 1996/97 series in Durban and India getting obliterated by Allan Donald. It was also the test match during which I fell out of a bus in Chennai and my head hit the curb and I passed out with a concussion. Some Good Samaritan put me in a taxi and took me to my sister’s house. As I was coming around, I wanted to make sure I had not lost much time and I asked this stranger whether it was still the first day of the Durban test match. He gave me the look as If I was speaking Greek and I came to know much later from my sister that this guy had told her that I had gone completely mental.

Days old Noah with a cricket bat autographed by Fanie De Villiers

Anyway, coming back to Herman — When he was away, he and his wife had a baby boy, Noah, who now is 20 months old. As any sane Cricket fan would do, Herman put an autographed cricket bat in the hands of Noah few days after he was born. Herman always said, “I know the kids growing up in the U.S. have a lot of choices when it comes to sports. I just want to make sure my son makes the right choice”. Good man. Oh by the way, the cricket bat – signed by none other than the great South African bowler, Fanie De Villiers.  (We spent another few minutes raving about that spell of Fanie like some school girls talking about Robert Pattinson!).

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Sinhalese Sports Club Cricket Pitch

8 wickets in 3 days. Sounds about right!

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Inception of Deception

A friend of mine, still giddy from seeing the newly released Christopher Nolan’s mind bending movie “Inception“, asked whether I have seen it yet. I told him that my head is still spinning from Nolan’s earlier work, Memento and The Following. I need to give my mind or whatever is left of it, a little rest before I set upon journeys from which I may never come back.

Since the next best thing for me to do was check on the schedule of India matches, I was pondering about the possible reasons as to how a second string Board President’s XI squad thoroughly bitch-slapped the first choice India test XI. That’s when it occurred to me the elaborate cloak of deception India has spread out, unbeknownst to their modest neighbor from the South.

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What does India need to do?

The Cricket World Cup to be hosted jointly in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka is only a little more than 7 months away. Currently, Indian team is involved in a pointless Asia cup final playing Sri Lanka, yet again. They will also be playing a three-team tournament featuring New Zealand and you guessed it.. Sri Lanka. There is the tour of South Arica towards the end of 2010 and a possible trip from Australia for a short test series.

This surely is Sachin Tendulkar’s final hurrah and his last chance to collect some hardware before he says bye bye to the limited overs format of the game and solely focuses on Test matches and perhaps IPL. Some Indian players have already mentioned that they want to win this one for Sachin.

Playing in the sub-continent certainly gives the Indian batsmen an advantage but then, it will make the bowling unit look, to put it mildly, ordinary. Of course, playing at home brings along with it a whole new set of pressures.

What do you think? What are the things that India need to get in order for a successful run at the World cup 2011? In terms of batting line up, team selection, bowlers, strategies etc. Chime in.