Wednesday, January 30, 2008 

Standing Up

A lot has been happening in the last month both on and off the field as it were, and I haven’t had time to write much. But the sheer amount of activity in the last month of 2007 kept me consumed. Most of the activity happened in office, with long hours of work and at times working through to dawn.

Sometimes the mind wonders about what exactly is it that we look for when we put in that kind of effort at work. Is it the money? I am pretty sure that I am not getting a hell of lot of money. Then what is it that I really get out of it. The answer probably is nothing. And the problem compounds when you attract discredit for some work that you fall short of doing. More often than not, all the good work is forgotten by just one instance. And while that is bearable, what frustrates you the most is when you are not at fault in your book. A couple of times now I have felt like being at the receiving end for no fault of mine. Funnily enough, at times I feel people giving me the discredit are at fault themselves. But then again it matters for too less to make a difference.

It is probably a part of my first real professional learning, that doing well is a matter of fact and so is being held responsible for any breakdown whatsoever. The other thing about being held responsible for someone else’s mistake is that you can not even reason yourself out. On most occasions you are not given a chance to prove things right and even if you snatch a chance, people are smart and have all kinds of bullshit to throw at you to convince you about your mistake and trying to sound helpful by being the person who highlights your incompetence. Just as well I stopped listening to such feedback and advice a long time back. After a while you have to find your footing at work and think on your own feet. No one works for charity is probably the mantra.

The situation I find myself in these days, persistently reminds me of the predicament of a wicket keeper. I think keeping wickets is the most thankless job in cricket. You can go all day sitting up and down doing 500 situps a day and one missed chance or even a poor collection can ruin the effort. And add to that some of the rubbish that bowlers keep bowling down the leg side and some ridiculous half volleys from the outfield that these guys have to collect, at times take the blow on the shin. Wickets keepers seldom get the kind of appreciation they command. In addition to the work they do with the gloves a wicket keeper is an important part of the field setting process as he is closest to the action. Even that credit is usually enjoyed by Captains alone.

And things get worse when you have to stand up to the stumps. From that distance, even good bowls are difficult to take. Rising sharply going above the shoulders. These days keepers have started using crash helmets, thanks mainly to Nayan Mongia and Anil Kumble I believe. At least they have some protection now, but the job remains an ordeal and appreciation is hard to come by.

Ofcourse on the topic of keepers its relevant to mention Adam Gilchrist who recently retired from cricket, to concentrate on the IPL. He has been iconic in his display as a wicket keeper batsman, even inspirational at times with his batting. He will be missed by the world of cricket, but after his recent antics I am really not a fan anymore.

India has had a long history of producing great wicket keepers from N. Tamhane to Nayan Mongia. But in the last 10 years we have had as many number of regular wicket keepers which is an astonishing figure for a country where the average height is 5.5-5.6. Where have all the little men gone? Pakistan, in fact, has a better record than us with only three major wicket keepers in the last ten years. Moin Khan (my favourite), Rashid Latif and now Kamran Akmal (maybe one or two in between). The Indian list is much longer. Let me finish the post with a few lines on each one of them:

  1. N. Mongia – truly a gem behind the stumps, the last real cheetah that we have produced behind the stumps. Was good with the batting and probably betting too :P.
  2. S.S.Karim – basically ok in both departments, had a couple of memorable games but that’s about it. The eye injury abruptly ended a potential career.
  3. MSK Prasad – never looked like he wanted to make an impression, nothing special with the bat either, still a mystery his selection
  4. Samir Dighe – the old man from Bombay, one memorable score of 22 at Chennai was all there was to him, another mystery
  5. D.D.Gupta – no mystery here, simple humour. The MCC manual on what to avoid while keeping wickets. He was hilarious and brought a lot of joy in an otherwise disappointing drubbing in south Africa. And with the bat he even left Rahul Dravid behind (or ahead) when Rahul was in his hay days (pun intended).
  6. V.Dahiya – a proper wicket keeper and lower order batsman, never quite understood why he got lost in selection. Maybe Dada ko uske joote pasand nahi aaye…India could have used his services for sometime
  7. A.Ratra – the under 19 fashion caught on. Young blood became a thumb rule and robin singh had to go as a reason, what a shame! Don’t see his name in the Haryana team these days, who knows where he is now.
  8. P.Patel – the under 16 fashion caught on then. This time dada liked the shoes…kya gaddha tha yaar wo…looking at him keeping, I was reminded of the song, ‘aati nahin…’. Bloody could not collect straight forward balls and to stand to Anil Kumble was always going to be a problem, probably cost the Sydney test last time. Batting was ok types, but really mystery again as to why he was in the team
  9. D.Karthik – one of the inspirational success stories of Indian cricket in recent times. I have never really seen someone fall off the ranks and then make a comeback like he has. All the above keepers were one time wonders and he looked good to be another one in the list, but he went back and scored loads of runs to make a stunning comeback to both one day and test teams. And a good fielder as well apart from his good keeping abilities.
  10. M.S.Dhoni – I was never comfortable with the idea of an Indian player donning long hair. The Jharkhandi looked like one, and still does. But his batting exploits were just breath taking. Initially a poor wicket keeper and kept his place only due to his batting. But much improved now, some silky takes down leg side and back of the hand flicks to remove the bails. And now also the captain, he is doing well and I hope he continues this way.

And last but not the least, Rahul Dravid. Poor man trying to add balance to the team, his batting went 2-3 notches higher after taking the gloves and in that little period he was probably the best batsman in the world. His keeping wasn’t inspirational but his application and desire was. And as always his keeping only brought criticism because people only saw the mistakes he made and carefully ignored the value he added to the team. Hats off!


Sunday, January 20, 2008 

Awwww Yes!

The last year or so has actually been pretty good for the Indian test team if you recollect. But somehow each of these victories has had a great sense of occasion and charm. If in South Africa it was the first victory in the country, in West Indies and England it was series win after a huge length of time. But what about this one? Down 0-2 in the series, mauled by issues not within the teams control and feeling hapless and cornered. To come back from there and win is what expresses strength of character. If anyone of you remember the famous dialogue right at the end of the movie Ab tak Chappan, Nana Patekar clearly highlights the difference between Strength and Nuisance Value, if you know what I mean. India at Perth, showed strength not just of character but of skill, for they outplayed their opponents in every part of the game.

India batted well, which will never surprise me against any team as the big four have more than 30,000 runs among themselves. They were expected to. But India outclassed Australia in the bowling department as well. Shaun Tait looked as feeble as Geoffrey Boycott turning in his right arm slow medium in the 79’ world cup final. Johnson was ok in patches. It was really Lee and Clarke who ever had good designs to get a batsmen out. RP Swing and Pathan did what they could do best, Ishant Sharma wasn’t so bad either. And do not forget that India in the field, at least catching, was far better than Australia who looked clumsy and inelegant for slip fielders. Probably the final score line of 72 runs doesn’t well reflect that Australia were outplayed, but I think it was better as it kept Australia interested all the time and gave them a bigger heart break.

The Sydney episode was sad, and I hope it doesn’t happen ever again. But if you have to take some positive out of it, it must have brought the team together. The dressing room will have been warmer and internal conflicts must have been put aside to fight the external pressure. And the man who did a great job of reminding his team that unity doesn’t mean that we go out on strike together and protest against the bad taste of the previous test, but Kumble ensured that the cohesiveness was put to good cricketing use and improving the performance of the team on the field. The respect I have for this man can only multiply. With the dignity and integrity that he has conducted himself off the field and on the field, is something else. I would long to be as respected a man as him than be as successful as Sachin Tendulkar or the Australian team. And what’s more is that Kumble has shown that you can win with those traits and do necessarily have to play the game ‘hard but fair’, oh god that line still splits me into pieces with laughter.

A great win for the Indian team, but I don’t want to give them everything just yet. Another win at Adelaide will be the knockout. And there is a lot of other cricket left in Australia as well. But definitely an outstanding start, lets capitalize and then celebrate. To be honest, I thought of 4-0 after Sydney, I never had the hope of pulling it off, but the way this Indian team has done it, is quite sensational.

By the way here is what I think of the 11 that played in the test match:

  1. Wasim Jaffer: he hasn’t quite hit his straps and has struggled all summer. But it will break my heart to see him go. He is a fine player and elegant, should be given some more chances.
  2. Virender Sehwag: not my initial choice for selection, I would rather have had his opening partner from last tour who was making a hundred against UP in the Ranji finals first innings. What Sehwag did was exactly what was expected, but you cant be sure he will do it again. But those two wickets give him an edge over karthik and sehwag should be an automatic selection for Adelaide. I hope the good work done by karthik is not forgotten quickly and Sehwag is used in Australia as part of a horses for courses approach.
  3. Dravid: good heavens he finally clicked, but he agonised me even more by playing that no.11 stroke after having played beautifully for 93. It was an absolutely uncharacteristic shot for him. Still a great contribution and my no.3 for Adelaide.
  4. Sachin – played very well and survived some tough spells from Lee and Clarke. Dropped a sitter at 1st slip, I initially thought why was Dravid not there since he is the best in the world, but then when he took ponting at 3rd I thought, just as well. Sachin can’t imagine horizontal catches.
  5. Ganguly – you would think that his failure would be a great opportunity to throttle him. But he has been the most consistent of late and one failure is ok. What always bothers me is that he never looks like a part of the team. He stands mostly on the boundry and there he can never be inspirational when a lot of running is involved.
  6. Laxman – absolutely not a lax man him. He should have been the vice captain here for me. Played as well as he does. Caught as well as he does. Needs a lot of work with running between wickets.
  7. Dhoni – impressive, fighter and understands the situation very well. Each of his 38 runs in the second innings was its worth in gold. And his keeping, well he is among the top 3 keepers in world cricket right now. He didn’t let anything go I don’t think so.
  8. Pathan – bowled well with pace, swung the ball from the right length. Inspirational batting performance and deservingly the man of the match. But harbouring thoughts of opening the batting with him in Adelaide will be detrimental. Will be difficult to fit him in for Adelaide, but should get picked somehow
  9. Kumble – great captaincy, great bowling no less, but for that brief hammering from Mitchell Johnson. He has been a great leader and much different form Ganguly who was also successful but synical. Kumble will always lead from the front because he knows the moment his performance drops he will quit the game now.
  10. RP – he is getting better everyday, and his typical bhaiyya like languaze is adorable. Did so well with the bat also and his innings was the final blow without which all the earlier blows would have ended up nowhere. Perhaps should have shared the man of the match with Pathan.
  11. Ishant – one superb spell to a great batsman, should be enough to earn him a place in the team. Early to say much else about him, but looks like he has the intent to do well.
By the looks of things I think for the next test match, bhajji in and Jaffy out will be the verdict. But still India should look do what they did here and nothing else special.


Monday, January 14, 2008 

Teri Maa Ki....

For the past three weeks or so, my house in gurgaon has had drops of electricity. It usually comes for about 5-7 hours a day. Writing a post is unthinkable; I barely get to check emails. I think I have some time today to reflect upon these past few weeks.

A lot has been said already about the Sydney test match, that my writing something will really not help in adding value to the discussions going on. But I think some of you may be interested in knowing my perspective to it also. I think there are two ways of looking at the issue. The first is a very objective way, practical approach which will keep the future of the game as the top priority. Going by this approach, Kumble’s recent decision to drop charges against Hogg, is most welcome. Ofcouse the cancellation of the ‘agreement’ with Ponting is even more welcome. Hopefully the Australians can let go the charges against Bhajji and we can have a good test match at Perth.

The second approach is to look at it in detail and being emotionally involved with what happened on the field and what those incidents represent. In fact a deeper analysis of those incidents will showcase just why this approach is better for the game in the longer run. There are three separate issues as most experts have analysed. First is the awesome umpiring, second the Bhajji racism row and the third Australia’s integrity and gamesmanship.

The umpiring was not sub standard, it just looked like it was a sabotage. If you are trying to tell me that Bucknor thought Dravid nicked that ball on the final day, then either it was not Steve Bucknor standing there or as I suspect there was some money exchanging hands. I will not be surprised if Ricky Ponting had another pact with the umpires regarding close catches and close in catches. A lot was at stake for Ricky Ponting in this test match as he is now possibly only three cricket days away from entering history books for his extraordinary leadership. This suspicion may be out of place but I think there should be a demand for an enquiry into chances of match fixing. If so many mistakes would have been made by an Indian player or worse still a Pakistani player there would have been commissions set up by now to carry out investigations. I think Steve Bucknor should atleast be quizzed for it no matter if he comes out of it clean. Honestly, I hope he does. Mark Benson was equally supportive of Bucknor in setting the benchmark of the worst umpiring ever and probably in any sport. I mean Indian and Pakistani umpires used to give shockers as well but they used to be intended. This performance from Buck and Ben, we are to believe, was unintentional and spontaneous, so it has to qualify as the worst ever. And the third umpire, said why should I stay behind. Shit, I mean nobody is talking about him, his license to be third umpire should be cancelled. After years of watching slow mo replays even my sister and mother could tell that was out. How he missed it, is in fact not a mystery to me.

The racism row – all I can say is well played Ricky Ponting. He is a shrewd man who will go to any depths in winning matches. I don’t care even if Bhajji called him a monkey, I mean symonds looks like a monkey whats so surprising in that. But Ponting leveraged it to create an issue, brought it to the public and Mike Procter said ‘humme bhi to khidmat ka mauka do’ and like a nice doggie gave harbhajan a ban, saying that he is certain beyond any reasonable doubt that Sachin Tendulkar is lying and Andrew Symonds the direct descendant of Raja Harishchandra is telling the truth. I think Sachin needs to come out and let the world know exactly what he heard and what he didn’t. The players should understand that there is a furore in the country against this ban. If eventually it turned out that bhajji was guilty this could turn very ugly and the constant silence from the Indian team is fuelling this feeling that something more is cooking beneath. I think in light of these charges, India should not have withdrawn charges on Hogg. I mean what was the point of filing that complaint in the first place. Ponting is not taking the complaint back, he in fact turned down the offer of apology to douse the potential fire. Why is India accommodating so much. For the sake of what? Cricket? Do they really think that there was cricket being played on that field? Cricket may be above an individual but it is not above the honour and self respect of an individual. India should take the whole cricketing fraternity to ransom and demand a clarification on the charges first and then on exactly what evidence did Mike Procter hand over the ban in the first place.

The third issue is of the integrity and here I think Ricky Ponting lost a lot of points. I mean all Australian players will support him blindly, but others who can see the TV and see the ball hit the turf will not be able to back him for too long. I feel sorry for Ponting there that he could not direct that play very well. Although the acting was top class, whether it was the outrageous appeal for Dhoni’s catch, or the ‘I asked Clarke and he said he was a 100 percent certain it carried’ or the best of the lot ‘as it turned out it was given not out, am I right or wrong? Am I right or wrong? Some exquisite piece of bollywood style vigour and josh.

But his ‘puppets’ couldn’t quite carry the show, and it’s an irony because some of them are being groomed, as they say, to be the next Ponting. Clarke made a nice fool of himself by standing at the crease after he gloved the ball to first slip. His expressions were not right, they said I know I am out, but I think Bucks cheque has cleared, in’it ump? As it turned out the cheque had not cleared and the ump gave him out. Had he not given that out he might have had Kumble’s fist go right through his face.

Ricky Ponting has brought shame to the game of cricket and as Kumble put it ‘its for everyone to see’. I think the best way to move on from here is to remember this test match. And we don’t need to remember it for too long, Austrlians will be in India this year, and we should not mince words or anything at all in giving it back to them. What always happens in a fight is that the first mover makes the blow and then a third party intervenes to sort things out. The wounded person is not able to take revenge and then the whole world will tell him to be the bigger man and move on. I say forget the move on, changing an umpire and putting a stay on bhajji’s ban doesn’t give us back the Sydney test. We have to ensure that when Australians come here, the third umpire is an Indian. Steve Waugh was very smart in saying that only the best umpires should stand in big matches. Which means that he doesn’t want to give India a chance of getting their revenge back. In any case there is no Indian umpire on the elite panel and the best umpire is an Australian so he can say that as much as he wants but that should not happen. Bloody Ian Chappel and Michael Slater say on TV ‘I have no problems with that catch, I think he caught that and had it covered’, it makes no fucking difference what you think mates, as an expert commentator tell the world what the laws of the game say. Or do you not know about the laws or any such thing. Let me come their and do the commentary. Ian Chappel says that the clipping is inconclusive whether that’s out or not out. I mean, I didn’t know he was blind. The TV showed it clearly enough that it was a one tip two hand catch. I think Ian Chappell will be ok with that also.

The major problem of this entire controversy was summed up by Sunil Gavaskar during his comments on TV. He said, that when he was part of the Bombay Ranji team, his team always used to get the 50-50 decisions in their favour. They were the best team and strongest team so umpires used to give decisions in their favour more often. I can understand that happening, but if Sunil Gavaskar realizes this then as an ICC panel member he should already be doing something about it. All we need right now is a win, just beat Australia once and it will all come crumbling down, the period of their dominance is now near its end. And there is a chance for a new team to establish itself at the top of the world. Lets see who it will be this time, but I have strong feeling that this time it will be a subcontinent team and/or the one that wins the 2011 world cup.

As for the Perth test, I will go with the following 11 players and bat for as many overs as possible. If possible 2-3 days just keep batting and draw the test match.

Team – Jaffer, Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman, Yuvraj, Karthik, Dhoni, Kumble, Pathan.

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