Friday, January 27, 2012

And what of the IPL?

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I am Indian. I am passionate about the game of cricket. Like millions of other Indians who are also passionate about cricket, I am reasonably intelligent. Perhaps India's cricket team, especially the guys who are asked to front up to the media, have a different understanding of my intelligence.

Ishant Sharma's, R Ashwin's and especially Gautam Gambhir's responses to the media have been frankly disgusting. The thinking in the team that leads to comments like "we will see them in our back yard" and "it is just 2 series losses" I feel is appalling. How many more losses will it take for the team to get their senses back and stare at reality?

Like every one else I have played the game. Not at any serious level but as far as I am concerned serious enough. On streets, on the beach, on proper cricket grounds. With all sorts of cricket balls. At times I am a fan and at times an armchair analyst. Sometimes a critic; not always polite. Sometimes cynical and even unreasonable. In short I am just like any other cricket loving Indian.

I have no explicit loyalties towards the BCCI and to me they are simply a body that runs and administers domestic cricket in India and have the authority to form a team that represents India internationally. Somebody gave them that authority or they took it upon themselves. I really don't understand how it came about. But its unimportant. I don't easily trust them but perhaps I do not totally appreciate what it means to administer the game of cricket. The BCCI nevertheless to me is incidental.

To me the face of Indian cricket is its players.

To my mind, they are athletes who should feel privileged that they have been chosen to represent India. That they are contracted employees of BCCI is a minor administrative aspect to me.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

And the new era begins...

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Years ago when I was in college, I returned to the building complex where my folks lived. One evening, I saw some high school kids playing cricket and I decided to join in. The kids were cool with it. I enjoyed my batting, hitting a few sixes off the 14 year olds (I was 21). About halfway into the game after our batting turn was over, one of the guys said,"Do you want to keep wickets, uncle?" I was zapped!!! UNCLE??? (For those that don't know India, every kid addresses grown ups as Uncle and aunty.) I was indignant, pissed, you-name-it, etc. and I took the kid to the cleaners.

Little did I realize that the problem was not with them, but with me. I was over the hill and playing in the wrong league. India's batting seniors are in a similar place. Cricket has gone past them into the Pattinson-Kohli era and our uncles are insisting on playing with the boys because kids in India don't disrespect uncles and tell them not to play. Our selectors, fans and sponsors are all being kids (normal) and our seniors are! It's time to leave before they start feeling the unwelcome stares.

Kohli's century should have put things into perspective. While Sehwag's consistent underperformance can be put down to unwillingness to adapt, Laxman, Sachin and Dravid are just too slow. SRT can score runs and centuries until he is 50. He has that God-given ability. But the "uncle" should decide whether it's smart to play with the boys.

Kohli's performance over the last two tests should put to rest any fears that India will not be able to replace the seniors in the team. The new crop may not score 10,000 runs each, but for sure they can team up to score 300 plus on a regular basis. Along with a promising seam attack in Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, the resurgent Irfan Pathan and Ishant Sharma, India also has some bowling riches to exploit yet. The spin ranks are also suitably staffed.

The troika have served India very well, but their last hurrah on Adelaide's forgiving pitch is unfortunately a sad farewell to a great era.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sir Ian Botham set to come out of retirement

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Sir Ian Botham today tweeted "See you India Winter of 2012" ending days of speculation if rumors of the great man ending his retirement were true. Eventually, it turned out that the rumors were true as the tweet was followed by an official press release by the ECB that Sir Ian Botham will indeed be included in the squad that will tour India on supposedly 'rank turners' during the winter of 2012

Speaking exclusively to Opinions, Sir Botham said, "I draw inspiration from Ricky Ponting as I restart my international career. But more importantly, I recognize this Indian team from my playing days"

As we probed further of his "recognize this team from my playing days" comment, the talismanic all rounder referred to Gautam Gambhir's recent comments as the cornerstone around which he is now re-entering the international scene.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Maybe there's one more left in the tank.....

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At the end of the day, I'm a fan. Perhaps a cynical, irreverent and bitter one, but I'm a fan. And the first characteristic of a fan is to believe. To believe in his team. To believe that the team will beat the odds. To believe that despite all the indicators pointing to a mauling, his team will emerge victorious. So I'm going to put my head aside and use only my heart today.

I'm a fan of the individuals in the team. I grew up around the lore of Sachin from my days on Shivaji Park. I was the insider in my college dorm, who knew Sachin and Kambli because I had seen them in the nets and seen them bat at close range. I knew from friends how the coach treated them differently than others and I used this insider information to gain credibility among my cricket-mad dorm mates.

We dreamed big for Sachin. In fact huge. We believed he would break all the records. He did, but he didn't. I wanted him to break Sobers' and then Lara's record. I wanted him to score more triple centuries than anyone else. I wanted him to bat like the cricketers I admired in those days - Alan Border and Steve Waugh - which is rearguards. Rallying the team in a crisis and inspiring the rest of the team to raise it's game. I wanted him to be the best, most ruthless captain that India ever had. In many ways, Sachin did more than just this, but I began to sulk. Because he didn't specifically do what I had dreamed for him.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Opinions Guest Post: Adelaide Test Preview

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In the era of remakes and sequels, the Indian cricket team took it upon themselves to do a remake of their own.

"Saat Khoon Maaf" 
(7 murders pardoned)

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller, Inevitability
Plot: The Indian team's quest for #1 in Test Cricket goes awry leading to 7 murders in 7 tests. Who is responsible? WHAT will happen of this Indian team? WILL "THEY" GET AWAY WITH ANOTHER MURDER?
Is there one last murder waiting in Adelaide?
Watch this chilling murder mystery inevitability

Producer: BCCI (IPL Makers)
Director: MS Dhoni
Asst Director: Virendra Sehwag
Starring: Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid
Co-stars: Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma
Introducing: Virat Kohli, Umesh Yadav, R Ashwin
Spot Boy: Rohit Sharma

Music: Listen to the Indian batsmen dance to the throaty, bouncy music of English and Australian bowlers
Locales: Bouncy green tops in England & Australia

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Azhar and Kirmani back for Adelaide test

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BCCI today ordered Srikanth and co to bring back wristy right hander Mohammed Azharuddin and doughty wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani for the Adelaide test. They are slated to replace Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni in the side. In fact, Azhar will also captain the side in Dhoni's absence.

During the press conference, Srikanth confessed that it was a little surprising because the BCCI never interferes in selection. However, he claimed that he fully supported the selection. He believed that seniors like Azhar and Kirmani will bring much needed stability to the side. "Just look at their records.", he is supposed to have said.

Insiders though have given a different explanation. Given the mounting criticism of giving Tendulkar an unending opportunity to score his 100th century, BCCI felt that it had to mute the criticism. As most fans are aware (probably not fans of this century), Azhar has played 99 tests for India. He was dropped prior to his 100th test. Playing the Adelaide test would give him the opportunity to get to that landmark and fully rehabilitate him. Azharuddin meanwhile has put in a special request to CA to bowl only spinners against him. He wants to get to a century. Scoring a century as captain will also be a landmark as it would be his 10th century as captain.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

School suspends student for calling classmate "a senior"

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Raju; name changed to withhold identity; was by all accounts an exemplary student. Aged 11, he was bright in his studies, with History and Science as his favorite subjects. His interests were well rounded with Raju showing a keen interest in the performing arts and sports. What's more, he was captain of his school's cricket team.

His proud parents had high hopes from him.

However their hopes and dreams for Raju came crashing down, last week as Raju was handed down an indefinite suspension from his school by the principal.

"The school has very strict policies against the use of abusive and foul language and Raju's inappropriate use of words while venting his anger against a fellow student violates the school's zero tolerance policy against verbal abuse", said Mr. Patil (real name) who is the Principal at the school.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Dream is Dead

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Upstart young Australians wiped the floor with India's batsmen in three tests. Bowlers with less than 50 tests of combined experience looted the vast Indian batting riches in broad daylight for three tests. Every ounce of experience, wisdom and skill that India's one-time fantastic batting line-up put up against these bowlers seem to come down to a tame, unhappy LBW. Sachin didn't agree, but we agreed and perhaps the whole of India mutely agreed that even if he were to be given a reprieve, the elusive 100th century was not going to be found at Perth.

Most telling was Nari Contractor's comment that Sachin was getting out LBW to a routine inswinger, Dravid bowled to a straight fast ball and Laxman and Sehwag were unable to line their bat up against a ball moving towards the slips. In their heyday, these veterans would have blunted such a line of attack and out-persevered the bowlers to fatigue and despair. So we don't believe, Australia have discovered a new formula to blunt Laxman, Dravid and Sachin. This can't be anything but the ravages of age and injury. They might still score centuries against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and New Zealand at home. But the dream is over against disciplined fast bowling on helpful or unhelpful pitches.

Most recently, the formula came good in Durban. They would have batted 2 days routinely and provided their very normal bowling attack, enough runs to pressure the opposition into making mistakes. India won many tests overseas with that formula and even won a couple of series in England that way.

Sachin Tendulkar likely for Harris Shield

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After the debacle in Australia, there may be a clamor for the seniors to retire but one man refuses to be bogged down. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. It was made official today that Sachin Tendulkar will represent Shardashram Vidyamandir in the next Harris Shield Tournament.

"In my heart, I am still a teenager and I am striking the ball well and enjoying myself", said Sachin Tendulkar visibly thrilled after the BCCI cleared him to represent his school. 

It is common knowledge among the 7 people in Bombay cricketing circles, who follow Harris Shield beyond the newspaper clippings, that Shardashram Vidyamandir, has been struggling recently to stay competitive in the Harris Shield but all of that will change because it is widely expected that Sachin will help his school overcome stiff challenge from Rizvi Springfield from Bandra and Raja Shivaji from Dadar.

Sachin has 67,003 career runs in all of cricket and has a chance at finishing his career at 67,901 which will be the highest aggregate runs in all cricket; that is also a prime number. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

A message to Team India

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rohit Sharma to retire from Test Cricket

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Rohit Sharma today announced that he will be retiring from Test cricket. It makes him the first cricketer to have retired from Test cricket without playing Test cricket.

He said that he had reached this decision after careful thought, consideration and talking to friends, family and Sachin Tendulkar.

Rohit announced his decision at a press conference actually called to reflect on Sachin Tendulkar's impending 100th, Rohit Sharma; thanked Sachin Tendulkar for what might have been a stellar career. He said he had no regrets. He said, waiting for someone of the calibre of Sachin Tendlkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid to retire, one can wait a long wait.

Reactions to the retirement of a potential future great were swift but mixed...

Sachin Tendulkar said that "Rohit is just another cricketer who has retired before making his debut but I will let my bat do the talking"

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

India can be dangerous at Perth

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After an uncharacteristically business-like performance on and off the field by the Australians, the put-on good behavior seems unsustainable with Hadin cracking first. Two victories is all it takes for an Aussie to start preaching his "insights" and passing free unsolicited judgement best left for casual chit-chat over drinks (or blogs like us).

I thought Australia's strategy to talk up this Indian team and saying all the right things about the batting and Sachin Tendulkar in particular was working well. Inviting Rahul Dravid to deliver the Sir Donald Bradman oration served up well in the context of this strategy. Even before a ball was bowled, Australia had used flattery to subdue India into complacency. 

So I am not sure if there is a change in "strategery"; or it was a one off case of Hadin losing the plot. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

ICC unwilling to recognize Clarke's 300 as legitimate...

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The International Cricket Committee has moved rather quickly following the end of Day 3 @ Sydney in the ongoing contest series between India and Australia.

In a statement, addressed to Cricket Australia, it said that Michael Clarke's unbeaten triple hundred should not count. At best it can count as a List A score or it must be adjusted to something in the range of 80-85.

This step was taken after questions were raised by Match referee Ranjan Madhugalle about India's tactics while bowling.

"I have been around for quite a while now and I know what a bowling attack looks like and I can sense when there is an intent to attack. What I saw at Sydney from India should I say...the best I can say is that it resembled some sort of a protest movement..."

Like those "Occupy... protests that have sprung up over the world?" we asked...

"You can say that...expect that I am not sure what they were protesting...It had the feel of some sort of civil disobedience, non-violent, non-cooperation type movements...It was like they were protesting their own incompetence... Perhaps it was an involuntary response out of self-pity.." said Madhugalle...

While they  investigate and certify that it was indeed "bowling" that India were doing, the ICC has said that none of the 100s by Australian batsmen will count.

In a separate event...Andrew Strauss was admitted to a hospital in London, England after he suffered a bout of acute depression and was reported to the local police by a neighbor who spotted him trying to commit suicide. 

The TV in his living room was still on with Sehwag bowling.....

Andrew is said  to be fine and is learning to deal with the guilt of humiliating such a pitiful Indian team earlier during last year's summer.

"It also throws up existential questions...perhaps we are not as good as we thought we were...." he said

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Now, it's Tragic

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In the second innings of the Nottingham test during the summer of 2011, England raced to 544. They scored at 4.5 runs an over. Any semblance of a contest between England and India in the series was effectively over. From that point forward India didn't have a chance. Several people preach that hope is not a strategy, but for India that's exactly what it became.

Yesterday, Ponting and Clarke took a leaf out of the English strategy and attacked India. They plundered runs at will and faced with the onslaught, the bowling wilted. Someone needs to care for Umesh Yadav quickly or he is in danger of losing it completely. He desperately needs a coach that can help him harness his talent and put it to effective use.

Ponting may celebrate his test century, but this is definitely not a sign of things to come for him. He may not find another bowling attack as friendly as the Indian one for a while. His class is not in doubt. His reflexes and hunger are definitely in doubt. Canny, conservative and age-adjusted batting can take you so far. Energy, enthusiasm, hunger, desire, goals and drive are essential for success. It's hard to judge if these wane with age, but several good batsmen have retired sooner than 38. Run production is not the sole metric to retain one's place in the team. Team chemistry, fielding and other intangibles count as merit as well. Ponting needs to articulate to himself what value he adds to the team and whether playing because he enjoys it and scores runs are the reasons to stay. Australian selectors are merciless when it comes to elbowing veterans out of the team. Steve Waugh was a case in point. Ponting's place is secure for now, but the day is not far off when the selectors come knocking.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

India's batting is now just a Facade

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Earlier this year, when India won a Test Match at Kingston against the West Indies, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, a man usually careful with his words, blabbered something against the umpires and how he should have been in his hotel room much earlier. 

Something about the words,even discounting the media sensationalism made me uncomfortable. India were already showing signs of disrespecting Test Cricket, with the focus on IPL and many regular players deciding to skip a prestigious tour of the West Indies. Dhoni's words were uncharacteristically arrogant; showed disrespect towards the West Indies and I found them unsportsmanlike even.

That was the last time India won a Test away from home.

In 7 away Tests following that Test, India has been limp with its performances in Test cricket.