Monday, January 16, 2012

Where do we go now?

I was absolutely appalled to read an inflammatory populist FB comment attributing surprise! Surprise! too much cricket for the Indian Test squad’s string of submissions.
How can one blame a 7 match losing streak on just the board? Surely that’s too simplistic. True they need to take a lot of the blame but a tonnage of it must be borne by the team itself. It’s not only about the losses, it’s the nature (need I go into the stats).Expecting an Indian cricketer to be competitive is totally justifiable, never mind how much they play (which is anyway grossly exaggerated).
If anything, the board and the selection committee have gone terribly wrong with succession planning. Not experimenting and gradually inducting changes when the team was doing well. The older lot has done well in patches but they've not been put under pressure by younger talent and that is a failure of the system of which those on the ground are very much a part of.

Where are our Amla and AB or Bell and Cook?
Murli Vijay, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, Raina, Mukund have all got at least 5 innings but none have shown the consistency or the character to play at the top level leave alone dislodging the giants of the Indian batting. In addition, all the above players save maybe Mukund are made of the similar mould. Who are you replacing with whom? One of the reasons for Dravid’s success over the years has been that he has been an anchor in a side of pirates. Where are we finding an anchor? Gambhir so far looks the only eligible candidate.
At the end of the year one would notice that the top 3 Indian batsmen still have healthy averages but the team has not won enough. Which means that people aren’t playing situations as a team they’re playing their own little game. These batsmen are incidentally also the oldest in the squad. Such is the nature of Indian cricket, that even though we have won the limited over format not one young batsman has emerged.

On the question of Burn out:
Sachin has played 11 tests (did not go to WI) in the last 1 year (including the Perth game). He could have comfortably called it quits from ODIs post the WC. VVS & Dravid have played 14 tests with Dravid also playing the England ODIs. Dravid has had a stand out year and has earned himself a series purely on performance. VVS rightly came to Australia but is only going further down the trough. Question, who replaces him? Who’s knocking on the door? The quiet is chilling.
Sehwag has played 9 Tests and has been out of sorts this year but is too good a player to be axed, especially if you don’t have a replacement. Gambhir’s 10 Tests haven’t been great either but he has always looked to fight and he’s the only experienced left hander in sight.
Having played 5 Tests in the year can Zaheer Khan complain of fatigue. Except for Dhoni and Ishant Sharma who has been going through the motions since the Birmingham Test no key member should be using too much cricket as an excuse.

What’s Fletcher doing? He’s a soft target some might say. I think he’s on a paid holiday and if he is a soft target he’s got himself to blame. Axe him quick to set an example. The role of a coach at the top level is to keep the team in right spirits and be the unbiased voice in the dressing room. He should compliment and support Dhoni the best he can. Decisions such as lack of genuine all rounder in the Test Squad and playing Vinay Kumar in the Perth Test lack serious imagination. Inducting Irfan Pathan, into the Test squad would have been just the kind of gamble one would enjoy see unfold.
All I’m saying is that it is too easy to fall back on the same rationales of failure when you suffer disaster after disaster.Dhoni is still a sane voice when he endorses a "process" for transition rather than an "event", except that its started late.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

English Summer - Ishant's curry preparation

Tonight what if you were Ishant Sharma, I don’t mean what if you were tall and gawky, mean what if you were a promising young Indian fast bowler on the eve of your first Test at the home of cricket.
I don’t know Ishant (thank god),, he might be making a mockery of this piece by being in a Soho pub right now but chances are he isn’t. Odds are he’s tossing in his bed thinking what areas will he be bowling, how would the famous Lord’s slope feel under his feet when he runs in from the Pavillion end striding into the chapters of test cricket history.
For whatever reason this series does not have the hype it deserves, also there isn’t the needle you’d expect before a high profile series. Its calm, not the one before a storm though, it’s more like the one before a bloody battle.
Both armies are near full strength, victorious, lead by tough generals and have amongst their ranks battle hardened soldiers and statesmen like mentors. Yes Sehwag’s absence is huge, but in professional sport that would not warrant as an excuse, especially with the envious middle order India boast’s off.
For almost all the bats in that middle order this is perhaps the last time they’d stride down to where it all began. Sachin’s 100th 100 is written about to death by Indian journalists when it is only a matter of time, an achievement waiting to happen. What is perhaps bigger is that Tendulkar has been paying the Mecca a visit for the past 20 years. Since the time Ishant Sharma was learning to say his first few words, actually he hasn’t come very far on that front still but as long as he can make that spitting cherry swear like it did in the Carribean no one’s saying nothing to him either. Then there’s the case of Dravid (there he goes again) who has been as devout as he has been fierce to make a mark when and where it really counts. Coming off a successful tour of the WI this is perhaps the last time he comes around to where he and Ganguly decided to take matters in their hands. More than Ishant really, I’d like to know what’s going on in Dravid’s head. It has to be a double, nothing less would suffice.
Cricket is a unique team sport with the most captivating personal battles. All said and done about the Somerset game being a warm up, Strauss has one over the Indians. It was a personal battle, he does start on naught only as far as the runs go. Tremlett has been touted as the one who might cause the damage with his steep bounce but in my book its Jimmy Anderson, a far improved outswing bowler from the days of the ridiculous red mohawk. Then there’s the case of Day 3 and 4 Swan. National biases apart Swan is perhaps the more intelligent of the 2 frontline off spiners featuring in the battle. The fact both are attacking makes for another wonderful viewing of their weaponry.
The English batting order seems more reliable than ever, its Trot really and has the streak of madness in KP that could light up the test, how they cope with Zaheer’s cunning and Ishant’s battery will probably determine the outcome of this contest.
Owing to the formidal balance of the 2 sides it could be as often is the case a few sessions that might decide the series, those will be the ones where there will also be an individual show of brilliance, I’m rooting for Ishant and a close encounter this English summer.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Bleeding Blue Profusely

As a young kid I dreamt of playing cricket for India. I think it was while watching the world cup in 92’ that I experienced what it could be, being a part of a world cup playing India team. Few images endure… Jadeja taking that catch running in from the boundary, Kiran More – Miandad spat and Azha’s limp yet stylish walk thru the tournament. By the time the world cup came to India in 96’ the anticipation was at its peak. This breed of us, the generation born around 1983 was playing the game everywhere and all the time. Heroes were born, one man particularly was acquiring legendary status with every performance. Sachin Tendulkar scored the most no. of runs in this edition. I remember making a little diary with names of every participating player from every team for that tournament, and following up my research with those of top performers. I did not watch the final in 96’. Kambli’s wailing exit at the Eden Gardens was my last image of that tournament. It filled me with resolve that one day I will redeem this. Years passed World Cups came and went, my steely resolve to play slowly melted and reduced to sitting by myself as a knowledgeable cricket lover admiring all skill and every post match emotion when finally today India won the coveted trophy. I know it sounds preposterous, but there is a touch of disappointment.
Why was I not there? There in the middle a 28 year old young man steering India to victory articulately dedicating the win to all of India.

I know, because I have met and spoken to, that there are many such 1983 borns who knew only to bake in the sun aimlessly and live through disappointments of Indian collapses. The romance of being beaten so long the thirst grew bigger and bigger. For me personally it got quenched when while watching the team take a victory lap today, the camera focused on Tendulkar with the bottle of champagne. For a moment the conservative Indian in me wondered, what now…? As always the little master had an answer, he took a non chalant swig not noticing the camera. That indulgence seemed like a luxury he had reserved all these years, the bottle perhaps vintage 28 years. Must have been full bodied. When he passed it on to Gambhir I looked for myself. Then in this moment of exhilaration I thought of all the people who have brought about this success.
One name stood out, I have grown to admire Mahendra Singh Dhoni as much as he himself has grown. He is not to be led by an excited Shastri at the presentation nor any words be put in his mouth. Deliberate yet instinctive he speaks his heart off the field. On the field since his early days he plays a stone faced story teller. He reserved the most compelling image for himself. The six he hit to win the game and the way he looked at the ball for that moment extra was like he wasn’t the actor in the part but the director seeking perfection.

Today as we rejoice, I would also like to salute others who weren’t there but who’s contributions over years have culminated to this victory. Sourav Ganguly, the leader who bread talents such as Yuvraj and Bhajji. Rahul Dravid who showed the nation that no conditions are alien, no opposition too mighty to overcome if you have the sheer resolve. VVS Laxman who changed the meaning of how pressure was to be dealt with and Anil Kumble who knew not to give up. These ingredients apart from the genius of Tendulkar have rubbed onto this Indian side. We’ve been bleeding blue for 28 years, many a battle we’ve won, many a soldiers lost. World Cup 2011 win is another feather in our cap. RESPECT to the great game and our great team.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

IPL Auction - Selling shockers since 2008

My take on how things shaped on day 1 and where they should go on DAY 2

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Speculating a Swing to the Hung

I watched some test cricket non stop after a long time. It was as engrossing as ever.
Every time I watch a good session of test cricket I’m baffled as to how people cannot enjoy the battle. How can frivolity such as twenty20 gain such popularity and the original battleground itself be fighting for survival. But all it needs for me to wake up from my incredulous dream is a look around. That’s the shape of things today, distorted.

Anyways, the test hangs beautifully in balance and it’s the kind which should take a massive individual performance from a bowler to be won. The only 2 whom I think can come up with such a performance given the conditions are Bhaji and Zaheer. Since both of them are Indians I think this ones an 80-10-10 (Draw-Win for India-Win for Australia). I give Australia a 10% chance simply because India has to bat last. Even though we’ve been doing rather well in the fourth, a positive result will hugely depend on Sehwag’s longevity in the 2nd innings.
Australia struggled most of the day because they couldn’t get breakthroughs in quick succession something the commentary team rightly attributed to the absence of experience pressure building campaigners. Having said that I believe Australia is still struggling to find a replacement for McGrath. From the perspective of playing in India the loss of Warne isn’t that great. Infact Australian spinners in India best fill numbers. numbers. McGrath though, is being missed. A brilliant pressure bowler, aggressive yet thrifty. It’ll be very interesting to see how they approach the fourth day.
I’d like a total anywhere between 250-300 to watch India chase on the last day.

2 of my top individual performers in this test so far are Sehwag and Jhonson and they will both be mighty critical in the last innings of this game. Who's gonna swing this beautifully hung proposition?
Looking fwd to a super 1st test.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Long Live Test Cricket - ain an appeal, its a promise

As the debate over marketability of cricket rages over and across with ODIs and ofcourse the blue eyed twenty20 I suggest to cease playing the gimmicks and deliver the real deal and market the real deal.

Test cricket, yea what happened to Tst Cricket I’d like to know? Is it an old man on pension and must survive the remainder of his life on subscription pills invented and bought by the ch ching ching of its youngest offspring. Is Twenty20 really the panacea that cricket was looking for?

The insights on which the concept has been developed and succeeded will change, this time only sooner than it took us to come from 50 to 20. So where are we headed? Does reducing the number of overs in line with reducing attention span of a generation work? Maybe. But then it ain cricket, atleast not the way I knew it. Does it mean that there aren’t enough takers of the Test Cricket? I’m not buyin that. Does it mean that Test Cricket ain gonna earn u a fast buck. That I can aknowledge. Profitable though it can be on its own.

So this is wher I’d like to go. Let Twenty20 be. Mint as much as you please, give 50 over cricket the so called desired boost. Serve the kids the junk if they wanna pay for it. Basically I couldn care less with any shit wher the proceedings start without atleast 3 catchin men behind the stumps and the batsmen cant afford to let a ball go if he cant negotiate it. I hate to see top class batsmen getting out trying to play extravagant shots to unplayable deliveries, few of which do come along once in a while. This just because he hasn discovered a fic to get over an IPL hangover.

Let’s look at Golf. Is it a fast sport? is it a fancy sport? Is it a popular sport? No!
So why is it dat wt a certain Tiger Woods does in his jungle scare the living bjeebies out of the Nikes and Accentures of the world? It’s because whoever is selling golf did a simple exercise –
What are the attributes of my sport?
- Mental strength
- Technique
- Class
- Accuracy
- Patience
- Adaptability
- Etc etc

Who will these attributes appeal to? Street kids in Rio de Janeiro? Of course not. It ain samba enough u know. It would appeal to a 40 something decision makers in the high echelons of Fortune numbers. And of course the other wannabe decision makers around the world. That was easy. So lets market to them. They’ll even help us brand our sport. Winner.

What if a similar exercise is done for Test Cricket?
Test Cricket has all the attributes of Golf and additional physicality which should make it one of the better sports properties across the world. I think the audience mapping would suggest sell it to the intelligent across all age groups.

Education is big thing. If tomorrow, Ravi Shastri uses Sehwag’s natural ability as an excuse for getting out foolishly at a crucial time in a Test match he should be banned from commenting in the next few games. If these so called brand ambassadors can be neutral yet interesting we have some serious education going. Bring back Boycs, Benaud and Grieg of Old. Lets find the right opinion leaders, romantics, businessmen.
The format has suffered. The metrics are wrong. An intelligent man does not necessarily need a favorable result to acknowledge a good game, in any sport.
Saving a test match sometimes is as crucial and as exciting as winning one. Defense can be as pretty as offence. Ask a certain Kobe Bryant post 2010 Nba finals victory how proud he was of his rebounds and assists in the game or an Algeria drawing against England in FIFA finals.

We need to slow it down position correct, market accordingly. We don’t need the kid in China to grow this game. He gets it good, he dun its cool. We need that kid in Bangladesh who @ 17 is as wily as Shane Warne was and is not afraid to give the ball the required flight. We need heroes. We certainly don’t need the money from Twenty20. Instead we need to estimate the loss due to depreciating standards of cricket in the West Indies, appreciate the reasons and account for them.

fav joint -

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ready for the scuffle

Ok, its been a while, but I guess its time…
This moment chose me, I din choose it…I speak like I’ll be the first Indian taking guard at the Eden gardens tomorrow. I wish.
A defiant Indian team punched back when in dire straits and is now in a position where the match is theirs to lose. Remember, our opposition is not Australia. Despite all the cricketing prowess, South African teams have not been the strongest mentally. On the other hand India has improved significantly in that faculty. Eden gardens is the battlefield of many a resurrection. Will we be able to defend our own fort? It will need one big effort from the batting line up which suddenly looks solid again with the return of VVS. Even though there isn’t any substitute for Dravid’s master class, with a hungry Gambhir upfront and a modest South African total (assuming Parnel doesn grow a top order’s head overnight) in the first innings my moneys are evenly spread, unlike at the start of the game.
A potent South African bowling attack means that both teams must bat twice. This one has the makings of a classic. If India needs to win this they have to do it in their first innings.
Along with Siva Keshavan’s last two runs at the Luge event in Vancouver I would be watching the second day of this Test between the top two teams in the world very closely. Go Sport!!