Month: November 2012

Ricky Ponting – The Inglorious Basterd

There have been only two instances when I have cried, with regards to cricket.

One was the infernal disaster that was the 1996 World Cup semi-final at Calcutta. As a ten year old who fell in love with the game during that tournament, I felt cheated that I didn’t get the dream finish that I had hoped, with India lifting the trophy.

The other occasion was the 2003 World Cup final. Yet again, India and Tendulkar were thwarted at the cusp of glory. After overcoming a disastrous start to their campaign, India had built up good momentum before getting crushed by the Aussies in the final. As I reeled at the magnitude of the defeat and was left wallowing at another despairing end to a World Cup campaign, my eyes rested on a slight man dressed in bright yellow and holding the World Cup in his hands, with the widest grin on his face. In 121 balls of mayhem, the Australian captain destroyed the hopes of an expectant nation. At that moment, I hated Ricky Ponting in a very visceral way.

Funnily enough, till that point, Ponting aka Punter was one of my favorite international players. Three years earlier, I was fortunate enough to meet him in person when he had come to my school on a promotional visit. He was offering batting tips to a select few of the school cricket team, and the thing that struck me most about him was the grin. He was very cheerful, made us all feel at ease, cracked a few jokes in his Tasmanian accent (which most of us could not understand anyway!), and at the end, we all left feeling richer for the experience of interacting with a world class player who was surprisingly down to earth and relatable. From that day, he jostled with Jonty Rhodes and Wasim Akram for the spot of ‘my favorite international cricketer’.

All that changed on the evening of March 23, 2003. Since then, through the years, I have grown to dislike Punter. I have grudgingly acknowledged his successes, rejoiced in his failures and mocked his various mis-steps. He has played numerous memorable knocks (many of them against India!); knocks which stood out for their imperiousness, savagery and a brutal finality. Still, it was easier to dislike him than most other batting stars.

He fit the image of the ‘ugly Aussie’. There have been many finger-pointing incidents with umpires, and he was never shy of initiating a sledging contest with the opposition. He has shouted at the coach of the opposition,  broken a TV set in the dressing room, had on-field discord with team-mates; and I’m not even getting into the pre-2000 battle with alcohol, which he eventually overcame. All these were sufficient ammo for his detractors, including myself, because we had nothing else to go after; to put it simply, he was that good a batsman.

Ponting once said after the ill tempered 2007 series against India, “I don’t expect everyone to like me. I am here to do a job, and that is to win matches for Australia”. Well, he did that alright. For close to a decade, he was one of the best batsman of his generation and most of his records will stand the test of time. Like him or not, there was no disputing the quality of Ricky Ponting.

Over the last couple of years, my strong feelings have dissipated. His recent failures reminded me, that at the end of the day, he is a mere mortal whose powers are on the wane. Throughout the cricket world, people who once treated Ponting like their personal foe, started to feel sorry for him and wished that he would go out on a high. Being the proud man that he is, Ponting might have figured out that this was his cue to leave the arena.

Looking back, I can’t believe how much Ponting got in to my head over the years! Ever since that World Cup final loss in 2003, I looked forward to contests with Australia more than any other team. I wanted the Aussies to be thrashed, so that I could rejoice at the sight of a disappointed Ponting; because one look at his face after a loss, told one how much he hated to be on the losing side. In that respect, he gave me many occasions to gloat; Adelaide 2003, Mohali 2010, Ahmedabad 2011 – were all the sweeter as it came against Ponting’s Aussies. Of course, there is no shortage of the opposite results, where I have been absolutely disgusted about defeats, none more than the recent four nil drubbing last year.

Still, after a career spanning 17 years, Punter has earned my respect, if not my grudging admiration. As much as I loved to hate him for his excessive liking to Indian bowling and prickly behavior, it is hard to deny the fact that he made me that much more passionate about the game and inadvertently led me to appreciate his greatness. I won’t go as far as saying that there will be none like him, but I’m grateful that I got to witness the career of one of the most remarkable batsmen in the history of the game, warts and all.

Best wishes, Punter; you inglorious basterd.

 

Couldn’t have put it better myself….

Limited Overs

Yesterday, Freddie Wilde (@fwildecricket) over at The Corridor of Certainty posted a piece he wrote about Sachin Tendulkar. It’s beautiful and short and perfect and you should read it. Everyone should read it.

A few hours after posting it, my friend Devanshu of DeepBackwardPoint and TheTeesra retweeted his story, as did several other people. And it simply made me happy to know that I blogged within a community that promoted its own members. If you write a decent story, your fellow bloggers will promote it, guaranteed.

The non-competitive and helpful nature of cricket bloggers is probably due to the fact that none of us make any money doing this, nor do we really expect to. At least I don’t. Ever. At all. And honestly the above is probably true for other blogging communities – be it fashion or music or technology, but I like to think that our…

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Wreck-it Sehwag

It’s simply incredible that Virender Sehwag is going to play his 100th Test at Mumbai tomorrow. Everything about him suggests that he should have never made it this far. All throughout his career, we have heard about his lack of footwork, his careless dismissals, the laconic attitude and refusal to change his game according to the situation. Any other cricketer with those attributes would have never survived past 10 Tests; but here he is – the Nawab of Najafgarh, on the cusp of a highly cherished milestone.

In 99 Tests, Sehwag has scored 8448 runs with 23 tons and 32 fifties at an average of 50.89 and a SR of 82. There are quite a few batsmen around with similar stats, except on the strike rate. Throughout his career, he has never compromised on quick starts and has paved many a way for an Indian victory. By doing that on a consistent basis and still establishing a fine career, he has shattered the myth that an opener’s role is to just see of the new ball and hang in there as long as he can. That will always be his legacy and it is a mighty one to have.

He has played many a memorable knock (think of 293 at Mumbai 2009, 201 at Galle 2008, 195 at Melbourne 2003), but for me the best Sehwag innings was his very first, against a rampaging South African attack consisting of Pollock, Hayward, Kallis and Ntini on a tricky Bloemfontein pitch in 2001. A typical innings from a batting position where he soon moved out of, it consisted of all his trademarks – free flowing knock regardless of the team position, included. Soon, he moved to the top of the order and made it his own position. The fast paced knocks never abated, and he remains as one of those rare batsmen who never mold their game with advancing age. If that is good or not, is a matter of individual opinion.

Of late, he has not been in the best form and there have been calls by a lot of people (including me!) to drop him from the team if his failures continue in the ongoing series; but going by the way he batted in both innings, he is far from done yet. More importantly, he has shown signs that he does work on his game seriously and doesn’t take his place for granted.

Still, bigger challenges await. A tour of South Africa looms on the horizon, which presents an ideal opportunity for him to prove that he still has the game to succeed overseas. As unlikely as it may seem now, remember that very few would have expected him to play 100 Tests when they chanced upon him in his early days. As he is fan of inspirational quotes, Sehwag will surely approve the following one.

Nothing is predestined: The obstacles of your past can become the gateways that lead to new beginnings.
Ralph Blum

Nicely done!

Quite Cross

From the first England vs India test, there were the following non-surprises:
(1) India bat batter then England on flat pitches.
(2) India’s spinners know how to bowl.
(3) England are terrified of not having (at least) 3 quick bowlers.
(4) England are in deep shit.

There were also the following partial surprises:
(1) Che Pujara is amazing – however good you may have thought he was before this, an unbeaten double-ton is never expected.
(2) Alistair Cook is astounding – we knew he was solid and a grafter, but really, his (almost lone) defiance was as stunning as Pujara’s – especially when you factor in that Cookie faced the better bowling.
(3) The biggest surprise though, was that both of India’s quick bowlers out-bowled ALL three of England’s.

Why Were India’s Quick Bowlers So Much Better?
Think about it.
Put yourself in the mind of one of the England…

View original post 246 more words

The No Spin Zone

After weeks of slow build-up, the much awaited Test series between India and England is finally here. It’s been a relatively silent prelude to the series, considering the hype generated before the previous series between these two teams. There hasn’t been the usual verbal spars or snarky newspaper articles this time around, apart from an occasional reference to the 4-0 English whitewash in the previous series; then again, both teams have their own issues to sort out in-house. England have been busy dealing with the ‘re-integration’ of Pietersen and managing fitness concerns of their bowlers; India are worried about Zaheer’s fitness and the iffy form of their top order.

Still, it is pretty clear, from the evidence of the last few weeks, what the most important factor is going to be in this series. England have played three warm-up games since they landed, against opposition of varied strength, and the defining feature of the practice games has been the paucity of spin practice for the English. While the first game had no genuine spinner in the India A squad, the second and third games had spinners who barely feature in the first choice XI for their sides. In fact, despite having Amit Mishra in their XI, Haryana didn’t even bowl him in the second innings of the third practice game. The message from the Indian camp to the English is very clear: No spin for you, lads.

So, when England come out to bat in the first test at Ahmedabad, they will face the highly effective pair of Ashwin and Ojha,  after having the advantage of landing in India early nullified by the lack of generosity from the BCCI. After their travails against Ajmal in UAE and Herath in Sri Lanka, the signs are pointing to another ‘death by spin’ exhibition of batting by the English.

Now, the rights and wrongs of the ‘no spin’ move by the BCCI is debatable and a matter of  individual opinion. Some may call it ungracious and unsportsmanlike to invite a team early, and not provide them with the best preparation possible. Others point out to similar tactics by teams like England and Australia who provide under-strength opposition and pitches unlike the ones used in the Tests, during the warm up games in their home series. Fact of the matter is, both sides have valid points, and ultimately the final decision lies with the home cricket board, as to what teams and grounds they choose for the warm-up phase of the series.

Personally, I started out being fully supportive of the move to restrict useful spin practice for the English; Now, it doesn’t look so great. Yes, it could backfire – the touring batsmen might have just played themselves into form and high confidence after facing weak oppositions. This could also have been a useful time for the likes of the maligned Harbhajan to regain confidence, or a junior spinner like Harmeet to try his wares against quality batsmen.

So, all said and done, the upcoming series will prove if this was the right move or not. An English capitulation to spin could pave the way for similar moves against other touring opposition as well. Either way, this has given an edge to the series which was lacking in antagonism between the two sides.

 

For The Love Of The Game – A Short Story

It was the incessant ringing of the door-bell that woke him up. Groggily, the old man checked the time on the wall clock above his television set and was surprised that his friend had arrived much earlier than expected. Slightly annoyed, he got up from his rocking chair and switched off the TV, even as the door-bell continued to ring. “I’m coming!” he shouted grumpily. Muttering to himself, he ambled to the front door and opened it.

 

“Hello Grandpa. Hope I am not disturbing you.”

 

For a moment, the old man didn’t know how to respond. After all, it was not often that his teenage grandson came around to visit him; but there he was, standing at his door step with an almost forlorn expression on his face.

 

“Of course not, kid. Come on in”. The old man moved aside and let the teenager trudge in to the living room. Even as he tried to gather his thoughts, wondering what the reasons for the unexpected visit could be, the teenager flopped on a near-by sofa and asked for a glass of water.

 

Fetching the glass of water, the old man handed it over to the boy, who gulped it down in a flash.

 

Shifting uncomfortably, the old man asked, “So, what’s the matter, kid? You look upset.”

 

The Kid looked up at his grandfather. “Well, I AM upset, grandpa. As you may know, I play cricket for my school team, and recently my form has hit rock bottom. I can’t seem to work it out and am on the verge of getting dropped from the team. Mom said you have played some cricket in your younger days and that you might be able to help. That’s why I’m here.”

 

The old man’s eyes lit up for a second. Some cricket, huh? Suppose one could call that, he mused. Still, he wasn’t interested in the Kid’s problems. All he wanted was to get some more shut-eye before his friend came along to play chess with him.

 

“Well, it’s no big deal, kid. Every cricketer worth his salt runs into bad form now and then. It is part and parcel of the game. You just got to keep working hard in the nets and never give up. Eventually, everything will fall into place again, and you will be much better for this experience. As they say, form is temporary but class is permanent.” Saying this, the old man subtly walked towards the front door.

 

The teenager didn’t look convinced. After pondering for a moment, he got up from the sofa. “You know what? Never mind. The only reason I came here was because my mom forced me to; but you are telling me the same stuff I have heard over and over again for the last few weeks. It doesn’t really help; but it’s ok. I was thinking of leaving the game anyway, and trying out for football instead. The other day, I heard a team-mate saying that cricket was dying. If that is true, I might as well make the switch now.”

 

As the boy made his way towards the door, the old man said calmly, “Sit down, kid. We need to talk.”

 

There was a fire in the old man’s eyes that the Kid had never seen before. Without asking any questions, he made his way back to the sofa and sat down.

 

The old man took his place at the rocking chair and didn’t say anything for a while. Just as the teen was wondering if he should say something, the old man spoke up.

 

“Cricket isn’t going anywhere, kid.”

 

The Kid just sat there with a puzzled expression, even as his grandfather continued.

 

“Cricket is dying, it seems. What a load of rubbish! Do you know of the game’s origins, boy?”

 

The Kid spluttered, “Umm…it started in the late 1800s I think….”

 

“The game of cricket was mentioned as early as 1598 in an Italian-English dictionary”, the old man interjected. “So, this game has managed to survive for close to five centuries in one form or the other. During that course, it has survived various tweaks to its laws, two world wars, a series which threatened to bring two countries to an armed conflict, match-fixing claims and more recently a power struggle between ICC chief Stuart Broad and BCCI president Virat Kohli. In the course of my life time, I have heard many doomsday prophets predict that the game was dying; they said that cricket was not keeping up with the modern ways of the world, that an increasing number of youngsters were getting seduced by other sports, and that the game would eventually fade into a relic of the past. Guess what? Cricket has outlasted each and every one of them!”

 

The old man looked over to the Kid who was listening with his mouth half open and in rapt attention. Satisfied, he pressed on.

 

“And I’ll tell you why it is not so easy to kill this game. The sport is not owned by a bunch of fat cats sitting in board rooms, as much as they’d like to think so. It survives because of the passion of every individual who is genuinely in love with the game. It survives because of the junior cricketer who wakes up every day with dreams of representing his country at the highest level. It survives because of the pride of the cricketer who plays for his country and recognizes his special privilege. It survives because of the fan that makes sacrifices to watch the matches in stadiums, forsaking the comfort of watching it on TV or the internet. These individuals, who consider this sport as their life, are the ones who keep the game alive.”

 

Leaning forward and fixing his eyes on the boy, he continued. “So, don’t worry about the game, kid. It can take care of itself. Administrators, players, fans – all will come and go; but cricket will survive. As for your problems, my simple advice would be to relax and learn to enjoy the game. Don’t over complicate matters by worrying about the number or runs you score or the number of wickets you are picking up. Enjoy the simple things: holding a bat in your hands, running between the wickets, diving around the field and running in to bowl a delivery. Learn to celebrate the success of your team-mates and to acknowledge your opponents when they have played a good game. Listen to well meaning advice, acknowledge your shortcomings, and do not let success get to your head. Continue to work hard no matter what. When you have mastered these things, you will be at peace with yourself and your game. The results will invariably follow. Get it?”

 

The Kid nodded in a daze. After few seconds of silence, the Kid realized that his grandfather was done. He quietly stood up and started his walk towards the door.

 

At the door, he paused and looked back towards his grandfather. “Thanks a lot, Grandpa.”

The old man just nodded in acknowledgement.

 

“Tell me one thing, though. When Mom said that you used to play some cricket, she was just understating it, wasn’t she? Till what level did you actually play?”

 

The old man got up from his chair, beaming. “Well, let’s just say that I was part of two world cup winning teams and I played over a hundred tests for India.”

 

The Kid’s eyes widened. “Whoa! That’s awesome! So, all the stuff you were talking about…..you actually know that stuff don’t you?”

 

“Kid, I don’t just know it. I’ve lived it. Highs and lows, I have seen them all; and I learned these things the hard way. It was a journey full of twists and turns; but oh, what a journey it was!”

 

The Kid smiled. His new found admiration for his grandfather was unmistakable. Saying his goodbye, he exited the house. On his way out, he passed an older man who was entering the house.

 

The visitor looked back at the boy who was leaving the house, with a spring in his step. “Who was that kid, Bhajji?”

 

“That, my friend, is hopefully a kid who has just realized what cricket is all about.”