australia

The Four who brought us Four Nil

The memories are still raw. India had been handed their second consecutive drubbing on overseas tours, and while the disastrous England tour could be blamed on the pitches and unfortunately timed injuries, it was much harder to find excuses for the thrashing down under. In the end, the 2011/12 Indian tour of Australia ensured the exits of two stalwarts and left a bad taste in the mouths of Indian fans.

When February 2013 came, there was still a bit of trepidation among Indian fans as the Australian team arrived for the return series. Harbhajan Singh proclaimed, to much derision, that India would win the series 4-0. At that point, scarred by a home series loss to England, most fans would have taken even a 1-0 win. One month later, Bhajji’s words have come true; and the only object of derision is the Australian team, who have unraveled spectacularly in the last few weeks.

Home series wins are nothing new for the Indian team; but in the context of performances over the past two years, and given the influx of inexperienced players in the squad, the 4-0 battering of the Australian team has come as balm to many fans who have weathered some horrible months recently. While there has been talk of ‘transition’ for a while now, this series has truly been the ‘turning point’ for the team, as they learned to win without major contributions from Sehwag and Harbhajan, and in the absence of Gambhir and Zaheer. The likes of Sehwag, Harbhajan and Zaheer might have played their last Tests, and another legend from Mumbai may be on his way out shortly. In fact, this series was won by four youngsters, who entered this series with contrasting reputations and differing routes to the team, but have now firmly entrenched themselves as the foundation around which the Indian team can chart new paths and create a new blueprint for success.

RETURN OF THE MONK

When Murali Vijay was retained in the squad for the Australian series, his pick was met with a a mixture of outrage and skepticism. Apart from bright performances in the two Irani games book-ending the Ranji season, his records for the year didn’t indicate that he deserved his spot. Sure enough, his dismissals in the series opener at Chennai increased the chorus of murmurs against him. What followed was an exercise in self-restraint and determination as big tons in Hyderabad and Mohali, followed by a gritty half century in Delhi proved that he has it in him to excel at the highest level.   He showed a willingness to curb his attacking instincts and do the job of a traditional opener – See off the new ball, settle down and then unfurl the full range of shots . There were times when Dhawan and Pujara got going, that he could have been tempted to accelerate as well. Instead he showcased his new-found maturity by providing able support and never relinquishing the initiatives to the the Aussies. He won neither the Man of the Series or any of the Man of the Match awards, but he ended up as the highest run-getter on either side and showed pessimistic fans that there is life beyond the famed Delhi opening combination.

CHEVOLUTION TIME

They said that it is not easy to replace a mountain of experience or tons and tons of runs in Test cricket overnight. Well, I present to you Cheteshwar Pujara. In a span of three consecutive Test series, he has proved more than an adequate replacement for one Rahul Dravid. He reeled off a double century in Hyderabad to establish complete dominance over the Aussies, but his finest innings was the authoritative 82 he scored on a tricky pitch in Delhi as an opener to take India to an unprecedented 4-0 nil whitewash of the opposition.  Bigger and tougher challenges await, but I suspect that India have found the perfect man for all occasions.

ROCKSTAR 2 – THE SIR ARISES

I will put my hand up and admit that I was one of many who was shocked with Ravindra Jadeja’s elevation to the Test squad in the series against England. He seemed to be a perfect limited overs player. He could add some valuable runs with the bat, pick a few quick wickets with the ball and field brilliantly; but he was definitely not Test material. Or so many thought. Instead, he ended the series with 24 wickets, making the finest Australian batsman his bunny and produced several acts of fielding brilliance, which the Indian Test team has lacked for years. With the bat, he didn’t score any big knocks but he calmed Indian nerves with a couple of lusty blows in Mohali and got a very valuable 40 in the first innings in Delhi. For the long run, he provides Dhoni with a lot of options when it comes to team balance. He could yet turn out to be the all rounder India desperately craves for in Tests.

SHABAASH ASH!

Ravichandran Ashwin came into this series with a bit of pressure on him. Two poor series against Australia and England, coupled with the rising Ojha and returning Harbhajan meant that the mantle of leading spinner was at stake. He had been working with his bowling coach prior to the start of the series and it showed in his first over of the series. He bamboozled the Aussie openers for a while before cutting through the top order. From there, he never let off. Shelving his infamous variations and bringing it out liberally, Ashwin deceived the batsmen with traditional off spin and ended up as the leading wicket taker and bagged the Man of the Series award for the third time in five series. With this performance, he may have effectively quelled the career of Harbhajan Singh and re-established himself as Dhoni’s leading strike bowler.

 

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Three Points Everyone – How Homeworkgate could have been avoided

Yesterday morning, I was wondering how slowly time passes by while one waits for the next cricket match featuring the Indian team. Then without warning, the cricket universe erupted in furor over the axing of four Australian cricketers from the Mohali game. Reason? The four players had failed to turn over an assignment to the coach within the imposed deadline. Task? Give at least three pointers about what the team had learnt from their drubbing in the first two tests and how they could improve over the remainder of the series. Predictably, Twitter and Facbook had a field day mercilessly mocking Mickey Arthur and the Aussie team. It seemed like an over-reaction from a frazzled team management in the middle of an important series gone terribly wrong.

A day later, mockery has given way to a more pragmatic understanding of the situation. The punishment may have been harsh, but it does seem like a reasonable request from the coach and captain to provide one’s input on how things can change for the better. After all, how hard is it to come up with a minimum of three pointers on how to improve the Australian performance? Especially, since they had five days to come up with it! Here are some of my suggestions, if the four players had the foresight to outsource their assignment to social media.

  1. Ask for bouncy pitches
  2. Get laughed at
  3. Tell the opposition we’ll seem them in Australia

 

  1. Bowl in the right areas
  2. Execute our skills
  3. Listen less to Ravi Shastri’s commentary

 

  1. Bat better
  2. Bowl better
  3. Field better

 

  1. Ask Pujara what he has for breakfast
  2. Ask the Indian spinners for tips on how to play them
  3. Ask Jadeja for fielding tips

 

  1. Eat
  2. Pray
  3. Love

 

  1. Get a better coach
  2. Haha..I was kidding. I meant “coach” as in bus
  3. Pack my bags

 

  1. Less presentations
  2. More net practice
  3. Pack my bags

 

  1. Bat like Clarke
  2. Bowl like Pattinson
  3. Field like Warner

 

  1. Don’t bat like Hughes
  2. Don’t bowl like Maxwell
  3. Don’t field like Cowan

 

  1. Import batsmen from South Africa
  2. Import spinners from Pakistan
  3. Import coach from Zimbabwe
  4. (bonus) Pack my bags.

“Sigh. I hope I can still carry drinks.”

 

 

ICYMI – February Flashback

 

The lack of information on number of attempts to frame this tweet is disappointing

The lack of information on number of attempts to frame this tweet is disappointing

RETIRING IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

The day was coming, you would think. Given the increasing relevance of social media in cricket today, it was about time some player used Twitter or Facebook for something other than copy-pasting philosophical quotes and informing us what food they “smashed” recently. Kiwi batsman and pioneer freelance cricketer Lou Vincent drew curtains on a very unfulfilled career by  tweeting the ‘only’ useful stats us cricket fans are interested in and informed his followers about his decision. While scoring a century on debut in Perth against the likes of McGrath, Lee and Warner will remain as the highlight of his career, using all of his allotted 140 characters to tweet his retirement is no less feat.

“This is the face of ruthlessness. Fear me.”

FROM KING OF SPAIN TO RUTHLESS COACH OF ENGLAND  

England’s newest cricket coach, albeit only in the limited-overs version, Ashley Giles has made a promise to maintain a stiff upper lip while it comes to choosing the right combination of players for the Champions Trophy in June. With the success of their new star Joe Root, England are in a dilemma as to which player to leave out of their top order – KP, Trott, Bell, Morgan, Root. This is complicated by the fact that Trott and Bell are former team-mates of Giles at Warwickshire. My advice to Giles would be to ask himself the question – ‘What Would Dhoni Do’. Then go ahead and pick a combination that no expert will be able to understand. Also pick more Warwickshire players in the squad.

“Ineffective? Gulity as charged. You got me!”

THE CONTRASTING FORTUNES OF SINGH AND SUPER KINGS

MS Dhoni had a dream test at his second home, as India packed off the Aussies in the first test. He scored a double century and his spinners sealed the fate of Clarke and company. Dhoni, Ashwin and Jadeja rose to the occasion at a ground they should be knowing very well by now. On the other hand, Harbhajan Singh returned to the venue where he sealed a famous win against the same opponents 12 years ago, only to highlight his declining effectiveness, even on a helpful track against inexperienced batsmen. Harbhajan is now the Ashwin of two months ago, and Ashwin is now the Harbhajan of twelve years ago.

“I got the wicket of Harbhajan…that counts, right??”

CAN MOISES LEAD THE AUSSIES ACROSS THE INDIAN WILDERNESS?

Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke and now Moises Henriques. If it is an Australian tour of India, you can rest assured that it will kick-start an Aussie cricketer’s career, or at least rejuvenate it as in the case of Hayden. While Clarke was always the known threat for the Indian bowlers, they wouldn’t have expected resistance from a 26 year old Portuguese born  cricketer playing his first test ever, let alone his first on the subcontinent. 280 balls faced, 149 runs scored, 11 fours and 2 sixes later, the Australian top order excepting Clarke might have just found a template on how to tackle spin for the remainder of the series. And no, you cannot request to “re-debut” against the Indians now.

“This international cricket is easy-peasy…yawn…”

A DIFFERENT KIND OF ABBOTT-ABAD

It is not even funny anymore. As if facing Steyn, Morkel and Philander is not bad enough as a batsman, there is a new South African pacer on the block. Kyle Abbott, all of 25 years and 38 first class games old, made a stunning debut against Pakistan, picking up 9/68 at the Centurion test.  Granted, it was against a brittle Pakistani line-up and his pace hovers in the mid-130s kph; but his modus operandi is very much similar to Philander, and look where the Vern is now. If there is any cheer for the opposition, they can breathe easy as Abbot is only the sixth choice bowler for the Saffers. Yup, with the likes of Steyn and Philander to terrorize you, why worry about him? Yet?

“You mistake me…I eat only the red ones!”

THE RETURN OF AFRIDI: THE SEQUEL TO THE TRILOGY

I don’t know which is funnier – that Shahid Afridi is making his umpteenth comeback or the words of chief selector Iqbal Qasim, “this is Afridi’s last chance and he has to perform”.

“Vaas” my name? It’s Chaminda

SRI LANKA IS “GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER” 

Sanath Jayasuriya is chief selector, Chaminda Vaas is bowling coach and Muttiah Muralitharan is a special adviser. Hey Sri Lanka, the late 90s called and they wished you best of luck. After all, these are exciting times for the island nation, as they start afresh under new captains, and who better to show pointers than a bunch of cricketers who were responsible for their golden era?

“This knock should help….urm….uh….my team to win!”

CHRIS GAYLE TWITTER STAR

Gone are the good old days when Gayle garnered sympathy for his stand-off with the WICB. Now that he is back, he is expected to exhibit that annoying trait expected of any cricketer worth their salt – “consistency”. After a disastrous run over the last two series against Bangladesh and Australia, the Jamaican Hulk decided that he had enough, skipping the one day series against Zimbabwe to take a break. If you thought that Gayle takes this break to spend some quiet time with family or work on his game, you obviously don’t follow his Twitter account. It’s only a matter of time before he jumps ship and becomes a Reality TV star.

[This article was originally published in Sportskeeda on February 28, 2013]

Two Days at Chepauk

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Slightly nervous mixed with barely controlled excitement. That’s how most international debutants feel; and it was no different for my Test match debut as a spectator at the stadium. I watched the first two days of the Chennai test between Australia and India from the stands in Chepauk and was not disappointed as Ashwin, Clarke and Tendulkar made it a very memorable experience. I’m still kicking myself over missing Dhoni’s double ton on the third day, but that story is for another time. Here is a brief recount of the highlights of my two days at Chepauk.

  • My trepidation about attending a match at the stadium had to do with the assumption that I would not be able to appreciate the minor details as much as I would have if I watched the game on TV. Instead, I realized that the trade-offs go the other way too; the joys of watching quality spin and pace bowling (Ashwin and Pattinson), masterful batting (Clarke and Tendulkar) and stunning ground fielding (Warner) at the ground does not really give a fair contest to a TV experience. Also, the ebb and flow of a hotly contested Test match really sucks you in as a spectator. There are no distractions; just an absorbing contest between a bowler and a batsman. I left the stadium with a much deeper appreciation of Test cricket. 

photo (23)

 

  • The ‘Knowledgeable Cricket Crowd’ title for Chennai fans is quite appropriate. At so many points in the match, I overheard interesting stats and anecdotes from fans sitting around me. Another impressive factor was their recognition of lesser known players. It’s one thing to recognize an Indian  reserve player, and it is another matter to realize that the Australian player walking along the boundary ropes in front of you is Jackson Bird. The Aussie players would be pleasantly surprised whenever someone would call out their name and start cheering. The same applied to players on the field. Michael Clarke and David Warner were big crowd favorites on Day 2, when their names were being chanted (this, at a time when Sachin and Pujara were at the crease!). Both obliged crowd requests by doing mini-jigs, thereby getting a lot of love from the stands. And there was something else that I never would have imagined I would see in a Test match: mexican waves. Young, old, men, women – all joined in and had a gala time doing it. All of this made for a fun two days of watching cricket at the stadium.

photo (21)

 

  • Indian players getting cheered at the stadium is no big deal. Still, it was an experience in itself whenever Tendulkar came into play. If the ball went to him when he was fielding, there was a loud cheer. If he defended a ball for no run, there was a loud cheer. The big screen at the stadium had to just show him sitting in the pavilion, and a loud cheer would resonate around the ground. There was this ridiculous instance in the first session of Day 2, when the Aussie tailenders were resisting; Sachin was off the field for a short while and the crowd was getting restless. Out of nowhere, someone started a “Sachin, Sachin” chant, which immediately got picked up in the stands. All this for a player who was not even on the field of play! It’s just mind boggling to think how he handles this game after game, in different stadiums in different countries, decade after decade.
  • It was not all perfect, of course. Entry into the stadium was not nearly as smooth as I would have liked; fans were asked to switch off their phones (in my case, I was asked to “remove the battery” of my iPhone!), those who were wearing black t-shirts were turned away (fearing some political disturbance) and there was no re-entry allowed for fans who wished to leave in between and come back later in the day. As for the big screen, it was annoying to see the action replays being cut off midway and replaced with a random ad, which always resulted in loud groans from the stands. All these amounted to minor quibbles over the two days. 

Overall, I had a great time watching the game from the stands. I understand that experiences may vary in other stadiums within the country and outside it, but I would highly recommend watching an international game at the ground for any fan who hasn’t done so till now. Watching a well contested game between two quality sides in the company of thousands of cricket lovers, making new friends and meeting up with friends you only knew in the online world till then; all of it made for a memorable international debut…..for me.

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[This article was originally published in Sportskeeda on February 26, 2013]

One angry man leaves, another returns – the contrasting fortunes of Gambhir and Harbhajan

The Indian squad for the first two tests against Australia has been announced and apart from a couple of surprises, it was pretty much along expected lines. After a prolonged lean patch, Gautam Gambhir has been replaced with his Delhi team-mate Shikhar Dhawan, Ravi Jadeja has been retained ahead of Suresh Raina, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar earns a call-up and Harbhajan Singh returns after a one Test hiatus. Apart from Wasim Jaffer, no other player needs to feel aggrieved over his non-selection. This is possibly one of the better squads assembled by the Indian selection committee in recent times. Here are my thoughts on the selected 15:

The openers

Virender Sehwag, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan

It came as a surprise, albeit a pleasant one, to hear that Gautam Gambhir had been dropped from the Test side. This was long overdue and it’s hard to see this kind of decision being taken by the previous selection committee. Gambhir has trotted out all kinds of excuses and reasons as to why he should open for India in the long form, but his luck has finally run out. Without a century in nearly three years and with plenty of alternatives turning up, dropping him was the right choice. Hopefully, he will make a strong case for a return when he captains India A in their practice game against the Aussies.

Seeing the fate of his friend, Sehwag cannot rest easy. This should be motivation enough for him to raise his game. The message has been sent loud and clear by the selectors: Reputation doesn’t matter. Perform or perish.

Murali Vijay can be considered lucky to retain his place in the team, considering his poor Ranji season. Then again, his ability to come up with the big scores when the spotlight is turned on him, suggests that he has it in him to become a big-match player. This is an ideal opportunity to silence his detractors and prove that he belongs to this level.

Shikhar Dhawan is one of the consensus picks, in that I doubt his selection would have merited too much of a debate. He had a good season and it is time to see if he has what it takes to succeed at this level.

The middle order batsmen

Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni

Despite Kohli’s indifferent form of late, he is a certainty in the middle order along with Pujara and Tendulkar (who has warmed up nicely with a ton in the Irani trophy). That leaves the perennial battle for the number 6 slot between Rahane and Jadeja. Rahane is one of the best batsmen in the domestic circuit and has shown the capacity to rack up huge scores, but he is pitted against Jadeja, who himself is capable of compiling marathon knocks with the added bonus of bowling left arm spin (and we all know Dhoni’s favorite kind of player). Added to the fact that Rahane fits the mold of a top order player, coupled with his poor run against high quality bowling in the ODIs against England, we might just see Jadeja get another shot at Test cricket.

The spinners

Ravichandran Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Harbhajan Singh

Ashwin and Ojha were always set to retain their place; but it was interesting to see that the selectors walked back their policy of having variety in spin options by dumping the leg spinner and opting for a second offie in Harbhajan. By this decision, they have opted to play their three best spinners; and it a fairly good choice. Harbhajan has shown glimpses of old in the Irani trophy and the sight of his favorite opponents might just awaken the “wicket-taker” in him.

The fast bowlers

Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar

Given the lack of options due to injury concerns to the first choice pacers, this is the best alternative. Ishant will lead the attack, but will have a debutant to share the new ball. Dinda has been on the sidelines for a while, and Kumar has enjoyed a rapid rise through the ranks, thanks to consistent performances in the limited over games. So who should partner Ishant? Its a tough choice but I see both of them get a game each before the next selection takes place.

My first choice XI:

Vijay, Sehwag, Pujara, Tendulkar, Kohli, Jadeja, Dhoni, Harbhajan, Bhuvneshwar, Ojha, Ishant

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.

 

The SpeedFather – A tribute to Brett Lee

When Brett Lee announced his retirement from international cricket recently, it brought to end one of the finest careers a modern fast bowler could ever hope to have, taking into account all the injuries and breakdowns associated with it. A career which included being part of a World Cup win and three Ashes triumphs, and in one where he ended up with 718 international wickets, and leaving as international cricket’s tenth leading wicket taker of all time. Despite several injuries throughout his career, including some which kept him out of the 2007 World Cup and 2009 Ashes, he stayed resilient enough to trouble the best batsmen through a 13 year career. Most importantly, his retirement brought down the curtains on the career of one of that rare breed of sportsmen: a player who is respected by the opposition and loved by opposition fans.

There are lot of pace bowlers on the international circuit, but there are very few who put the ‘fast’ in fast bowling. Lee was one of the few bowlers who consistently bowled at the same frightening speeds throughout his career. He never compromised on pace, which made him a terrific player to watch when in full flow. Along with his signature high jumping and heel clicking celebrations after taking a wicket, he was a true entertainer who had the performances to match.

This combination of an exciting player and wonderful human being is what makes Brett Lee so special. He entered the scene at a time when the Australian team was on top, but was not generally liked for their abrasive behavior. Slowly, but surely he wormed himself into the hearts of all cricket fans, endearing himself to many as a quintessential fighter who never gave an inch to the opposition but off the field very friendly with many of these same opponents.

Of course, just being a nice guy is not going to promise you a successful career. Lee had the skills to succeed in all formats of the game; in Tests, he was an able support to the likes of McGrath and Warne in the early part of his career, and after their departure, he took up responsibility for leading the attack. In T20s, he has contributed more to domestic successes in BBL, IPL and the Champions League; but it was in ODIs where he was a true world class performer. While he was initially profligate in the first half of his career, he soon improved to become one of the best bowlers in ODI history.

There are too many memorable moments from Binga’s career to recount here; but two stand out in my memory. One is that unforgettable Edgbaston match in 2005, where despite a defiant unbeaten 43, Australia fell short by 2 runs. The image of Flintoff consoling Lee was a reminder of the spirit which those two competitors shared. It is worth mentioning because it is rarely found these days. The other memory is when later that year, in a series against South Africa, he hit Kallis on the helmet with a bouncer and immediately ran over to him to check if he was alright. Next ball, a yorker crashes into the stumps. That incident showcased everything about Lee: a top human being who was also in complete control of his game.

Finally, it leaves the question of what kind of legacy he leaves behind. When he made his debut, he joined a bunch of ruthless star performers who maintained Australia’s hold on the top ranking. Now, he leaves behind a team struggling to fight its way back to the top. Still, if there is one positive going for the Aussies now, it is the promise displayed by the likes of Pat Cummins and James Pattinson. If Lee so desires, he can still play a major role in Australia’s resurgence by mentoring the young fast bowlers. Given Binga’s nature, that is not improbable at all.

Never Back Down – Virat Kohli Version

The last time I made the mistake of giving up on watching a cricket match to its finish, was way back in 2002, when India faced South Africa in a Champions Trophy game in Sri Lanka. South Africa, led by a Gibbs century, were cruising to victory at the end of 40 overs, when i switched off the TV and went to sleep dejected. Imagine my consternation (albeit, a pleasantly surprised one) when I woke up and found out that South Africa did what they do best in crunch situations and fold to a combination of mesmeric spin and electric fielding, as India stole a win by five runs.

That day, I promised myself that I would never give up on India till the last ball is bowled. By and large, I have remained true to it, and willed myself to sit through agonizing and thrilling games alike. Then, yesterday happened.

Numbed after a series of overseas losses over the last year, I gave up on the team yesterday. Halfway through the game, India had conceded 320 and generally looked listless on the field. It was as if the players had mentally completed the tour and were itching to get back to the comforts of home. As the team disintegrated on the field, I decided that enough was enough. If the players were not interested, why should fans bother? So, I switched off the stream and went to sleep frustrated with another abject performance by Dhoni’s men.

Sure enough, when I woke up and groggily checked the CricInfo app on my phone, the headlines “Kohli masterclass keeps India alive”  jolted me up. Since then, I’ve watched the highlights three times (not enough apparently!) and pored over the press reports; and yet, the exhilaration of an improbable victory has not left me yet.

 

So, thank you Virat, for a gem of an innings. Not only did you keep India alive in the series (just!), but you also gave me 133 reasons to never give up on this team again!

 

Dhoni’s Delhi Belly

First off, let me clarify that this post is based on hypothesis. I don’t know for sure if there is a rift in the Indian camp. Reports of Sehwag and Gambhir being unhappy with Dhoni is just rumors at this point. All that we have are reports like these. Though comments from certain players indicate that all is not well, without hard facts, it is hard to know for sure.

Having said that, this post is about whose side I would be on, assuming that the Delhi boys have a problem with the skipper.

Based on the media reports through the tournament, MS Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag are the three major players in this story.

Gambhir got tongues wagging, when he subtly criticized Dhoni for taking the game till the last over, the same one in which Dhoni got the team over the winning line. Recently, Sehwag feigned ignorance of Dhoni’s reasoning for rotation of the senior batsmen and maintained that the skipper had given them different reasons. Some other soundbites from the same presser indicate some sort of frostiness between the two. Read it and judge for yourself.

The usually unflappable Dhoni himself has started to show signs of frustration, with the finger wagging at the umpires in the Australia game coming as a rare sight. Poor performances on the field are nothing new for him, so this could hint at some tough times off the field as well. Now, with Sehwag’s comments he might feel as if the Delhi boys are ganging upon him.

Anytime a player or a group of players rise up in mutiny against the incumbent skipper, that too during the middle of a tough tour, I’m always going to support the incumbent skipper. Whatever issues one may have, and there are a few legitimate issues to be sorted out regarding the captain’s recent decisions, public signs of dissension are never a good idea. For two experienced international cricketers, they have not been very bright about how this might be interpreted outside the team circle. Team loyalty has been thrown out the window, and this team is increasingly starting to resemble the Pakistan team of the 90s with all their infighting.

Gambhir is one of the finest batsmen in the Indian team and he has a big role to play in the coming years to guide the side when the Big Three leave the arena; but that doesn’t mean he has to let his ego get in the way of the team’s greater good. If he had a problem with Dhoni’s tactics, it should be discussed behind closed doors, not in the public forum. He might be a prickly character to the opposition, but we don’t need that to be displayed against his own team-mates. This is where he differs from Virat Kohli, another Delhi batsman with an aggressive outlook. Can you see Kohli making the same comments Gambhir did, even if he had felt the same? That is why, I would rather see Kohli being groomed as the next captain. He might have attitude problems, but you know that he will never cast aspersions on his own team-mates.

Virender Sehwag. For the last 10 years, everyone is comfortable with the explanation, “Thats the way he bats, and thats the way he talks’. Why not? His records speak for themselves, and his quips have made many a press conference and post-game more livelier. Nowadays, it can be grating. Sure, he has taken a couple of good catches this summer, but with the bat, he has been a major disappointment, mostly getting out to poor deliveries. Now, with his recent comments, he has made the dressing room environment more tense. Reports of a rift between the two have been around for a long time. If I’m not mistaken, there was a similar issue during the last Champions Trophy or something. While he and Dhoni may display overt signs of camaraderie on the field, it doesn’t matter if Sehwag can’t back it off the field. Like Gambhir, if he had any doubts with Dhoni’s explanation for the rotation policy, he should have clarified with the skipper before making any statements to the press. What this all does is create a suspicious environment around the team; something they don’t need at this point in the tournament, or for that matter, at this point as a team in transition.

Dhoni’s captaincy has been disappointing this summer and some of his decisions on the field are plain baffling; but he is the captain of the side, and the players have to respect that. This is not the time to harbor captaincy ambitions of their own, but to ensure that the team does better in the remainder of the tournament. Beyond this tour, the players, the coach and the board have to band together to work out a way the team can get better. Hopefully, whatever differences there may be between players, saner heads will prevail. A team with Dhoni, Gambhir and Sehwag all working on the same page, can be the best news for a team which is crying out for  a strong and unified leadership.

 

I have a dream – India’s tour of Australia

Four years ago, the Indian cricket team landed on the Australian shores led by one of the finest gentlemen in the game, with a world class bunch of batsmen and bowlers (Ok, thats stretching it a bit!) with one single mission on their minds: beat the hosts and win a series down under for the first time in their history.

Despite possessing the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni, Anil Kumble and Zaheer Khan (albeit, for one Test), the mission remained unfulfilled. The tour descended into acrimony, even as the visitors could only manage a solitary win at Perth. Many feared (Ok, just the Indians) that with the next Australian tour a good four years away, the Indian stalwarts would have retired, and the best chance of defeating Australia in their own backyard had just been screwed up.

Well, here we are four years on. How things have changed and yet remained so same! Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman are still here (like old creaking terminators, as Dravid put it), while the Aussie team is barely recognizable from that tour. It is safe to say that with all of the current problems plaguing the hosts, THIS could turn out to be the best chance for India to secure a historic series victory down under.

Yes, India has an aging middle order which will have to contend with a fiery combo of James Pattinson and Peter Siddle. Yes, they have a largely inexperienced bunch of bowlers consisting of one fragile world class seamer and an assortment of medium pacers who don’t trouble too many batsmen at domestic level either. Yes, they have two exciting spinners who will be playing on seam friendly tracks, far from the comforts of home-made turners against weaker opposition. And yes, for all of Australia’s troubles, they still are a bunch of tough nuts to crack, with the likes of Warner, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, Siddle, Pattinson and Lyon around.

Still, as a famous man once said (in a completely different context), “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair”.

For, I have a dream.

I have a dream, that for the first time this year, Gautam Gambhir will score an international century.

I have a dream, that Virender Sehwag will carry forward good memories of his last test match at Melbourne; not to forget, his recent barn-storming innings against West Indies in the ODI series.

I have a dream that Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman will have one last victorious hurrah in a land, that at various stages in their careers, made them the batsmen they are now.

I have a dream that this series will be confirmation that Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma can take over when the big guns retire.

I have a dream that this series will be MS Dhoni’s proudest win as test skipper.

I have a dream that Ojha and Ashwin will continue to enhance their reputations in a country which hasn’t always been favorable to spinners; also, that they will make up for the supposedly missing ‘fire-in-belly’ due to Harbhajan Singh’s absence.

I have a dream that Zaheer Khan will last atleast two consecutive matches; and win the games for his country, while doing so.

Ditto for Ishant Sharma.

I have a dream that Umesh Yadav can match James Pattinson for pace and guile; and that Vinay Kumar and Mithun will be ready when another pace bowler eventually breaks down.

Most of all, I dream that it will be a fascinating contest between bat and ball, adorned with thrilling performances by seasoned veterans and passionate youngsters; After all, these are #testing times.

This is my hope, and my faith.