sachin tendulkar

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. 

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  • 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.

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  • 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]

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Skyfall for an Indian Cricket Fan

Testing times

Boy, even by usual standards, there have been a lot of articles written in the last week over the state of Indian cricket. Apart from cricket journos, ex-players, former selectors, bloggers – all have weighed in, on what is ailing Dhoni’s men. Here is what I have learnt from the sum total of all these articles:

1. Gautam Gambhir – Out of form for too long and hasn’t scored a century in nearly two years. He did score a fighting fifty in Mumbai, but batted selfishly by not shielding the tailenders and caring more for his batting average. Not in sync with the captain or the rest of the team. Drop him.

2. Virender Sehwag – Scored a big hundred in the opening Test but has been off the boil overall. Keeps wasting good starts. Needs to value his wicket more. Drop him.

3. Sachin Tendulkar – Experience highly needed at the moment. Let him stay; but his knocks are painful to watch and age has clearly caught up with him. Drop him.

4. Virat Kohli – After a promising start to the home season, he has faded away. Place him on notice. Oh wait, it will make him complacent. Drop him.

5. MS Dhoni – Can’t bat. Can’t keep. Can’t captain. In Tests. Drop him.

6. R Ashwin – India’s best batsman over the last year, but is in the team for his bowling. Which has been disappointing. Drop him.

7. Ishant Sharma – How does he keep getting picked? Drop him.

8. Duncan Fletcher – ROFL. Sack him.

9. Che Pujara and Pragyan Ojha – Please. Don’t drop them. Ever.

 

PS: On a serious note, it is time to accept that this is what Indian fans will have to put up with, for the foreseeable future. The Indian team is clearly not one of the top sides in Test cricket anymore, and are facing a shortage of world class Test performers, who can take them back to the number 1 ranking. Then again, it was just over a decade ago that England were at the bottom of the pile; and look where they are now. The road to the top is actually a wheel of fortune. The BCCI and team management will have to make some smart decisions in the coming months, irrespective of the result of the Nagpur Test. It is too much to expect of course, but there is always hope – the eternal companion of a cricket tragic; nay, an Indian cricket tragic.

Indian Cricket on the Road to Somewhere

0-8. Never forget.

Over the course of two tours, to England and Australia, Indian fans were treated to soul crushing and legend shattering performances from the team, as the number 1 ranking was surrendered, and then the retirements of long-time servants of Indian cricket were hastened. Indian cricket was well and truly forced into the transitional phase, which it kept talking about for years, but never really took any steps towards it.

That is why, the series against New Zealand raised a lot of interest and expectations towards how India is going to plan ahead. With tough home series against England and Australia, and an overseas assignment against the current number 1 team to follow, the situation called for some bold and visionary thinking from the selectors to pick a squad keeping the future in mind.

Well, if you know anything about Indian cricket and its selectors, you know what was always the most likely thing to happen. Kris Srikkanth and gang opted for the safe route and picked pretty much the same squad which had been failing overseas, but could be trusted to deliver in home conditions. Retirements forced the hand of the selectors, allowing come-back opportunities for Che Pujara and Suresh Raina, but there seemed to be no tangible measures taken in response to the drubbing in two consecutive overseas tours.

On the basis of the two Tests against the Kiwis, most of the issues remain un-resolved. I’m going to take a look at some of them and give my ideas about how to tackle it.

The opening conundrum

When Gambhir and Sehwag notched a 50 run partnership in the second innings of the Bangalore test, it was their first in 12 innings. It is hard to believe that this is the same pair, who just a couple of years back, formed one of the best opening pairs in international cricket. They were instrumental in India’s rise to the top of the rankings, and it is not a surprise that India’s fall coincides with a decline in their performances. Of late, Gambhir seems to be more assured in the shorter formats than in Tests, and his dismissals mirror that fact. He keeps edging deliveries to the slip cordon while trying to run the ball down to third man, and for an opener that kind of misjudgment is career suicide. All the qualities which made him one of the best openers in Indian cricket history, seem to be in short supply and it doesn’t help that his partner is going through a similar crisis himself.

Sehwag has never been a conventional opener and his success to date has defied belief. He averages over 50, has two triple tons apart from several other big centuries, and gives rapid fire starts just about every time he gets into a groove – all this despite a very unorthodox batting style bordering on the very definition of risk. Most of the time, he gets out to a poor shot and immediately is excused, saying “that’s the way he plays”. Unfortunately, nowadays we are treated to short cameo knocks from Sehwag before he gifts his wicket away, and coupled with Gambhir’s inconsistency, his inability to play the big innings he is famous for, is starting to cause headaches for India at the top.

So what is the solution? Can we afford to drop either or both Gambhir and Sehwag? Should India stick with them, trusting and hoping, that the proven performers will shine against England and Australia?

Personally, if there was any time to drop either opener and blood new batsmen, it was the series against a low profile team like New Zealand. With England dropping in soon, it is unreasonable to expect a replacement to perform immediately against quality opposition, when under a lot of pressure. The next best step is to give the pair another go, against England and hope they regain their appetite for huge knocks. If it doesn’t work, it is time for the team to take a leap of faith and try new players, regardless of reputation. Pujara and Kohli are good examples of youngsters who have grabbed their opportunities to replace batsmen who were considered irreplaceable till recently, and there is no reason why the likes of Rahane or Mukund can’t do the same.

The middle-order blues

While two batsmen established themselves firmly in the plans for the upcoming contests, Sachin Tendulkar and Suresh Raina had a forgettable series against the Kiwis, despite looking good in patches. Tendulkar is the last of the old guard and while he may resist any overtures, his time is drawing to a close. It is a just a matter of, how he is going to leave the game – in a blaze of glorious run-scoring or a series of painful torturous innings. On the other hand, Raina is still trying unsuccessfully to convince everyone that he can handle Test cricket. These are two batsmen at different stages of their careers, but at a time when the team is going through a metamorphosis, the management has to decide whether they figure in their long term plans.

In the case for Tendulkar, his experience is invaluable considering the newly re-modeled middle order is still finding its feet. While the manner of his dismissals in the series indicate a slowing of reflexes, I have seen many a Tendulkar slump before an inevitable deluge of run scoring silences the critics. He is a proud cricketer who will be hurting from the whitewashes in England and Australia, and I wouldn’t put it past him to raise his game one last time against high quality opposition.

As for Raina, he’s got to go. The likes of Rahane, Badrinath and Tiwary will wonder what else they can do to get a place ahead of him, considering his inferior record in first class cricket. Despite a scratchy fifty in the first innings of the Bangalore Test, his dismissal in the second innings confirmed the fact that he does not have the temperament to be consistent in this format. If he continues to be in the XI, England and Australia are bound to feast on him. This should perhaps be the easiest decision to take for Dhoni, when the next series starts.

The captaincy question

While many agree that MS Dhoni is one of the finest skippers in international cricket when it comes to the short forms, the opinion is more divided when it comes to Tests. The arguments are mainly ‘he is too defensive’ and ‘he doesn’t deserve a place in the XI’. They have some merit, but are they really viable at this stage?

Yes, Dhoni was captain during the two disastrous tours, but would any other captain have made a difference? If your batsmen experience a collective loss in form and your bowlers cannot maintain a consistent line and length, it wouldn’t matter if you were Mike Brearley. Apart from that, there are no quality alternatives at this stage. Gambhir and Sehwag are not in the best of form, and Kohli is too raw. Instead, it would be wise to groom Kohli for the captaincy, so that there is a smooth transition at the appropriate time, at least when it comes to leadership. At the moment, Dhoni is still our best bet as he commands respect and more importantly, with his performances in this series, no one can ask questions of his place in the team…for now.

Whither the fast bowlers?

India has never been known for producing quality speed merchants, or for that matter any pace bowler who can compete with the best in the world. Despite that, India had two decent options this series in Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav. Thanks to the spinners, they didn’t really have to do much apart from taking the shine off the ball and occasionally coming on, to provide the spinners some respite after long spells. That is why it was disappointing to see their underwhelming performances, even in limited roles.

Zaheer Khan is in a steady decline at the moment. He is no more the bowler he was at his pomp, and at the moment, its his guile and experience which still warrants him a place in the side. It is up to the team management to use him wisely in the coming months, as contests against quality teams are lined up. Stop using him in ODIs and T20s; preserve him for the Tests. Use him to mentor the youngsters; and given the way, Yadav bowled in the series, he has his work cut out.

Umesh Yadav was one of the rare positives from the ill-fated tour down under, and much is expected from him. Unfortunately, his pace seems to have dropped off a little and he still has trouble with control. Given that Ishant Sharma faces the same issues and the remaining reserve of fast bowlers are even more inexperienced, there doesn’t seem to be any easy solution on hand.

This is where the role of bowling coach Joe Dawes is amplified. By this time next year, India may have to depend on a completely fresh pack of fast bowlers  and it is imperative that between now and then, the management identify who they think are going to stick around for a long time and prepare them for the long haul. If India are serious about retaining their number 1 ranking, they can ill afford to neglect their fast bowling resources.

To summarize,

  • Give Sehwag and Gambhir one more chance during the England series. If they continue to fail, bite the bullet and blood replacements for them.
  • Tendulkar’s presence is vital for the team till the South African tour to provide experience and guide the freshly re-modeled middle order. Raina has run out of chances, and it is time to try someone else.
  • MS Dhoni remains our best option when it comes to captaincy. Make Kohli the permanent vice-captain and groom him for leadership in the future.
  • Manage Zaheer wisely and build a good reserve of fast bowlers.

Indian cricket is notorious for its disregard to planning ahead and taking corrective measures. Here is hoping that there is someone in the Indian cricket hierarchy, who can look past the eye-pleasing win over New Zealand  and identify the short-comings. Then, hopefully we won’t need to experience anything as painful and harrowing as an 0-8 score line.

Never forget.

A Game of Thrones in Mumbai

The Mumbai Indians’ quest for IPL glory has led to the latest development in their camp: Sachin Tendulkar taking a ‘break’ from captaincy and Harbhajan Singh taking over the reins.

First of, there won’t be too many arguments in favor of Sachin continuing as skipper. Throughout his career, the Mumbai maestro has never mastered the art of captaincy, be it for India or the Mumbai Indians. Highlights of his captaincy includes more mis-steps than master-strokes; for instance, keeping Pollard for too late during the final of IPL-3. There is no doubt that he is a good mentor for the younger players in the squad and a good sounding board for fellow veterans; but captaining a team is something he is better off without. In that sense, relinquishing the captaincy makes sense, though I don’t understand the term ‘taking a break’. Does that mean, he will want the reins back, when he feels sufficiently rejuvenated and motivated? In that case, this move doesn’t make sense.

In contrast, Harbhajan Singh seems to be the natural successor to Tendulkar. While he may have been discarded from the Indian team for the past few months, there is no doubt that when he dons the role of captain, he brings a certain element of flair and luck to the team. In the time he has been away from the national side, he has led Mumbai Indians to a Champions League title, India Green to a shared Challenger Trophy and Punjab to the final of the domestic T20 trophy. He has put in decent performances in these games, showing that captaincy doesn’t affect his natural game (for better or worse!). He reminds me of Saurav Ganguly, a fighter who liked to lead by example and was unafraid to be expressive on the field. Perhaps, the Mumbai Indians need that extra jolt of passion from their skipper to cross the final hurdle and win the IPL for the first time.

Singh is lucky that he has a bevy of talented performers in the side, both international and domestic. While he may receive a lot of support from Tendulkar, it will be ultimately up to him to make the decisions at crunch time and keep the team unified in pursuit of a single goal. This could be the latest challenge for a person known to have a volatile temperament and it will be interesting to track his progress.

Which brings us back to the matter of Tendulkar taking a ‘break’ from captaincy; if Singh fails, does it mean Tendulkar will be back in command next time? If Harbhajan leads the team to the title, will Tendulkar accept that his days of captaincy are over? Or will Mukesh bhai and Nita bhabi have the final word in this game of thrones?

Deconstructing the Gospel according to Greg

First off, let me be clear on what I have set out to do in this piece. I’m not a rabid nationalist who takes affront at every word of insult or mocking which is directed towards India or Indian cricket. I don’t pay attention to people who after reading a cricket article, have to post some incendiary comment directed towards another country or team. Some people can make their point clearly and in a mature way, while others can only post their observations in a childish or petulant way; and I understand that. This world is made up of all kinds of people, after all.

That is why, when I see articles or comments harshly criticizing the Indian team, I take it with a pinch of salt. After all, given their recent performances, they deserve the kind of lampooning and criticism that has come their way. It hurts on some level when I see gleeful opposition (plus some Indian) fans and former cricketers piling on the team, but then again, it is the nature of sport. When you’re on top, the world will sing your praises, and when you’re down, you will be mocked at.

So, when I read the recent comments made by Greg Chappell regarding Indian cricket, I was surprised by the strong reactions it elicited in me. To be fair to GC, he made some valid points which are buried under an avalanche of strong opinions on Indian cricket and Indian culture. How much of it is actually true, and how much of it is his BS? That’s what I have set out to find in this piece.

 “It was obvious from the start of the tour that the Indians weren’t really interested in Test cricket,” Chappell said. “After the Australians showed that they were going to be a formidable foe, I was very disappointed with the Indians. And having worked with many of them and having been in the dressing room with them, Test cricket was too hard for most of them. They can only make a lot of money playing 20-over cricket. Fifty-over cricket they can sort of put up with.”

This is the sort of explanation expected from a casual observer; not a former coach who knows the senior players in and out. It is hard to conceive that players of the caliber of Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir, Laxman, Dravid and Zaheer have lost interest in Test cricket, just over a year since they last held the top ranking in Tests. If they weren’t interested, why did some of the players arrive in Australia early and take part in the practice games, when they could easily have rested?  They are experienced enough to know that while T20 brings in the money, only their Test performances will establish their legacies. A Test series win down under would have been their crowning glory after the World Cup victory and it is ridiculous to assume that their poor performance could be put down to lack of interest. I don’t remember anyone accusing England of losing interest in Test cricket after their defeat to Pakistan in UAE; neither could that be said about Australia after their Ashes defeat last year. England and Australia both have robust domestic T20 tournaments, yet they manage to put up decent performances in Tests more often than not. So why should India’s domestic T20 tournament be the reason for their disastrous performance in Tests? My dear Greg, India lost in England and Australia, not because of disinterest in Test cricket, but solely because they were not good enough and were outmatched by better prepared opponents. Your observations alone explain why you were a disaster as coach.

“Test cricket for a lot of, not only India, a lot of subcontinent teams, I think it’s pretty tough. And the challenge for Test cricket is, without the sort of grounding that we [Australians] had as kids, Test cricket is too hard. It’s very demanding mentally, physically and emotionally.”

While GC would like to think that only Australia with its ‘grounding’ in Test cricket can produce tough cricketers, some of the greatest players in cricket history have come from the subcontinent. Sunil Gavaskar, Imran Khan, Muttiah Muralitharan, Anil Kumble etc, made their name in Test cricket foremost and I think most would agree that they handled the mental, physical and emotional demands very well to attain the levels they did in their careers. As for the present generation, excepting the Indian series, the Aussie team haven’t had a good two years in Tests; So what happened to the ‘grounding’ there? So, while GC’s estimation of Aussie superiority in Test cricket is very patriotic, it is clearly not backed up by history.

Chappell then spoke about what was wrong with the Indian culture. “The culture is very different, it’s not a team culture,” Chappell said. “They lack leaders in the team because they are not trained to be leaders. From an early age, their parents make all the decisions, their schoolteachers make their decisions, their cricket coaches make the decisions.

“The culture of India is such that, if you put your head above the parapet someone will shoot it. Knock your head off. So they learn to keep their head down and not take responsibility. The Poms (British) taught them really well to keep their head down. For if someone was deemed to be responsible, they’d get punished. So the Indians have learned to avoid responsibility. So before taking responsibility for any decisions, they prefer not to.”

It is ridiculous to assume that a culture which ensures that children are equipped to survive in a challenging environment when they grow up, is responsible for leadership problems in Indian cricket. This is the same culture which has produced global leaders in healthcare, politics, software and business. To judge an entire culture and hold their way of raising their kids, responsible for the failure of a sports team is plain absurd, ignorant and racist.  No culture is perfect and no culture is superior to any other. That’s what makes the collection of cultures across the world, unique in their own rights. Only people like Greg Chappell would assume that there is only one way of living that works in all environments and prepares you for life.

Now, I am not casting him as total buffoon, since there are three other major points that GC made that I agree with:

(1) MS Dhoni has been worn down by the burden of captaincy in all formats and it has affected his game, particularly in Tests

(2) Virender Sehwag has fitness and attitude problems compounded by captaincy ambitions which seems to have increased lately and caused an undercurrent of tension within the team

(3) Test cricket needs a strong Indian team to survive. As evidenced by the last few years, when India were at the top of their game in Tests, there was an increased interest in the long form of the game and it brought in new fans.

So, there you have it. How can a widely respected former captain be insightful and yet so ignorant at the same time? The answer lies in the context of when he made these observations: while promoting his new book ‘Fierce Focus’. As Shoaib Akhtar memorably taught us, there is no better way to sell a cricket book than to provoke Indian cricket fans with controversial statements. In that way, Guru Greg accomplished his mission; but he just might have lost a ton of respect and goodwill he had earned over the years through a long career in cricket.

My thoughts on the team for Asia Cup 2012

Team for the Asia Cup:

MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Virat Kohli (vice-capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Manoj Tiwary, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Praveen Kumar, Vinay Kumar, Rahul Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan, Ashok Dinda

Here are a few thoughts:

  • It would have been nice if Srikkanth had flat out said that Sehwag and Zaheer were dropped from the team due to poor performances, instead of falling back on the tired ‘rested’ excuse. It is only going to promote a false sense of security in the team, that however bad you play, you cannot get dropped from the team; only rested. I’m just glad that Srikkanth did not say that Parthiv Patel was ‘rested’ from the team as well; otherwise my head would have exploded.
  • Umesh Yadav being rested is something I can agree with. He is one of those rare Indian bowlers with speed, and while he lacks control and discipline at the moment, he is only going to get better with time.
  • Despite it being a short tournament, I’m surprised that they have not decided to go for a back-up keeper. At the least, they could have gone with Robin Utthappa who can double as a reserve opening bat and back up keeper.
  • Sachin’s place in the ODI team is a hot topic of debate in the country right now. My opinion, for what its worth, is that let the great man decide when he wants to leave the format, but do keep a contingency plan in place. That is why I am disappointed that they have gone for only two openers in Gambhir and Tendulkar. Rahane, Mukund, Pandey and Utthappa are all ideal options.
  • Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina have had a disappointing CB series to date, but it is wise to persist with them for now. If seniors are given so much leeway, then it is only fair that the youngsters are given fair opportunities too.
  • Hopefully, Tiwary will get a game.
  • It was not too long ago that Jadeja was being praised by all and sundry for his improved performances, and that is why one poor series should not be a reason to discard him again. Still, he is going to have stiff competition in the form of Yusuf Pathan, who will relish the subcontinental pitches.
  • Ashok Dinda has had a good season, leading Saurav Ganguly to call him the best pacer in the country (though I would take that with a pinch of salt). It is up to him now to prove himself and live up to Dada’s words.
  • Pragyan Ojha’s continued omission is a big miss, as he is perhaps the best spinner in the country right now.
  • Virat Kohli’s elevation to vice captaincy is a just reward for a fighter who has been the most impressive player on a disastrous tour. I have always felt that he should be groomed ahead of Gambhir for leadership, and hopefully this will lead on to bigger things for him.
  • All in all, it is not a great team, but a good one under the circumstances and hopefully, flat pitches and familiar opponents will help them get back to winning ways.
  • A final thought on the Srikkanth controversy: I have no problem with him snapping back at the reporter. He might have given a long winded and totally unnecessary summary of India’s performance over the last year, and he did give an unsatisfactory explanation for Sehwag’s omission from the team; still, he is only human. If the reporters keep asking you the same question in different forms, and you have given the same answer over and over again, you are bound to snap at one point. It was not an ideal response but a man who has one of the most thankless jobs in the country should be cut some slack. He will do well to learn to keep his emotions in check the next time, and hopefully, the media will learn to back off when they have to and respect the subject of their interview the next time.

A Letter to the Creaking Terminators

Where to now?

Dear Sachin, Rahul and VVS,

Hope you are all enjoying the pleasant Australian weather at this time of the year. It sure is a good time to take out the family on sight seeing visits or shopping trips, and I don’t half blame you for wanting to finish the games quickly, so that this can be accommodated in the schedule. After all, who needs 5 days when you can lose in 4?

Oh, I’m sorry. Did that sound too bitter? You will have to forgive me, as I’m not in a particularly good mood. Apparently, it was not enough that my favorite cricket team got whipped in the first two Tests of a much awaited series;  my favorite NFL team got knocked out of the play-offs today as well.

I digress. This letter is about you. More specifically, it is about your cricket. As you very well know, the series against Australia has not gone to plan so far. And that is stating it lightly. In any other time or era, that would have been accepted as standard fare; but in this series, we have had one of the most experienced batting line-ups in the world (barring number 6), a canny wicket-keeper/captain, a couple of talented spinners and a not too shabby pace attack led by Mr Khan. A lot was expected of you.

Instead, what we got was, embarrassing batting implosions, defensive captaincy, thoughtless bowling and ragged fielding. For a legion of fans who tune in to the game at odd hours and for a multitude of supporters who have invested so much in attending the games at the grounds, this is most disappointing. Again, note the understatement.

..and they all fall down

Now, when it comes to the bowling and captaincy, there is not much we can do. MS Dhoni is the best leader we have, for lack of viable alternatives. His captaincy can be defensive at times, but apart from hoping that he does a rethink of his strategies, there is nothing much one can do about it. As for the bowling, don’t get me started.

Gautam and Viru are an enigmatic pair. You never know when the mood strikes them, so that they will put on an attacking partnership and set up a platform for you guys. Don’t hold your breath though. As our dear captain likes to say, let us ‘control the controllables’.

That brings us to you – The Three Musketeers. Or as Rahul put it eloquently, ‘creaking terminators’. Sadly, you seem to be going out of your way to prove it. Not you, Sachin! You look in delectable touch. Rahul and VVS, you guys have contributed a couple of 50s, but it has not really inspired much hope for your supporters.

Now, I’m not going to rant about how you are pulling the team down, or anything. You guys are legends. You have served the team incredibly well over the last two decades. At the peak of your collective form, you were the envy of all opposition teams. Mammoth scores, incredible rear-guards, and thrilling chases (courtesy Laxman) were the staple diet which the cricket world got to engorge on, when you guys were in prime form. That is why, it is painful that it has to come to this.

You know, I was one of the innumerable supporters who rejoiced when the team won the World Cup last year. It was a victory that I will never forget. My dad’s generation has 1983, mine has 2007. Even then, I knew that only one event could complete the cup of joy for an Indian fan. A series victory down under.

When you guys lost in England, it was scarcely believable. It was not just the loss which hurt; it was the manner of capitulation, which was depressing to witness. Even then, we went along with the BCCI’s excuse list of injuries, insufficient practice games and seaming conditions. It was just bad luck, they said even as they quickly swept memories of the series under the carpet. Australia would be different, they promised.

We had a fully fit squad. Two practice games before the start of the Test series. The pitches were traditional Aussie pitches, but mostly without the lateral movement seen in England. To top it off, the first two days of the Melbourne Test promised so much.

Since then, it has been a depressing ride. While the opposition rejoices on its come-back men, new bowling sensation and  a leader who has enhanced his reputation with giant strides – we are left with nothing but pieces of our shattered expectations and fading memories of a batting order who once bowlers across the world used to dread. Where do we go from here?

Now, there are a lot of voices in the media (print, TV, social) calling for this player to be dropped and that player to be given a chance. Apart from providing a possible quick-fix, what would it solve? We might lose 2-0, 3-0 or 4-0. Ultimately, we are still leaving with a humiliating scoreline.

Now, knowing the BCCI and the selection committee, they will react to this result in the same way they did after the England tour. Putting it down to bad luck and concluding that it is a one-off phase – and with no away series scheduled till November 2013, they would feel very secure in the knowledge that they will be invariably right.

This is where you, giants of the game, have to take a stand. If the powers that be are not going to take the corrective steps that will benefit Indian cricket, then you guys will have to. You owe it to the fans, you owe it to yourself and most importantly, you owe it to the game. We don’t want our last memories of you as out-of-sorts veterans who didn’t know when to leave the game.

We are not asking you to retire en-masse; but we hope that you will formulate a phased out retirement plan among yourselves, if you have not done it yet!  Don’t worry about lack of worthy replacements. Thousands of runs and hundreds of match experience cannot be replaced overnight; but we are willing to lose for the initial few months with the inexperience of youngsters, if that will result in the Indian team regenerating a strong middle order in a few years’ time. And given that we have Che Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Abhinav Mukund and Suresh Raina chomping at the bit to be given an extended run, I can safely say that it shouldn’t take too long.

Sachin, you are in good touch. You have rolled back the years with some classic stroke play, and in many ways, it is the 90s again, with you standing among the ruins of another batting collapse; but even you know that you cannot go on forever. While it may be uncomfortable to face a future without playing cricket (after all, that is what you have been doing for more than half your life!), life isn’t too bad for former players. So, give it a year, and leave on a high. As they say, leave when they ask ‘why’ and not ‘when’. By the way, stop getting bogged down by a record that does not statistically exist, and get on with the business of heaping misery on Australian bowlers!

The Wall is losing one brick at a time...

Rahul, you are one of the last gentlemen cricketers of the game. You have endured criticisms and calls to quit, for most part of the last three years. This despite, scoring tons of runs in the last year, especially in England where you were the only Indian batsman whose reputation was left intact after a grueling tour. Then again, this series has shown that despite your hunger for runs and bloody determination to stay at the crease, the end is near. The mind is willing but the body is weak. Your reflexes have slowed down, resulting in a now familiar sight of uprooted stumps while batting and dropped catches while fielding. You are arguably the most sensible cricketer in the team right now, and you know that a decision has to be made in the bigger interests of the team. With no major away series for a while, it is up to you to plan a graceful exit. The Indian fans expect nothing less.

Very Very Shaky

Finally, VVS. The most graceful among them all. While Sachin has form to fall back on, and Rahul has the records in England to lean on, you have no such comforting stories. Yes, you did score a 176 in your last Test series and you are still the youngest among the trio; but take those two factors away, and your record, particularly in the last few overseas Tests are not encouraging. So, the money is on you to be the first to leave. You have served the team hard and long, but when it is time to go, it is time to go. Hopefully, you will make your last two Tests in Australia memorable and leave on a high.

So, that is what I wanted to get off my chest. I trust that you guys will do what is necessary to set the team off on what is going to be a long and painful journey back to the top of the rankings. Cheers and best of luck for the remaining games of this series.

Yours sincerely,

An Indian fan

 

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.

Belated wishes to….me!

It was yesterday I realized that it has just been over a year since I started this blog. Lately, the frequency of new posts have reduced, but I have always enjoyed writing about cricket whenever I get the time; and so, I intend to keep putting up new posts. I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year of blogging, and I hope that most of you have too. Here are six of my favorite posts over the last year:

Who will write about the writers? – regarding my favorite cricket writers

My 2011 wishlist for international cricket – one of which came partially true!

Tendulkar vs Steyn – Immovable object meets irresistible force – one of the finest batsman vs bowler contests I had seen in a while

A date with destiny at Mumbai – India are World Champions – need I say more?

From Waterboy to Superman – One of my most satisfying posts, regarding Yuvraj Singh’s amazing performance in the World Cup

Future Indian Captain – Raina or Kohli – to date, remains as the most read post on the blog

Cheers!