virender sehwag

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.

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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

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.

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.

BCCI’s post-Australian tour Facebook update

An agonizing three months for the Indian cricket team has finally come to an end. As the team returns home licking their wounds, what is the BCCI going to do about it?

Their new Facebook update might give some clues:

Link to the BCCI’s Facebook Page

PS: obviously, it is fake….

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.

See ball, Hit ball, Repeat

Everywhere around the cricket world, in schools and gullies, in club cricket and in first class cricket – you can always find one player who is intent on hitting the cover off every ball he faces. More often than not, he will score a quick 30 or 40 before getting out. Once in a while, he may score big; but everyone would agree that he will never be as good as his team-mate, who is less flashy but more consistent.

Then there is Virender Sehwag.

Now I'll proceed to show you what 'Kolaveri' actually is....

When Sehwag started playing first class cricket, no doubt he would have heard countless words of advice – tighten your technique, respect the good deliveries, don’t take unnecessary risks. To his credit, Sehwag kept true to his natural game and followed a simple mantra.

See ball. Hit ball.

Some days, it would result in a catch to the keeper or slip cordon. Critics would pile on him for being irresponsible and careless. It didn’t matter to Sehwag; because most days, those same shots would get him runs. It takes a brave man to shut out the dissenting noises and just channel his incredible self belief in playing the way he does; and his records speak for themselves.

Double hundreds and triple hundreds in Test cricket; and now, a double hundred in ODIs.

Here’s what he had to say after the incredible 219 against West Indies in Indore:

“Never dreamt of it. I told Gauti if we showed a little patience we could a big one. But I was never expecting a double century. It’s a true time, you can play all your shots. When I decided I wanted to hit a six, I went and did it with a straight bat. I know people expected me to score a double-century, so thanks to them. And thanks to my family. I had said earlier that the top order was not contributing, and it was my job. Never changed my batting through this innings. I just told my self that I needed to bat through the Batting Powerplay, and I would get the double hundred. When Sammy dropped my chance, I knew God was with me. I am tired, yes, I am an old man now.”

He may be getting old, but Virender Sehwag doesn’t look like he is going to adjust his game anytime soon; and for that an entire cricket world is grateful.

Random thoughts from the Mohali clash

It has been a long while since the match got over, but the excitement has still not left me. I wish I could analyze the game in a comprehensive manner, but to hell with that. India won! Every time India has moved closer to World Cup glory, memories of the 2003 humiliation at the hands of Punter are being scrubbed away from the recesses of my brain. Now, being one match away from history, I hope India has generated enough momentum to clinch the Cup. It is not going to be easy against the mighty Lankans, but this is the call of destiny for Tendulkar and Zaheer who had a day to forget at Johannesburg eight years ago. Please anwer the call!

Anyway, I stayed up through the night, to watch this game and here are some random thoughts from during the match:

  • When I heard that Dhoni had replaced Ashwin with Nehra, there are no words to describe the feelings of angst and despair which filled me. Sidhu, the master of hyperbole, put it aptly when he stated that it was like ‘a dog going back to its vomit’. Luckily for India, the ‘vomit’ justified Dhoni’s decision (though he admitted that he got it wrong, later) and I duly apologize for my lack of faith.

courtesy: 'Stumped'

  • All Sehwag might have done was to get a quick fire 38, but it was perhaps a more crucial knock than Tendulkar’s, as in a space of two overs he broke Gul down, and neutralized Pakistan’s most impressive fast bowler in this tournament. If Gul had been in a more confident frame of mind, he and Riaz could have terminated the Indian innings early.

Sehwag and Gul (at the end of the match!)

  • I have never been comfortable with equating Tendulkar to God, and today it was proved that a higher being exists; and that He was watching over Sachin. A close lbw decision in favor of the batsman, lucky to survive a stumping opportunity (by Kamran Akmal!) and four dropped catches. The real God gave Sachin many opportunities to reprise the heroics of 2003, but after Tendulkar kept turning Him down repeatedly, a moody God terminated his innings by allowing a catch to finally stick.

  • When Tendulkar finally got out, I breathed a sigh of relief. Whenever Sachin has scored a ton in this World Cup, India have failed to seal the deal. At first, I thought that even the Pakistani fielders were aware of this, and were playing along. Apart from that, this innings was not worthy of a history making 100. Sachin’s sheepish smiles after every reprieve told as much.
  • I hate it when my instincts are right. Well before the game, I felt that it was the unknown commodity (Riaz) who would cause problems for the Indian batsmen; and so he did. In the absence of Amir and Asif, he has stepped in to support Gul appreciably whenever he has got the chance. Today was no different. If the wicket of Sehwag was the first punch, Yuvraj’s dismissal was the knockout blow. Well, as it turned out, someone forgot to mention that to Raina.

  • Raina sure has got big match temperament. He has a history of doing well in the knockout stages of the IPL and the CLT20. In this World Cup, he has already played two crucial knocks in the knockout games against Australia and Pakistan, which should hold him in good stead against the Lankans.

  • With the advent of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, I realized how sensitive I could be to jibes from supporters of the opposition. When Pakistan were on top during a passage of play, some Pakistan supporters took  delight in rubbing it in, and mocking Indian players. It took a lot of self control not to get into a tangle with any of them; of course, this was not limited to the Pakistani supporters as Indians duly returned the favor later. Now, I accept this as part and parcel of following the game online. In the end, it was nice to see tweeters and bloggers (most of them!) from both sides congratulating each other and wishing each one well. Now, thats the spirit!
  • 260 was eventually 20-30 runs short and by the way the pitch was behaving, the decision to leave out Ashwin was turning out to be more and more foolish. Luckily, Munaf and Nehra were spot on throughout the game while Zaheer had an off day (which was due!). Nehra was pretty impressive in the field, and took a pretty decent ‘catch’ too, even though it was not a legitimate one.
  • Trust the Taufel. Always. He is the Tendulkar of umpiring. When he makes a decison, whether out or not out, he does so with utter conviction and self belief, that it could be unnerving to cricketers in the wrong. Three of his decisions were reviewed today and all of them were spot on. If the adjudicators were a little creative, they could have made him man of the match.

'I got this for a reason, you know!'

  • For once, there was nothing unpredictable about the Pakistani batting. Hafeez played an innings which Ian Bell would be proud of (in terms of strokes and dismissal), Younus Khan scratched around without convincing, Umar Akmal dazzled without staying till the end, Afridi got out to a slog, and the most predictable of all – Misbah was the last man dismissed after raising faint hopes of a heist. Memories of the 2007 T20 WC, anyone?

  • Lot of high profile celebs in the house. Apart from the Prime Ministers and politicians, there seemed to be a lot of IPL team owners and other assorted movie stars. How much do you wanna bet that, there is going to be more of them in Mumbai on Saturday?
  • An Indian model has promised to reveal her ‘bare assets’ to the cricketers if they win the World Cup. I wonder now that they have come so close, whether they think that they should reserve the right to choose the celebrity whom they would prefer to see in their bare essentials! Jokes aside, I hope that this does not materialize and the cricketers strongly rebuff any such publicity seeking stunts if they win the World Cup, in what should be a defining moment for this generation of Indian cricketers.
  • Say what you want about Afridi, but he has been Pakistan’s saving grace over the last few months. Ever since the spot fixing scandal broke out, he has handled this team in such an impressive manner that it is hard to see anyone doing a better job. While his batting prowess has disappeared from view, he has been the world’s best ODI spinner and led the team from the front. He was magnanimous in defeat, congratulating the victors and praising his ‘boys’; how can anyone in Pakistan be mad with the team after his sincere apology to them, even when he had nothing to apologize about? If the PCB are wise (thats a big ask!), they will keep Afridi as captain for a bit longer and develop a strong team under him. Well played, Afridi; and thank you for the entertainment!

When Afridi became Flintoff

  • In the end, India won the game pretty convincingly, and they didn’t even play their most effective bowler today. Having faced the heat of two sapping encounters against the Aussies and now the Pakistanis, the atmosphere at Mumbai might seem to be a breeze to them. Well, of course, one should not be complacent against an impressive Lankan outfit, but this is India’s World Cup to lose. For the likes of Tendulkar and Zaheer, this could be one final shot at glory. Hopefully, they will rise to the occasion and deliver a performance worthy of world champions.

Go India!!

(PS: Recently, I had blogged here that I would eat my article if India wins the World Cup. Here’s hoping that they make me eat my own words!)

'Mumbai, here I come!'