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Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Symonds

The Curious Case Of Rohit Sharma

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It was great to sit back and watch Rohit Sharma make an audacious and unbeaten 79 in 46 balls at number 4 in India’s T20 match against Australia where seven other batsmen who played above and below him made a total of 24 runs in 42 balls. Harbhajan Singh, who made 13 runs batting at number nine, was the only other Indian player to get to double figures.

Sharma appears to be out of favour with the Indian selectors and the team management. This could be due to his patchy ODI form and it also seems like he has been the fall guy after India’s early exit from the 2009 T20 World Cup in England. Sharma has an average of 40 in international T20 matches; something that can be called phenomenal in the shortest format.

The ODI average of Rohit Sharma is a low 25.62 in 42 matches and it belies his obvious talent. He has been in and out of the playing XI and on the last few occasions he has got a chance only after the series has been secured. Sharma belongs to a different breed of batsmen. He is easy on the eye and has all the time in the world to play his strokes. His first class average of 55.02, at a still early phase of his career, shows where he really belongs and such players don’t come that often to be wasted in warming the bench. In the team that took on Australia in Bridgetown no other player bar Gautam Gambhir has a better first class average than Sharma.

The longer the format of the game the better should be the chances of Sharma being in the playing XI. One of his memorable innings in a pressure situation should be reason enough to give him a longer run to prove himself.

The first final of the Commonwealth Bank Series in 2008 was played on the second of March between India and Australia in Sydney. Australia won the toss, decided to bat, and India restricted them to 239 runs as Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla bowled 20 overs between themselves for just 71 runs. Harbhajan also took two important wickets.

The first half of the game had gone well for India and they needed to back it up with smart cricket in the other half to win the game. At 87 for 3 in 18.5 overs, with the match hanging on a knife’s edge, the young Rohit Sharma joined Sachin Tendulkar who was batting on 50 in 56 balls.

Sharma started in style by hitting two gorgeous straight drives to pick boundaries in back-to-back overs by Nathan Bracken. The fourth wicket partnership added 123 runs at a fair clip to set up a perfect run chase that became completely one-sided by the time Sharma departed in the 42nd over having made an assured 66 in his beautiful languid style.

Tendulkar made an unbeaten 116 and was all praise for the way Rohit batted. “Rohit Sharma really batted well, full credit to him. He has a terrific head on his shoulders, he’s calm and composed, and today I batted with him for the first time for such a long time.” Australia’s bowling attack had Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Bracken, Brad Hogg and James Hopes.

Ian Chappell didn’t need that innings to see Sharma as a special talent as he had already taken that position by seeing him in the earlier games. Sharma then became one of the success stories of the inaugural T20 World Cup that India won; scoring a 50 not out against South Africa and then a crucial 30 off 16 balls in the final against Pakistan.

In the next edition in England, Sharma was made to open the Indian innings despite his great success down the order in the previous year. He did well in the games against Bangladesh and Ireland but was found wanting against West Indies and England, who used to short ball to good effect at Lord’s.

In total contrast Ravindra Jadeja is fast gaining a reputation as the man of the opposition on our side. In Bridgetown it was Jadeja who got Australia started after the first three overs had gone for just 16. The last three balls of his first over were rank long hops that Watson hit out of the park and then it was Warner who carted the first three length deliveries of his next over for sixes.

Jadeja’s highest score of 25 in a T20 international came against England and cost India the match. He walked in at two down and took 35 balls to score 25 runs and in the end it proved to be a very expensive experiment. Yuvraj had made 60 plus in the previous game but he was held back as Dhoni did not want to put extra pressure on him. Jadeja’s cameo ensured that Yuvraj walked in with much more pressure than he would have had at his number four position. He made 17 off 9 balls with two sixes and was then beautifully stumped off the bowling of Graeme Swann. Dhoni remained not out on 30 and Pathan on 33 off 20 and 17 balls respectively and despite that India fell short by four runs. Dhoni defended the promotion in a press conference but on the ground it had proved to be a daft move.

In the ODI against Australia where Tendulkar was raging a lone battle to take India past 350 in Hyderabad Jadeja provided him good support at number eight. Nineteen runs were needed in the last 18 balls when Tendulkar mistimed a scoop over fine leg and departed having made 175. Jadeja was batting well having scored 23 off 16 balls and all he needed was to keep his cool. This is how Cricinfo’s commentary described his run out: Exit SRT and the collapse begins. Jadeja is run out. He was run out last game under similar pressure conditions and he has succumbed again. It was pushed straight to cover and Jadjea sets for a non-existent single. Praveen Kumar does the obvious thing: sends him back but too late. The throw comes in to the bowler who takes out the stumps. Australian fielders erupt in joy.

Rohit Sharma has delivered in pressure situations and he should be a natural selection in the playing XI while Jadeja has panicked more than once and he should be made to sweat before giving him a game.

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Twenty20: A Country For Old Men

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In comparison to the well-over-a-century-old Test Cricket and almost four decades of One Day Internationals, Twenty20 can certainly be called the ‘New Kid in Town’; a smash hit and wonderful song of The Eagles. However, it is the title of the multi-Oscar winning film ‘No Country For Old Men’ that puts the current IPL in perspective; only because it provides the perfect and sharp contrast.

The ‘so-called old men’ of cricket are having a ball at the game that is supposed to be tailor-made for young and fresh legs and that has been the biggest thrill that the tournament has provided so far. Who would have thought that the top names of the third season of IPL would feature Jacques Kallis, Chaminda Vaas, Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Murali, Gilchrist etc?

Jacques Kallis has been phenomenal and he brings so much to the table with his rock solid batting that is sprinkled with assured and audacious stroke-play, his more than handy bowling, and safe catching to top it all. The graph of the Royal Challengers Bangalore has just kept going up since Kumble took charge of the team and besides leadership he has also adapted his bowling to the demands of this format that can easily kill the spirit of a bowler. But then what format can kill the spirit of a bowler like Kumble, even if he is measured in four over spells?

What these old men have proved is that no matter what the format one would be a fool to consider them as just a few guests at a party being hosted for someone else. It may not be right to club Andrew Symonds with the old lot but it’s worthwhile to note that he is about 35 and has been around for a while. Symonds changed a game by plucking out a beauty with sheer brilliance and the catch was so good that his pointing the finger ever so slowly towards the dressing room almost looked like an understatement.

It was the moment that changed the game on its head. Karthik was batting on 42 from 25 balls and the Delhi Daredevils were 152 for 5 needing 20 runs in 12 balls when Symonds came on to bowl the penultimate over having gone for just 15 in his three overs in which he had picked one wicket.

The momentum had just swung in the favour of Delhi with Karthik having hit Rohit Sharma for two fours and a six and then taken a single to retain strike. The first ball of the 19th over went for four with Karthik playing a lovely square cut and Delhi needed 16 from 11 balls with 5 wickets in hand. That is when Symonds came up with that magical catch that would gone for a certain boundary but for those outstretched fingers and the lunging towards the right side body of a superb athlete.

It was a great over in which he picked another wicket and gave a buffer of 14 runs for the crafty and retired from international cricket Vaas. Vaas was accurate as ever and two more wickets fell in the first two balls of Vaas and it was Deccan all the way.

The three top teams right now are captained by Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, and Adam Gilchrist; two retired and one the longest-serving Master on the circuit. Tendulkar notched up his second fifty of IPL 3 when his unbeaten 71 saw Mumbai home in the penultimate over against Kolkata. It was the bowlers who had restricted Kolkata for an under par score by sticking to their line and full length and then as Atul Wasan pointed out it was the professor coming out himself and giving everyone a demonstration of how it is done. The masterclass of Tendulkar was there to see.

This new kid called T20 certainly enjoys having the oldies around. The shorter form requires just about three hours of field work and that could be the reason why it is proving to be such a good country for old men.

Phenomenal Tendulkar Kills The Debate

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Sachin Tendulkar is his own competition and it seems like he is quite unmindful of the fact that his business is the intrinsically-competitive arena of international sports. He keeps pushing his limits to come up with goods that no one else seems to be trading in. Yesterday he scaled a peak higher than the Mount Everest. A peak that did not exist before he set out to conquer it in the afternoon of February 24, 2010; just two months shy of his 37th birthday on April 24—and 22 years after he had shared that record partnership of over 600 runs that brought two schoolboys to the forefront.

Would Neville Cardus have called this Little Master ‘A devastating rarity: A genius with an eye for business?’ I presume he would have said something even greater as Tendulkar apart from being the efficient and consistent run-maker is also a classically-beautiful player to watch. He is efficient like a well-oiled and calibrated machine; only that no machine can be so joyous or can spread so much joy as the Little Master. He dedicated his innings to you and me; to the fans saying that their support was crucial during days when there was no rain.

His adaptability puts him way above any batsman who has ever played the game. The only comparison that makes some sense is with the great Sir Donald Bradman, who played just one form of the game and more importantly played his cricket in just nine grounds against four oppositions. Tendulkar, as I had mentioned in an article before, played on 32 different surfaces before he first played a Test on a ground where he had played a game before. One would have to seriously devote an hour or two to count all the various grounds where he has played Test or One Day International innings.

On top of that he has also had to live the life of a man who can’t pass through anywhere in India without everything going berserk. Tendulkar can’t go and hang around in one of his businesses on the eve of a Test match. Hell, he can’t even drive a car in his home country or go for a casual walk in any part of India. I can say it with certainty that if he lands up in a quiet hamlet like Dalhousie, the residents of the hills having a devil-may-care attitude would all congregate in the small and tidy Mall of the remote hill station to mob this phenomenally-loved son of the Indian soil. And I mean the old grandmas as well.

He adapts to alien situations and surfaces as if they were his backyard and is completely at ease with two diametrically-different forms of the game: 47 hundreds in Test matches and 46 in limited overs. With the kind of form he was suffering from around the injury years during the middle part of the decade that has just gone, it is an astonishing achievement that his Test match hundreds have caught up and then gone ahead of his ODI tally—the ODI numbers were much higher a few years ago.

Yesterday he made an unbeaten double hundred in a 50-over match against a very good South African attack on a surface that was good for batting. He got the strike on the third ball of the first over that Dale Steyn bowled and he played the first four balls that were shaping away right from the middle of the bat for no runs. One run came from that ideal first over where Steyn could not hold on to a tough chance that Sehwag gave on the second ball of the over.

Tendulkar took the first four balls to play himself in and then he hit two gorgeous fours off Parnell in the second over and then another one to Steyn in the third over and the rollicking show started. The BBC said: Tendulkar, whose previous best one-day knock was the 186 not out that he scored against New Zealand in 1999, is already the leading run-scorer in Test and ODI cricket. But to have reached such a landmark, with a single in the final over, only serves to underline his class and add to the legacy that already surrounds arguably the finest batsman to have played the game.

Tendulkar raised his 100 in 90 balls with the help of 13 fours; all of them odd in the sense that each one of them stood out as a perfect stroke. In his last two Test matches Tendulkar got hundreds against South Africa but got out shortly after that but here there was no letting up. Immediately after getting to a hundred he pulled Kallis for a four and then smashed one straight over the bowler’s head that went like a projectile. Then he took care of Duminy by stepping out to get his first six and drilled a four again over the bowler’s head. Karthik played a wonderful hand and was gone in the 34th over having made a very fluent 79.

In walked Yusuf Pathan and he negotiated Parnell’s over safely but without adding to the scoreboard. India took the batting powerplay and South Africa brought back Steyn for the 35th over. Steyn bowled full and outside the off stump and Tendulkar had to stretch to reach. The second ball had been dispatched to the boundary and Tendulkar missed the third and the fourth but he changed his plan for the fifth ball and walked across to the offside to flick the full ball between square-leg and mid-wicket. This is the order in which the runs came in the five power-play overs: 9, 8, 17, 18, 11. In five overs 63 runs were made and Pathan went from zero to 29 and Tendulkar added 33 to go up to 157 and there was a wide.

Then there was a sensational partnership of 101 in 8.5 overs and the only one of the innings that Tendulkar did not dominate in terms of runs as Dhoni shredded the attack. He was cramping a bit but he summoned the energy to reach the summit.

A blog in BBC began by saying: “How does Sachin Tendulkar do it? How does a 36-year-old cricketer stay at the top of the game for 20 years? How does he retain this insatiable hunger for achievement after scoring more than 30,000 runs in the long (Test) and shorter (50 over) versions of the game?”

He just simply loves doing it; his passion and love for the game makes it possible. The genius is constantly learning and is always working on his game. In the last tour to Australia when he scored a hundred in the Sydney Test he was asked in the post-day interview about the jinx of 90s that had plagued him throughout the previous year. Tendulkar said ‘I was getting into bad habits and I needed to break them this year’. Simply brilliant.

Since that day Tendulkar has made 8 Test match hundreds and 5 One Day International hundreds. The ODI hundreds were all hailed as one of his best until he went on to upstage them; the 117 not out he made while chasing in the first Commonwealth Bank Series final in Sydney, the 163 retired hurt he made in Christchurch where he could have got a double but he took the decision to not take a chance with a niggle before the Test series. The 138 in a final against Sri Lanka in Colombo was another match-winning knock; and then that tremendous 175 that could not see his side home but was hailed as his best-ever hundred coming under the pressure of chasing 350. Now he’s got the first double hundred in an ODI; an unbeaten 200 against a good attack.

The last word must go to one fresh and insightful voice in the commentary box; that of former England captain Naseer Hussain: “I have never quite liked comparisons between great players, but after Wednesday’s game it must be said—Sachin Tendulkar is the greatest batsman of all time.

Better than Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting, the other two great players of my era. Better than Sir Viv Richards, Sunil Gavaskar and Allan Border. And I would even say better than Sir Don Bradman himself.”

My Guru Is More Enlightened Than Yours!

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A few days ago Suhel Seth was animated on a Times Now ‘Newshour’ debate about the growing violence against Indians in Australia. He had ample reason to be upset; but in his impatience he did not let a significant point being made by another person on the show to sink in. On being asked to define racism, Suhel quickly retorted that racism is an attack on a particular race and then did not listen when the other participant completed it by saying that by a supposedly different race; which was the whole point he was trying to explain. Some of these attacks he said were by mixed gangs and were more criminal in nature than racist and some others were clearly racist by nature.

Most societies have ways of being self-critical and looking within when a crisis emerges; and a shrill and jingoistic response never helps in solving the problem. It is a matter of concern that Indian students find themselves vulnerable in Sydney and Melbourne but it is also true that Australia has accepted that there are pockets of racism in the country, which they are trying to address, but that does not mean that the entire nation is racist. We should resist using a single paintbrush to colour the entire nation.

There is also a very competitive rivalry between India and Australia on the cricket field and the players have a fan following and a genuine admiration in the rival camps. Shane Warne has come forward to facilitate better understanding and it is a move that should be complemented in every possible manner. The cricket players are brand ambassadors and the likes of Steve Waugh, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Adam Gilchrist, for example, can come forward to ease the relationship. The world now is a global village and efforts that reduce human conflict are the ones that count the most in preventing crime—racial or otherwise.

In 2007, India won the Twenty20 World Cup and MS Dhoni and his boys were received by a cavalcade of thousands and thousands of fans as the team moved in an open-top double-decker bus from the airport to Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium. Andrew Symonds did not like the ‘over-the-top’ celebrations and he was in India as part of the Aussie squad for a seven-match ODI series.

On September 28, 2007 Cricinfo reported: “Something has been sparked inside of me, watching them carry on over the last few days,” Symonds told AAP. “We have had a very successful side and I think watching how we celebrate and how they celebrate, I think we have been pretty humble in the way we have gone about it. And personally, I think they have got far too carried away with their celebrations. It has definitely sparked passion inside of us. It has certainly spiced it up as well.”

“Something gets triggered inside of you, something is burning inside of you—it is your will for success or your animal instinct that wants to bring another team down,” Symonds said. “We have been at the top for so long, it is like someone has taken the favourite thing you own from you and you want it back.”

It wasn’t a quote that can be termed as wise but that is no excuse either for crowd behaviour or for BCCI’s denial mode when incidents offensive towards Symonds were reported. A cricket blogger rightly observed: Niranjan Shah, the BCCI secretary, went so far as to say, “What the media and Symonds shouldn’t forget is that the Australian crowds are far more dangerous and volatile than their Indian counterparts.” Even if this were true, what does this have to do with the price of fish in the land? There is a principle at play here: Racisim in cricket in India is not on!

Another report in Fox Sports concluded: “Racism is evil, repulsive and the sport should confront it head-on wherever it is encountered. India is enjoying its new power and influence. Along with other black nations, it had been patronised by pompous English and ignorant Australians. Revenge should not be so ruthless and ungenerous that a game is made unmanageable. India, with its many millions of dollars, has the power and opportunity to restore cricket. It just doesn’t appear to have the leaders.”

Symonds later said that he had gone to the Indian dressing room and spoken to Harbhajan Singh one-on-one to make it clear that the word ‘monkey’ is offensive, denigrating and a racial slur in his terminology (this is the essence of it and not the exact words). It was a charged ODI series and Symonds performed brilliantly and Hayden had a mouthful of things to say.

Many writers in India expressed that the crowd behaviour was obnoxious and India owed Symonds an apology. The Cricket Board pretended as if nothing had happened. If there was any doubt that the man found it offensive then it was cleared in this tour and there was no ambiguity regarding the connotation.
In the Sydney Test in January, the stump mike revealed nothing and match referee Mike Procter had no legal authority to rule when it was one man’s word against the other. It later came out that no one was close enough to hear the exact words. Eminent economist Lord Meghnad Desai, professor emeritus of the London School of Economics, in a recent article traced the origin of the conflict to the fractured Sydney Test. “I would ask the two governments to get the two cricketing sides together and appeal to all to view the matter in the spirit of cricket, where winning or losing was never meant to matter.”

Regarding the result of the Sydney Test, Pradeep Magazine of the Hindustan Times wrote, “Despite all the wrongs done to them on the field, India could have still salvaged a draw and been in a much stronger position to take a high moral ground and tell the umpires and the Australians of what they thought of them”

The Australian media, let us not forget, acknowledged that India was hard done in Sydney and the criticism only started when the BCCI apparently went muscle flexing. Harbhajan may well have used abusive language and not the racial slur as the word he admitted to having used is part of the common north Indian lingo. And the word points towards an abuse but rarely borders on the actual abuse that requires adding one more word. Bastards are sad creatures in India but you can easily call someone a lucky bastard in many cultures. People all around the world need to learn and be sensitive to other people’s cultures.

The television coverage showed Symonds giving a mouthful while going towards his fielding position and he may well have been goading Harbhajan, ‘with his animal instincts’, for all you know. Ian Chappell in the commentary box expressed concern over Hayden’s qualification as a peacemaker and the incident occurred when Harbhajan was involved in a significant partnership with Tendulkar that was proving out to be a thorn for the Aussies.

The crowds and media and some of the Aussie players took to riling Bhajji in every match after that; but the turbaned Sikh is a strong character who used it to perform against the odds on the field. As the months rolled by and seeing the path that the careers of the two players took since Sydney, one can say, with some bias, that in the Symonds-Harbhajan affair it was the plaintiff who came out looking worse than the defendant. Hayden went on air calling Bhajji an ‘obnoxious little weed’ and later Symonds woke up to realise that ‘the devil had farted in his face’ after he called Brendon McCullum a ‘lump of shit’; this time again on a radio show.

I do agree with Mike Selvey of the Guardian that despite everything Symonds deserves sympathy and not scorn. “Symonds may not be the most pleasant of men (I have no way of knowing but anecdotal evidence suggests as much) but that should not be the criterion. He is a troubled individual who needs ongoing support and, judging by the words of Anderson (psychologist), is already benefiting from it. A stitch-up by a pair of goading comedians should not see a man lose his career. The consequences of the alternative, dumping him, are too unedifying to consider.”

Andrew Symonds is too good a cricketer to be lost in fighting inner demons and it would be heartening if his career is salvaged. As for racism, it is a global problem and if we could all begin with ourselves first the results will be faster and more peaceful. Have you heard that great joke where a disciple is fighting another one on the premise that ‘my guru is more enlightened than yours’.

These are a few good links to follow.

Crowd Carry On Over Harbhajan—Greg Baum for The Age

Are We Racist? You Know The Answer Already—Vir Sanghvi for Mint

Bowler Found Guilty But Australia Stand Condemned—David Hopps for the Guardian

Booze-addled Symonds deserves sympathy not scorn—Mike Selvey for the Guardian

The Australian Coverage Was An Embarrassment

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Some publications and cricket writers in Australia have a tendency to pounce on a visiting team if they have an indifferent start to their campaign or lose the first match badly. The press takes no time in writing them off as spoilers of a summer entertainment that is considered a natural right of the Australian public that enjoys healthy competition. Apart from a few brilliant writers like Gideon Haigh, respected the world over and those like Greg Baum and Peter Roebuck who give every visiting side its due; a lot of the Australian media sometimes forgets the essential thing while writing about visitors: the context. The West Indies have been the latest sufferers after their capitulation inside three days at the Woolloongabba, Brisbane.

The coverage accorded the West Indies after their defeat inside three days at the Gabba even by the expected low standards was harsh. It is a different matter that West Indies picked themselves up and the next match was a draw and the loss at Perth was close and could have easily gone the other way. Australia made 520 batting first and when the West Indies came out it was a Gayle thunderstorm and not the Fremantle Doctor that struck the WACA.

Gayle was the first wicket to fall having made 102 in 72 balls out of the total of 136 runs for the first wicket; he struck nine fours and six sixes in the counterattack. The team could only manage 312 and that gave Australia a lead of 208 going into the second innings. The West Indies blew the Aussies apart for 150 in the second innings and in their chase of 359 runs just fell short by 36 runs.

During India’s 2003-04 tour of Australia, Steve Waugh’s farewell series, the two words that India heard in the lead up to the first Test at the Gabba were ‘chin music.’ The Gabba is an Australian fortress where the last time Australia lost was in 1988 against the West Indies and for India in Brisbane what could one say in a preview. “Playing an Indian team softened by early defeat at Brisbane—as seems inevitable—will be the perfect platform to greater things. Steve Waugh’s retirement at the end of this series might symbolise, to the sentimental, the end of an era—but by no means will that bring an end to Australia’s dominance in world cricket,” wrote Amit Varma of Wisden Cricinfo India. Seldom have series results been predicted before even a ball is bowled but such was Australia’s domination in home conditions that it is the Indian team that should be hailed for their performance rather than admonishing the writer for getting his series preview wrong. It was a 1-1 draw and Steve Waugh’s farewell series was saved more by Steve Bucknor and Billy Bowden in the second innings in Sydney than by their batsmen. It has been written about and the Cricinfo coverage can be accessed to see the merit in this assertion.

Veteran writer and commentator on Caribbean cricket Tony Cozier said that no one is more painfully aware of the rapid disintegration of West Indies cricket than West Indians themselves. The proof has been before our eyes for at least a decade now, at our once-filled grounds, on our television screens, in our newspapers.

“For all that, the abuse and scorn heaped on the team in the Australian press following its defeat in the first Test in Brisbane last week—by an innings and in three days—was undeserved. Comparisons with Australia’s similar decline in the 1980s, when their overall win-lost ratio in 92 Tests was 18-36 (5-16 against West Indies), were conveniently ignored.

Instead, we had this supercilious comment from Malcolm Conn, the long-serving writer for the Australian: ‘Have the West Indies really sent their full-strength team to Australia? Surely the real team must be still on strike, because if this is the best the combined might of the Caribbean can muster, then Test cricket is in terminal decline.’

He was in the Caribbean with the Australian team in 1984 when West Indies did not lose a single second innings wicket in the five Tests, winning the series 3-0 on the way to six successive victories. As I recall, no one suggested then that Test cricket was in terminal decline because of it.

Nor was there any consideration by the West Indies board that the series ‘should be cancelled and all tickets refunded’, the line Ben Dorries came up with in the Brisbane Courier-Mail after the Brisbane match. And, as bad as the Aussies were back then, they were not chided that their Test cricket had become ‘a complete and utter joke’, another of Dorries’ pearls.

Fortunately there are those of substance and influence with a more sympathetic, and realistic, take on West Indies cricket, men such as Greg Chappell. “I’m hopeful that some of the work that’s being done to help West Indian cricket become strong again is successful because I think they’re a very important member of the cricket family,” Chappell said.”

Time for some champagne

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It is time for some elaborate and well-earned celebrations. India at this point of time is the number 1 Test team in the world and it is a nice place to sit and reflect on things before moving on to the bigger challenge of consolidating this position.

The fourteen players who were in the squad against Sri Lanka at the Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai were the last ones who came to my mind as my memory went back to listening about India playing abroad in the late seventies and early eighties. It went back to days when Sunil Gavaskar used to walk to the field and display character while playing in an era that had a battery of great fast bowlers. It also went back to Kapil Dev, Vishwanath, Jimmy Amarnath, Vengsarkar and to all those people who paved the way from the time when India were just considered pushovers in world cricket to this day.

Of course it went to our fabulous spinners; the unmatched Bishen Singh Bedi and the quartet that had Eknath Solker, near the bat, as a part of their hunting pack. Sandeep Patil hitting a spectacular 174 in the Adelaide Test after having been hit on the head by Len Pascoe on his ear in the Sydney Test of the 1980-81 series came to my mind. The list is long in this 77-year-old history and each step has meant something.

Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble can be clubbed with the squad of fourteen as they are an integral part of recent successes. Ganguly displayed steely resolve after his comeback and Kumble showed what a tremendous leader he is. The graph can be plotted from end-2007 when India defeated Pakistan 1-0 at home with the last Test finishing on December 12.

This was after a hectic ODI season and commercial greed ensured that India went to Australia without much of a rest or a decent conditioning camp and no time to acclimatise apart from one game that was washed out. Melbourne was the wicket that would have suited India the best and the bowlers did well to keep Australia below 350.

Two tour games may have shown form and adjustment factor. Sehwag may have played from the start and Yuvraj could have warmed the bench; our experts did not get it but Ian Chappell was right when he said that Sehwag may give just about 50 but his attack puts the train in motion. An attacking opener at the top would have put the bowlers on the defensive and the middle order could then have taken things forward. Yuvraj had made runs in India and so the entire furniture was rearranged to accommodate him. India lost the first Test by 337 runs and Ponting said he hadn’t expected such an easy win.

Then it was time for the back-to-back Sydney Test in the New Year and along with it a chance for Australia to match its previous highest winning streak of 16 Test matches on the trot. Never mind the washed out preparation game as that bit happened in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. In hindsight, Sydney was very unlucky for Andrew Symonds in the long-run and it was lucky in the long-run for India.

On the match days, though, every bit of luck went Australia’s way beginning with the toss. “We’re going to bat today, mate,” said Ponting. “The wicket looks pretty good, a bit of moisture this morning. We played well in Melbourne but that’s all behind us now. We created momentum and hope to do the same. It was as good Test cricket as we’ve played in a long time.”

Anil Kumble looked calm and confident. “There’ll be early juice in the wicket; I’m looking forward to a couple of early wickets,” Cricinfo’s commentary said. The attack was RP Singh, Ishant Sharma, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble. RP got both the openers cheaply and then Ponting and Hussey consolidated but from 119 for 2 in 29.4 overs Australia slumped to 134 for 6 in 34.5 overs. Brad Hogg joined Symonds, who had seven runs from 17 balls, and the counterattack started.

At the end of 46 overs Hogg was 35 and Symonds 29 when Ishant came in to bowl the 47th over with Australia on 191. At 193 for 6 on the fourth ball of Ishant Sharma, Symonds got a massive edge and looked back as Dhoni pouched it. Umpire Steve Bucknor was stone faced as Symonds looked at him. It was a giveaway. Australia ended up with 463 and Symonds added 132 more to his score of 30 when he had got that big let-off. On top of that the drama of a ‘reported incident’ at the end of the third day’s play meant that news agencies had a field day. That continued for a while.

To cut the long story short, Australia went on to win the game as India failed to survive over two and a half sessions on the last day and the team trailed 2-0 in the four Test series with the next match to be played in the Australian den at Perth.

Sehwag and Irfan Pathan got in the playing eleven and Harbhajan was out in the cold awaiting the decision of a judge after the acrimonious Sydney Test. Australia crumbled despite talks of a four-pronged pace attack and the two replacements justified their inclusion for India. That bit was Kumble’s leadership and India haven’t looked back since and beaten Australia 2-0 at home and won a series against England at home. There has been a 1-1 draw against South Africa at home. The only blip has been a 2-1 loss in Sri Lanka. Symonds has gone fishing or has hit the bar a bit more than the leadership group of the team would have wanted him to. He’s had the support of the captain and the team mates but he has found it hard to justify it.

Gary Kirsten had joined the team in Perth and one can hear about the value that he has added as players have been very vocal about his role even as he has been quiet about it. This year India has dominated and had a series win in New Zealand and now an emphatic 2-0 win against Sri Lanka at home. It is the Test matches that matter but we are just playing two more so the top ranking could be for just a short while; it is worth celebrating nonetheless.

Mohali And The Sting In The Tail

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Something great and something bizarre as well as poor and inexplicable has happened in this One Day series. The great has gone to Australia along with the series and India can sit and debate about the rest. You go and beat a full-strength Australian team in their backyard in the first two finals of the best-of-three finals in the last edition of the tri-nation Commonwealth Bank Series in 2008. Then you maintain a high percentage of victory in most of the bilateral series that follow but fall at the first hurdle of both the 2009 World tournaments—the T20 World Cup and the Champions Trophy. The two world tournaments had enough twists to ensure that the journalists had a good time, especially the brilliant victory of Pakistan in the T20 World Cup. The Australians lifted the Champions Trophy beating New Zealand in the finals.

Hang on! The Australians are coming to India for a 7-match ODI series that they think is too hectic; and Ponting goes public with his concern for the crammed schedule. Ian Chappell writes for some media company that it is a useless series in an already hectic season. Someone from the BCCI is quoted in another story that asks Chappell to shut up and mind his own business; meaning to stop messing with our business.

In the Champions Trophy, India had one bad day and their campaign ended; so you could say that they were kind of unlucky. But a home series of seven matches could change all that; hammer the depleted Aussie side, grab the number 1 position and send the visitors packing as this was a much-weakened team compared to the one that Dhoni’s boys had beaten in 2008 in the Australian backyard.

The end result of 4-2 in Australia’s favour is the worst fall that Dhoni has seen in his still-short captaincy career. With the number of injuries rising with each game, Ponting has rightly hailed this win close to winning a World Cup and as satisfying as any in his career. Australian media has cheered the victory as the dismantling of ‘upstart rivals’ India.

Where did things go wrong for India can be seen better from where did they go right for them. India won the second ODI convincingly by 99 runs as the powerful middle-order clicked and India made 354 with a brilliant 124 by Dhoni and solid half-centuries by Gambhir and Raina. Then there was ‘a partnership made in batting heaven’ as one analysis headline said after the Delhi game. Comfortable six-wicket win in the end and India took a 2-1 lead going to Mohali.

India then had one of their best days in the field restricting Australia to 250 on a good surface. The fielding was sharp and was rewarded by four run-outs, the best being the most-crucial one of Ponting by a direct throw from Jadeja. The expression of Dhoni running towards square-leg with a gloved arm pointing towards Jadeja in the deep told the story of how brilliant a piece of fielding it was. The second half of Mohali is where India lost the whole series.

After the loss of the seventh Australian wicket, earlier in the day, they managed to add 14 more runs to their total. After the seventh Indian wicket was gone, the Indian team added 49 more runs and yet lost by 24 runs. Tendulkar’s score of 40 was the highest for an Indian top-order batsman and 40 was the lowest score among the 4 top order batsmen who scored runs for Australia. Tendulkar got a poor lbw decision but he also had himself to blame by playing back to a tossed up delivery that could have been hit for a six with lesser risk.

This side has been as Australian as any before and, therefore, it is a good time to reflect on what Sir Geoffrey Boycott was talking with Harsha Bhogle during India’s 2002-03 tour of Australia. Boycott was saying that if you’ve got an Aussie team down, you keep it down and keep pressing the foot ruthlessly because if you give an inch, you won’t know when they would rise and come back to hit you. Harsha smiled and said that’s so typically English Geoffrey, always afraid of the Aussies. Boycott also smiled in return but he knew what he was talking about as that history is now over 132 years old.

Sehwag had a poor series where he could not convert any start to a seventy or eighty that would have made a difference. Tendulkar played the innings of the series and perhaps of the past many seasons of limited overs cricket in Hyderabad while chasing 350. You could see it coming as he has been in outstanding form and is a deeply conscientious cricketer if the team is not benefiting and he is not able to contribute.
Ian Chappell saying that India is fine if Tendulkar makes runs while the team loses is prejudiced analysis without real basis as that is what Australia wants and it has been reported in the Aussie media more than a few times.

Out of the four matches that Australia won three of them were tight finishes that India could have won had they been a bit more tenacious. Australia had no chance in the two games that India won comprehensively. Application and the mental toughness needed to take your team through in pressure is what counts. India could have taken the series 5-1 if they had a bit of that unyielding quality.

Against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy Australia just needed 36 runs in 60 balls with 6 wickets in hand; in 42 balls Pakistan just gave 18 runs and took 4 wickets. That is called an almighty collapse but Australia still got the last 18 without any further damage. India’s work in three games was much easier than what it was for Hauritz and Brett Lee against Pakistan but one needs that quality of slugging it out till the last ounce of blood and sweat and that is what India has lacked not the talent as Dhoni pointed out.

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