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The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

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Ecstasy For The Cricket Fan

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For a fan of the game a good day of Test match cricket is an adventure that is more exciting, intriguing, and entertaining than a season full of senseless versions of the shorter-form. Wednesday, the 21st of July 2010, was one such day; and it gave fans a double scoop of edge-of-the-seat cricket. This is how fans of Test cricket want to be spoiled.

Only that I wish that Australia playing Pakistan at Leeds was simultaneously available on some other channel when Ten Sports was beaming India against Sri Lanka.

India’s day in Galle began with seven wickets in hand and a mountain to climb. The wicket was good to bat on and Sehwag raced to his hundred as Sri Lanka chose not to begin with their main weapons. On his second last innings with the ball in hand, Muttiah Muralidharan was the sixth bowler to be introduced in the morning. India was 216 for five and Murali had the lone wicket of Tendulkar from the previous day against his name.

Dhoni and Yuvraj had got starts and an enterprising partnership was developing. Dhoni hit two fours in that first over from Murali and a couple of overs later Yuvraj smacked a six of Herath. That was the 50th over and at 238 for 5 India was not out of the woods but a recovery was looking possible. Then Murali bowled as if he had been storing venom since the morning and India was floored.

A ball from outside off broke sharply and snaked in to shatter Dhoni’s leg stump; 252 for six. An over later Murali came from round the stumps and drew Yuvraj forward to defend and there was just the precise turn needed for an outside edge to first slip. Dhoni and Yuvraj had put together 74 runs in 15.2 overs and given the situation of the match this was quite an aggressive stand with a run rate of almost five. To then have both batsmen out defending is a Murali marvel.

India bowled out for 276 with the phenomenal Murali claiming his 67th 5-wicket haul.

Lanka imposed the follow on and India was pegged back immediately. The first innings dismissal seemed to have been playing on Gambhir’s mind and Malinga exploited his dilemma brilliantly. Wrapped in front by an in dipper in the first innings Malinga sensed that Gambhir was on the lookout for that ball and this time he gave him one that went away an induced the error. Sehwag went in a similar fashion to his first innings dismissal; chasing a wide one which Mahela plucked out of air at gully.

Then the two guys who have the record for the highest number of century partnerships between them in the history of Test cricket showed just how assured India has felt on so many occasions when these two have been on the crease. Tendulkar and Dravid put together 119 runs for the third wicket in 40 overs and there was just about half an hour to go before the close of play when Malinga came on to bowl.

Malinga’s spell on Wednesday evening turned the Test decisively in Sri Lanka’s favour. With the ball reversing Malinga had Dravid flicking a full delivery with Sangakkara waiting for the uppish shot at leg gully. In his next over Malinga had Tendulkar turning the face of his bat to another full delivery expecting the shiny side to take the ball towards his leg stump but the ball somehow held its line and missed the bat to hit the Master’s pad.

Resurrection after that double blow became impossible as VVS Laxman was left stranded after India lost Yuvraj towards end of play and Dhoni early the next morning. Harbhajan had an extremely poor match both with bat and ball but the tail added some vital runs to give Lanka at least something to chase. Sri Lanka in Murali and Malinga had two strike bowlers who delivered at crucial junctures while India had no one who was consistently effective.

At Leeds Pakistan bowled Australia for 88 runs in helpful conditions after Ponting had won the toss and decided to bat. Mohammad Aamer and Asif took three wickets each and Umar Gul picked up two in an excellent display of swing bowling. Pakistan backed up the bowling effort by positive batting and made 248. Australia then came out to bat 170 runs behind in the second innings and Aamer started brilliantly by hitting an ideal length and line right from his first ball. He was unlucky not to have had Ponting given lbw off the first ball the Aussie captain played. The nineteen-year-old Aamer bowling at a lively pace and getting the ball to talk is pure delight to watch.

The bowling attack of Pakistan has looked far superior to that of Australia but their batting lacks experience and that is what cost them the game at Sydney in January. The batting and the anxiety that a raw bowling attack can have—in Sydney Australia was on the mat at 257 for 8 in their second innings. Just 51 runs ahead and Hussey standing with Peter Siddle and Bollinger to follow; the ninth wicket added 123 runs. Chasing 176 for a win Pakistan were bowled out for 139.

In the Galle Test match India, the number 1 Test team in the world at the moment, has looked extremely poor and despite one full day being washed out Sri Lanka had an easy win. Apart from a brief period on the third day the bowling attack was toothless—Herath and Malinga at number 8 and 9 scored 80 and 64 runs respectively—and the strong batting line-up has also not been good enough for a rescue.

It would now require a lot of character for India to come back in this Test series and hold on to their number one position. It would also be interesting to see if Pakistan can level the two-Test series at Leeds. This is a joyous time for the cricket fan.

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On Brilliant Hitting And Great Batting

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The effort of the IPL sponsors and the marketers of the game got a great advertisement in the match between the Mumbai Indians and the Rajasthan Royals. This was a shorter form of the delight that IPL is hoping to cash on. Mumbai won the toss and batted first and got to a healthy 212 courtesy a good start and some wonderful middle-order batting.

The Mumbai Indians dominated the match for the first 27 overs with the Royals tottering at 43 for 3 which soon became 66 for 4 in 9.2 overs when Paras Dogra joined Yusuf Pathan. At the end of 10 overs the Royals were 69 for 4 and needed 144 runs in 60 balls. Pathan was 15 in 13 balls with a six and Dogra was 2 in 2.
It was that situation for which captains would tell you to go and knock the daylights out of the bowling attack without losing your wicket. Pathan got the message and played himself in before the carnage began with three consecutive sixes off Murtaza.

Dogra brought Pathan back on strike with a single and then it was 6446Wd4; 26 off Sathish. Then it was McLaren and again Dogra pinched a single and Pathan went 44Wd4Wd11; 17 in the over. Three overs leaked 62 runs and the match was alive with 82 needed off 42 balls.

Then there was some sanity as Tendulkar brought his two main weapons for an over each in a game where he was missing the magic of Harbhajan; who suffered a blow to his inner thigh while batting. Malinga and Khan gave 7 and 5 runs respectively to restore order and then Murtaza went for 11 in the 16th over of the innings leaving the Royals with 59 to get in 24 balls. Tendulkar needed two overs before he could go back to Zaheer and Malinga and with Pathan on 83 in 33 balls and Dogra on a boundary-less but calm 16 in 18 balls he picked the hard-to-get-under Jayasuriya.

The first three balls seemed to justify the decision with just singles coming and then Pathan launched into Jayasuriya and hit him for two massive sixes either side of a four—100 in 37 balls and Royals needing 40 in 18 balls. Sathish with a reputation of being India’s best fielder did a remarkable job at the non-striker’s end when he fielded and flicked Dogra’s drive to catch Pathan short and the Royals needing 40 off 17 balls.

That was when Dogra took over and the next four balls went 6, 6, 4, 4 and then he took a single to keep strike. The way the match had gone 19 off 12 balls should have been an easy ask but that is the value that regular good bowlers bring to the table. Zaheer Khan went for seven despite a first ball wide and Malinga was just phenomenal. He bowled a brilliant yorker and then ran Dogra out diving full stretch while picking the ball at the striker’s end. Next man was bowled and the buffer was more than enough for the brilliant Malinga to see Mumbai through.

It was a great effort by Pathan coming in at a hopeless situation and hitting cleanly and brilliantly. On October 4, 1996 at the Gymkhana Club Ground in Nairobi, a boy looking more than his official age of 16 years and 217 days and going by the name of Shahid Afridi came out to bat for the first time in his 2nd ODI match and made a 37-ball hundred against a Sri Lankan attack that had Vaas, Murali, Dhramasena among others. Andrew Symonds has a hundred in 34 balls.

Saying it was the best hitting I have ever seen is one thing and saying that it was the best innings I have seen quite another. It surely would not make the cut if I had to pick the 50 or 100 best innings I’ve ever seen but it would be right up there if I had to pick clean and brilliant hitting on a batting beauty with most of the runs coming off part-timers. Would Shane Warne pick him in the Test squad on the basis of this innings? Would the Generation X captain MS Dhoni consider it?

I would pick the 60 odd that Laxman made on a vicious turner in Mumbai against Australia or the 55 that Tendulkar made in the same game. What about the way Damien Martyn played in the 2004 series in India? The hundred that Steve Waugh got at the Eden Gardens and the ones that Brian Lara got against the Aussies. Haven’t Shane Warne and Navjot Singh Sidhu played enough cricket and seen much more to put a magnificent T20 hundred on the same pedestal as the runs scored in the heat of Test cricket?

Brilliant hundred by Pathan; chanceless, clean and brutal along with some deft strokes in a tough situation but give me Dravid, Ponting, Tendulkar, Gambhir, Sehwag, Jesse Ryder, Hussey, Jayawardene, Sangakarra, Kallis, Duminy, Clarke against a good Test attack or a recording of the double hundred that Sir Gary Sobers got against the rest of the world any day.

This is not to take away from the super effort of Pathan but this wasn’t even remotely close to the dozens of 50s that I’ve seen in tougher situations leave apart the many hundreds and the double and triple ones.

Indians are considered to be good players of spin and Indian wickets traditionally are suited for spin bowling and if Shane Warne wants to understand what I mean then he has to see that he never got a five-wicket haul in an innings against India in India till 2004 in Chennai. He took 6 for 125 in 42.3 overs in India’s first innings of 376 and it was a tantalising contest where rain on the fifth day was the winner and the match a draw.

In the last match of the same series in Mumbai, Michael Clarke took 6 for 9 in 6.2 overs in India’s second innings and still ended up on the losing side. Warne could never manage to bowl Australia to victory against India. He chipped in but he was never the one man responsible and here also Michael Clarke beats him. In 2008 in Sydney when the shadows were lengthening and it seemed that India would hang on for a draw with just about 10 minutes of play left and three wickets in hand, Michael Clarke took three wickets in five balls with his left-arm spin.

Does it mean that Clarke is a great spinner or does it mean that he’s had a couple of lucky days? Can Clarke be compared to the Wizard of Oz? As a spinner, Clarke would probably not make it to a good club’s playing XI while Warne would be a serious contender to a four-man bowling attack picked out of over a hundred years of Test cricket.

The T20 lesson: Enjoy the fun but don’t lose your perspective mate.

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.

The Glorious Uncertainties of Pakistan Cricket

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It would be near impossible to find a genuine cricket lover across the eight major cricketing nations who would not be shattered to see the game moving ahead without a substantial role of Pakistan. On the contrary there would be millions lamenting that tours to Pakistan have suffered for a few years for reasons that are beyond the control of either the administrators or the fans of the game.

In this season even indifferent observers would have turned serious followers had they been witnessing how Pakistan cricket navigated through a dark, treacherous period and emerged joyous and unscathed on the other side; in the process they also sparked unadulterated joy among millions of supporters back home. Forget home; they must be even lifting the spirits of the rival camps.

Younis Khan and his team have given the other Test playing nations enough reason to see the fact that it would be a collective loss for all cricketing nations if tours to Pakistan remain stalled. Tours though are not decided by cricket captains and emotional fans; more so as the aftershocks of Mumbai and Lahore would be felt acutely by the governing bodies of countries scheduled to tour Pakistan.

On their part though, Pakistani cricketers have done enough for the world to take notice. On Wednesday they gave another proof—if it was at all needed in the first place—on why the game of cricket is so much poorer without the incendiary brilliance that their team brings to this rather small mix.

It was not an ideal surface to bat on but it produced a match that single-handedly justified the Champions Trophy. The Aussies put Pakistan in after winning the toss and bowled 50 overs with intensity to restrict Pakistan to 205. The chase began like a typical Aussie hot pursuit, with boundaries raining. At 62 for 2 after 12 overs, the seasoned Ponting and Hussey took charge; Ponting extra cautious while Hussey free-flowing. The Aussie captain perished in the 32nd over—to a slog-sweep off Malik caught wide of square leg, courtesy a great effort by Umar Gul.

It was just a precursor to the period that I call the ‘Pakistan Factor’. This elusive and dangerous quality that makes a Pakistani team lethal is scientifically defined as the product of mass and velocity: commonly called momentum. And in its own peculiar way, this momentum does not run contrary to the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle*—one of the fundamental pillars of Quantum Mechanics named after the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, who presented it in 1927. In simple cricketing terms it can be used to say that momentum can be observed but what triggers it remains elusive.*

When Pakistan began their World T20 campaign this year, they played England in the first game and lost by 48 runs. A match report said: ‘Pakistan was well short of their best, especially in the field where they dropped at least four catches and produced countless more sloppy pieces of groundwork. … maybe suffered from knowing they have a second chance against the Netherlands …but this defeat was so heavy that even a win in that game might not be enough.’

Pakistan won against Netherlands and then lost to Sri Lanka. They then defeated New Zealand emphatically, and something that can’t be measured accurately triggered what could be seen plainly: Pakistan had gained momentum. Pakistan qualified to the semis as the 4th team to take on the unbeaten South Africans.

Osman Samiuddin, Pakistan editor of Cricinfo, in a preview to the T20 semi-final called it first a clash of ethos, of philosophies and even of time, more than a semi-final. It was the art of cricket against the science of it, cricket’s future against its past.

South Africa had all bases covered. “The whole machinery is intimidating …the mission pre-programmed; with seven consecutive wins… they have also taken the inherent unpredictability of this format out of the equation. They are well-oiled, and their psychologist talks about 120 contests and of processes over outcomes. They win even warm-up matches and the dead games because every game counts. They are cricket’s future.

Pakistan are the past. They are wholly dysfunctional, but just about getting along, though unsure where they are going. They don’t control extras…. They are least bothered about erasing the flaws because any win will be in spite of them. They did hire a psychologist though, and you can only imagine what those sessions were like… There are permanent mutterings of serious rifts. They may not bat, bowl or field well all the time, but sometimes, they do what can only be described as a ‘Pakistan’: that is, they bowl, bat or field spectacularly, briefly, to change the outcome of matches. You cannot plan or account for this as an opponent because Pakistan themselves don’t plan or account for it.”

Osman hits the nail on the head when he says that it is not something that Pakistan plan for; meaning that it happens and also meaning that it is in harmony with my ‘not-so-scientific’ comparison with the revolutionary theory of the Quantum Physics genius Heisenberg.

Pakistan took on South Africa and despite scoring a gettable 149, Afridi turned the game on its head by taking Gibbs and De Villiers cheaply and almost back to back. Sri Lanka had been the more consistent team in the tournament; but in the final it was Pakistan that was more hungry.

Australian captain Ricky Ponting sensed the danger in the Champions Trophy group match today as his strike rate of 50 suggests; rarely does he score 32 runs in 64 balls. Asif was back in the 40th over after a dull first spell; Ajmal had sent Ferguson back a while ago. Then followed the madness, the brilliance, the call it what you like, the-what I-like-to-call as the Pakistan Factor.

Rana Naved bowled the 41st over and his fifth ball, an in-swinging dipping yorker, shattered Hussey’s off stump; it was as if lightning had struck. Hussey left after a fluent 64; 31 needed from 9 overs with 5 wickets left.

It was already crazy when the back-from-hell Asif made it absolutely maddening in the 42nd over; Hopes drove straight to mid-off and Younis pouched a low catch. Johnson survived a run-out scare but White had no such luck. The fifth ball was an Asif special: It landed on a good length outside the off and cut back sharply to pierce the bat pad gap and shatter the timber behind; an unbelieving pale White made his walk back. Twenty-three in 36 balls with 3 wickets in hand and Rana Naved bowled two maidens on the trot.

In between the maidens Johnson hit a four and was deceived the very next ball by an Ajmal beauty; a short and quick doosra that Johnson misread and it came back to crash his stumps. Australia had needed just 36 runs in the last 10 overs with six wickets in hand. Seven of those 10 overs yielded half of the runs at the cost of 4 Aussie wickets. It was sheer madness, it was pure magic, and it was quintessential Pakistan. It was something that would have made Werner Heisenberg—the 1932 Nobel Prize winner in Physics—smile.

Only Pakistan could have brought Australia to such a desperate situation in an otherwise one-sided contest. And only Australia could have survived a tsunami like that and yet manage to cross the line. If unpredictable is the word for Pakistan then the Aussies can best be summed up as unyielding. Lee and Hauritz saw Australia home in the last ball of the match.

Pakistan now moves ahead with the momentum that makes them so lethal by their side. It would be tempting to put your money on them but it would not be wise: Some things are best left uncertain.

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*Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle states that it is not possible to simultaneously measure both the position and momentum of a particle with precision. Conversly, it also means that more the precision in measuring one of them the greater would be the inaccuracy in measuring the other. There are many ways to define and derive the principle. It is one of the fundamental building blocks of Quantum Theory.

The principle was at the core of dialogues between British physicist David Bohm and the 20th century ‘spiritual thinker’ J. Krishnamurti. Krishnamurti was spotted and raised by The Theosophical Society: which he left saying what remains as his most famous one-liner, ‘Truth is a pathless land’. The dialogues are available in a 1985 published book titled The Ending Of Time. It is the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle that prompted Albert Einstein’s famous comment, “God does not play dice.”

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