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Brilliant Li Na Ends Up Second-Best

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It wasn’t a masked ball at the Rod Laver Arena on Saturday yet the final moments led to some spontaneous unmasking. Kim Clijsters of Belgium told the fans in the stadium that they could finally call her Aussie Kim while Li Na was very cross with her own supporters claiming they were trying to coach her in Chinese what to do mid-point.

Li Na has been the story of the tournament and to her credit she has put a face to China and broadly some would say even to Asia. Her on court interviews have delighted people across the world and her tennis has won her many admirers. It was the first Grand Slam final for Li and also a first for the large continent and she rose to the occasion and came out firing in the first set. The experienced Clijsters was pushed back and she had no answers to the power and accuracy of the Chinese star.

It was something that even Clijsters acknowledged later. “She did everything better than me in that first set,” said Clijsters. “Her ground strokes were heavier, deeper, she served better and she returned better. She was playing really well, probably the best she has ever played against me.”

Clijsters was also playing well but Li was playing brilliantly and she took nine out of the first 14 games. However, that was where things started slipping away from her. Once her clear-sightedness was clouded by impatience, Li got flustered and struggled to get her composure back. She won just three out of the last 13 games as Clijsters tightened her game and saw her opponent make a host of unforced errors.

Earlier Clijsters needed some help from Li to get back into the contest and it was her experience and the relative inexperience of her opponent that turned the tide. “I tried to do things differently to break her rhythm a little bit and make her think a little bit more,” Clijsters said. “I mixed it up a little bit, put some slices in, also hit a few higher shots and it made her make some unforced errors. And then she got a little bit aggravated and I just tried to hang in there.”

This was backed up by Li’s claim: “If you haven’t got that experience, if you come across some problems, you can’t get out of them that easily. It’s not that there’s no way out, it’s because you don’t know how to find a way out.”

Afterwards, Li said: “I don’t know why after I got to the final I had so many Chinese coaches on the court. Of course they want me to win the match but they were trying to coach me how to play tennis.” Can the crowd be blamed for Li Na’s downfall? That can only be considered if the crowd can be credited with her winning the previous rounds and reaching the final. “Be a master of your petty annoyances and conserve your energies for the big, worthwhile things. It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” The quote by poet Robert Service could well be said for Li Na.

The witty and graceful Chinese needed to keep her tunnel vision going and there was no reason for her to be paying more attention to the crowd than to her game. Clijsters had changed her approach mid-way in the second set when she started defending from the baseline and scooping some high balls for Li to hit from the back of the court. Li needed to be aware of what her opponent was trying to do and also aware of the fact that she was still in the ascendancy.

Sadly the couple of errors Clijsters drew upset Li’s rhythm and that is when she started getting bothered by the crowd. Clijsters used the occasion to get her rhythm going and squeezed out the second set. From there on it was Clijsters all the way. The final score read 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in Clijsters favour.

Nevertheless, the experience would do a world of good for Li Na and if she finds herself in the same situation next time she may well be prepared to listen only to the rustling of the tennis ball. It would be wonderful if she treats everything else as just noise.

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Written by Deepan Joshi

January 30, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Defensive India Lose Golden Opportunity

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It was a strange day at Cape Town. MS Dhoni finally won a toss and put South Africa in with conditions being ideal for fast bowling. Having come out of nowhere to blow South Africa away in Durban India had every right to feel that now with luck on their side they can show what they are capable of doing in helpful conditions at Newlands. It was their opportunity to inflict the kind of pain that they had suffered on the first day in Centurion and in Durban.

It was a stop-start first half of the day with intermittent rain and bad light punctuating play. South Africa used the situation to their advantage while India were left wondering what went wrong when there was help for the fast men all day long. The day started well for India and at the end of the first nine overs South Africa was 21 and had lost their captain Graeme Smith once again to Zaheer Khan. A light drizzle and inadequate light meant an early lunch and play continued in the afternoon for 12 more overs before bad light and some rain again halted play. South Africa was 61 for two at the end of 21 overs and the ball was seaming around and there was swing as well.

Then there was a short second break and when play resumed India had lost their discipline and they allowed South Africa to get back in the game. Amla was the aggressor as he took three boundaries off Khan’s first over after resumption. His aggression took South Africa past the 100 mark but it soon cost him his wicket and at 106 for 3 in 28.3 overs the bowlers could tell the captain that they were backing his decision to bowl first. From that point on South Africa added 126 runs for the loss of just one wicket and completely took away the honours for the day.

It wasn’t that India bowled badly—they beat the bat throughout the day with prodigious lateral movement. One thing though can be said with certainty that India didn’t bowl with intensity and they gave too many boundary balls. They did adjust to the wicket and bowled full as was needed on this surface but unlike Durban they could not get a vice-like grip on the game. The Indians were also appreciably down on pace and at 34 for two Dhoni perhaps didn’t attack sufficiently. The ball was darting around and with the kind of control his bowlers had displayed in Durban Dhoni could have gone for an attacking 7-2 field and made life difficult for the South Africans.

It’s difficult to say why the Indians were down on pace and even low on aggression after such a superb showing in Durban. If they were thinking on getting the ball in the right areas and sacrificed some 10 kph of speed for control then the tactic didn’t work. It would have been better to come out and bowl their heart out to send a strong message to the South African dressing room. The right areas can also be hit at the optimum speed and India’s move was baffling.

Apart from his first spell Zaheer was disappointing throughout the day. Harbhajan only played a holding role and the batsmen worked him around for singles. The rub of the green switched sides and unlike Durban it favoured the South Africans in Cape Town. The outside edges eluded the catching men and a leading edge went to no man’s land. Jacques Kallis batted superbly for his 81 not out but he survived a close lbw shout and also played and missed quite a few. His would be the key wicket on Monday. The new ball would be due in six overs and having largely wasted the first one India has to be spot on with the second. If they fail to use the second one and South Africa manages to survive then India would be in for a long and tough day. If things don’t go India’s way on Monday they would be left to rue the fact that a made-to-order opportunity was missed on Sunday.

Give Mohammad Amir Another Chance

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A billion dollars can’t buy you an ounce of the talent that oozes out of Pakistan’s young left-arm fast bowler Mohammad Amir. Is there anything that an aspiring fast bowler would not trade to-have-even-half of what this 18-year-old boy has in abundance? And is it, therefore, a rational question to ask that why would the proud possessor of such rare gifts betray his calling? And what is it in the cricketing world that is even remotely as valuable as what Amir already has?

Money, and more money. The answer, if proved, is not surprising but shameful as it says less about Amir and more about the world of grown-ups in which he is no more than just a cog. Amir has made the cricket this summer worth watching: That eagerness to grab the ball, the jouissance in his delivery stride that is akin to the flight of an eagle, and the bite that is as venomous as the sting of a viper. He’s engineered batting collapses, made the ball talk with late movement and perfect length, and on certain days he’s looked like taking a wicket almost every ball.

What has the ICC or the various cricket boards done this summer apart from making big bucks by striking lucrative deals? What portion of the money that cricket generates trickles down to the players who shed their blood and sweat on the field and what portion goes to bloating-and-gloating cricket administrators? I don’t know the answer, I’m just curious.

I find it difficult to blame young Amir and exonerate the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), the International Cricket Council (ICC), and the seniors of the Pakistani cricket team. A boy of 18 would not have even dreamt of doing this had it not been for the corroding influence of his team’s seniors.

The best of mankind’s youth start out in life with a sense of enormous expectation, the sense that one’s life is important and that great achievements are within one’s capacity. The great Wasim Akram had 45 scalps after 14 Tests and Amir at the same juncture has 51. It could be a stellar career. Now the administrators would hang this young boy knowing fully-well that what he has done comes nowhere close to what they do all of their lives.

Would the entire Commonwealth Games scandal come out in the open and the guilty punished? Will we get to know who made what-should-not-have-been-made in the IPL scam? I am doubtful. Although I am pretty certain something would be handed over as punishment if the spots stick to the three accused in the Lord’s Test. Columnist Pradeep Magazine said that the system that pollutes the mind of someone so young should take the blame—the PCB, the ICC, and the team seniors was what he said categorically.

In her introduction to the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of The Fountainhead author Ayn Rand wrote: “It is not in the nature of man—nor of any living entity—to start out by giving up, by spitting in one’s own face and damning existence; that requires a process of corruption whose rapidity differs from man to man.” The youth getting corrupted says a lot about those that are past their prime and are running the affairs of the world.

Now there is a lot of talk about how the involved players should be punished severely and that an example should be made of them so that it serves as a deterrent for the future. Should we turn a blind eye towards the bigger problems that the sport faces and hang those few found guilty of spot-fixing?

Suddenly you have players from most countries talking about how they were approached by bookies and how they did or did not report the incidents. Why is all this talk coming out now? Mohammad Amir is an insanely-talented cricketer and that is to his credit but he is also a product of a corrupt environment. That corrupt environment will now punish him and would then claim to have cleaned itself. That, alas, is called justice.

If cricket is to be salvaged as a sport then the cleaning up must begin at the right place, at the source of corruption. The rotten cricket administration that makes the big bucks on the backs of talented players needs to be made accountable and the brouhaha that is being made about the tip of the iceberg has to stop. Australian writer Gideon Haigh wrote after the Lord’s Test: “Corruption has become cricket’s gravest challenge, and it neither begins nor ends with the Pakistan cricket team.”

Shane Watson rightly questioned whether the ICC really wants to eradicate match-fixing and spot-fixing from cricket due to fears the problem might run too deep.

Watson said the fact a newspaper was responsible for highlighting the irregularities involving Pakistan’s recent performances showed the ICC’s system was unsuccessful. “The ICC anti-corruption unit is not really working,” he said during a sponsor’s function in Sydney. “That’s totally to do with the ICC, so they really need to step in and really get to the bottom of it. Maybe they don’t want to get to the bottom of it because it might run too deep.”

Mass murderers get away in this stinking dunghill of a world. Criminals sit in public offices and racists set agendas for nations. Amir deserves more than a second chance given the kind of people we put up with every day of our life. Don’t forget, he’s just 18.

John Howard Loses Support

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“That bloke’s making me look ordinary! He’s ruining my career!” said Phil Tufnell, the bad boy of English cricket in the 1990s, while stripping all his insecurity about Shane Warne.

India too finds itself in a situation where all that ails the cricketing universe is painted as its doing. The Australian, which presents itself as the heart of the nation, has had a ball in covering John Howard’s failed bid for ICC president-elect. Have a look at these supercilious comments from Malcolm Conn, the long-serving cricket writer for the Australian.

“It is more than anti-colonial resentment that has led the Afro-Asia bloc of the ICC to snub John Howard’s nomination as president. The former prime minister was rejected by the International Cricket Council for two far more pragmatic reasons: money and power.

There was a collective fear that he would ask awkward questions about one and do his best to dilute the other. India is cricket’s king-maker. It generates up to 80 per cent of the game’s wealth. But with enormous power comes responsibility.

By voting with an anti-colonial bloc instead of upholding the process it helped put in place, India has, once again, abused its power, just as it has by demanding the sacking of umpires and threatening to abandon tours if things did not go its way. In the end, cricket will suffer.

The ICC is a multi-billion-dollar organisation with a board run in the same way that poor park cricket associations have operated for 100 years. Howard lost the last federal election because he was considered from the past, not the future. At the ICC, he would have brought enlightenment—a frightening thought for men used to operating in dark corners.”

Now how did Malcolm Conn know that there was a collective fear that Howard would clean the ICC and member countries, especially India, had vested interest in not allowing that to happen? I guess it is not a good question to ask as Howard and those who are championing his cause are somehow the “unblemished upholders of fairness”.

So it is India’s fault, incredibly, that it generates 80 per cent of cricket’s wealth. Indian sports journalists are pretty happy to put the BCCI in a tight spot and there wouldn’t be much of a problem if Conn was doing so; but most of the stories in the Australian lack merit and are merely opinions masquerading as news.

“I might have more than 5,000 Test runs, but he makes 40 million bucks a movie,” Kiwi batsman Martin Crowe once said about his cousin and Hollywood actor Russell Crowe. You see money talks; whether it’s in New Zealand or in any other country. And to blame India for generating 80 per cent of cricket’s revenue is an exercise that reeks of envy.

Writer Gideon Haigh has more than a passing interest in the BCCI and the IPL. And I am not just talking about his last three pieces, though they are the ones that have brought him ‘fame’, but about the immense hard work that he has put in for more than a year in deconstructing the BCCI and the IPL. On March 26, 2009 Haigh wrote a piece about the IPL being hosted in South Africa.

“The fact is that the IPL would be occurring in Antarctica if there were direct flights, and it suited World Sport Group. And in that sense the Indianness of the tournament is more pronounced because it is imposed: the point is not to bring an attraction to another country but to create a satellite India on that country’s soil. And there is an old-fashioned word for such a form of exploitation: imperialism,” Haigh wrote.

I fail to see the similarities; in what way was India’s agenda forced on South Africa and who exactly was being exploited and how. South Africa readily accepted the offer of hosting the IPL on their land and the IPL came home after the two-month period unlike the East India Company that set the example of what exploitation means.

For many fans of Test cricket in India—there are scores who care a hoot about Twenty20 and useless ODIs—Haigh has been the go to writer. In a piece headlined ‘The Indianisation of cricket’, Haigh concluded with these words: “Power begetting responsibility, the sustainability of that model is another matter. The BCCI should understand that it is one thing to have earned the right to wield unipolar power, another to demonstrate deserving it.” Most cricket writers in India would agree with it. No one ever said that the BCCI or the IPL are beyond reproach.

It also does not mean that John Howard is beyond reproach. Haigh’s three-part defence of Howard’s candidature concludes with his piece titled ‘Cricket’s fig leaf of democracy’: “People in a room having a vote is not democracy. It depends on who they are, how they got there, and how faithfully they follow the rules of their organisation. Not even lots of people voting freely does a democracy make. Lots of people voted freely in South Africa in the days of apartheid; many more did not. Lots of people voted in Zimbabwe in 2008; guns spoke louder.”

Zimbabwe and its despotic regime are rightly condemned by the writer but he fails to mention that John Howard had no qualms about travelling to Harare in order to ease tensions and garner support. Also he fails to take note that Howard was resistant to the one genuine political cause in cricket’s history; the sporting ban on South Africa during the apartheid years.

Indian writer Mukul Kesavan got it bang on target in his piece titled ‘What was cricket Australia thinking?: “For Indians committed to cricket, specially Test cricket, the rottenness of cricket administration in general, and India’s cricket administration in particular, isn’t news. What is news is the spectacle of someone like Haigh, a liberal critic, quick-stepping around Howard’s record on race and then coming up with absolution.”

Howard has not lost any respect—he had little in the first place. On the other hand Haigh, despite his harsh criticism of the way the game is run in-and-by India, had a lot of following among people disappointed by the increasing deviation of the game towards the shorter format. It is sad that he lost some of his goodwill trying to defend a divisive politician.

Melbourne-based author Christian Ryan put Howard’s past in perspective in his Cricinfo column and he shows how the one word that describes the policies of Howard best is divisive.

“Still, in the hour of junk cricket’s ascendancy, it is tempting to suppose that Howard, who likes his cricket best when its plots and subplots reveal themselves slowly, in soft sunshine, over five days, could do the game some good.

But would he? Would he really? In answering that question, it would be sloppy thinking not to consider his history as prime minister of Australia.”

It is not India or the BCCI that has decided Howard’s fate. It is Howard’s own putrid history that has led to his undoing here.

No Dessert For Samantha Stosur

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Samantha Stosur forgot to save her best for the last. On the all important Saturday it was Italy’s Francesca Schiavone who stole the thunder and left very little for the Australian to work with. Stosur has been the star of Roland Garros this year with her taut and imposing physique and, more importantly, her steely nerves that served her so well in matches against higher-ranked and more-experienced opponents.

The New York Times reported: ‘Stosur, 26, had beaten Schiavone four of the previous five times they played, including in the first round of the 2009 French Open. Stosur was seeded 32nd and Schiavone was unseeded, demonstrating just how much their fortunes have changed in one year.

For most of two weeks, Stosur looked like the best player in the tournament. She plowed through the draw, beating four-time French Open champion Justine Henin, current No. 1 Serena Williams, and No. 4 Jelena Jankovic in the semifinal.’

“I kind of expected her to be aggressive because in the other times that we played recently she probably wasn’t (aggressive) enough and I totally dictated what had happened and I won them,” Stosur said.

“She went for it today and everything came off. It takes guts to do that and she did it. I don’t think I can really say I did anything wrong. It was just well done to her.”

It was the powerful serve of Stosur and her accurate and lethal forehand that made it possible for her to come out alive from the death draw that she had. She was a set down against Henin and saved a match point against Serena to emerge as the winner in two three-set battles. She so completely destroyed Jankovic in the semis that the former World No. 1 paid her a huge compliment by saying that ‘Stosur has the game of a man’. In any match of power against power, it was Stosur who came out victorious.

Schiavone, though, drowned her with guile and defense. The Italian was more enterprising and alive to the situation and being the underdog she got the crowd going for her. Stosur couldn’t respond as well to being the favourite as she had to being the unfancied.

In two big battles previously it was the third set that saw Stosur come out and dominate proceedings but the final proved to be like quicksand for her. The entry was quick and sudden and extrication became impossible. Stosur had her chances in the second set when she was up 4-1, but Schiavone displayed great variety to draw level. The Italian’s net play, in defiance of clay court logic, rewarded her and Stosur failed to take the battle to the third set where the Italian may have found it hard to hang in with the powerful Aussie.

The odds were stacked against the Italian as Stosur was the hot favourite; perhaps the best indicator of it was that Schiavone’s camp wore T-shirts saying ‘Nothing is Impossible’. The Italian showed that she believed in the leitmotif.

Greg Baum of The Age reported: “Stosur leaves a little hollow-hearted, perhaps, but not empty-handed. She has her biggest cheque, her highest ranking—No. 7—and the scalps of No. 1s Justine Henin, Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic as souvenirs. Coach Dave Taylor dared to suggest before the final that she was playing as one of the top three players in the world. The memory will abide; Wimbledon is just a fortnight away.

From the beginning, Stosur did not play with abandon of her epic, successive victories over Henin, Williams and Jankovic. Schiavone was the aggressor, also tactically more astute, worrying away at Stosur’s more brittle backhand. Stosur’s own weapons—her forehand and her high, kicking serve—were blunted. They were evenly enough matched; there was no break point until they stood 4-4. Stosur conceded it with a double fault, and it was enough to forfeit the set.

Schiavone was the first winner of the French Open from outside the top 10 since 1933. Even by the standards of the French Open, which regularly throws up results as eccentric as the French themselves, this was a curio. Beforehand, the world did not know what to make of this one. The US media ignored it. The English, in one instance, sneered at it. ‘Is this the worst grand slam final ever?’ asked the Daily Telegraph.

From a British publication, still pining for Virginia Wade, this was snippy. These perhaps were journeywomen, who met last year in the first round of this tournament, but they came this year as reborn players, both defeating a string of eminent players. That is how tournaments are played. That is how major championships are won.”

The Telegraph came up with another gem which said that last year they were both playing in one of the side courts to reach the last 64 of the French Open with just some people who drift in and then go away for lunch as the audience.

“Today, Paris is being asked to care about Stosur and Schiavone, to make some emotional investment in the Australian and the Italian.

Stosur and Schiavone are to appear on Court Philippe Chatrier, in front of a crowd of 15,000, and in front of whatever television audience this match attracts, as they will be playing for the French Open title, for La Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.

“You have to wonder what Lenglen, the original tennis diva and celebrity, would make of this final. Since all the name players of the modern women’s game have been knocked out of the tournament, it is a couple of girls from the chorus line, Australia’s world No. 7 and Italy’s world No. 17, who are left. Only in Milan and on Australia’s Gold Coast, where they will be watching in the middle of the night, is this meeting of two Grand Slam final debutants guaranteed to make an impact.”

Sam Stosur was better known as a doubles player till about 2007 when she was diagnosed with Lyme disease and was out of action for 10 months. A lot of people involved with the game of Stosur have said that it was her fight with the disease that brought out her tough steely side to the fore. Regardless of the indifferent coverage by the British media, Samantha Stosur has got everything to be the next tennis superstar. She has already made a huge impact in Paris, in front of television audience around the world, and London should wait for her with bated breath.

On Friday night, the eve of the final, Stosur and Schiavone found themselves just a few metres away from each other as they dined with their coaches and friends at Ristorante Napoletano, a small Italian restaurant in the back streets of Paris that had become a favourite of both the players.

For about two hours, Stosur and Schiavone dined on Italian fare and chatted with their entourage, neither acknowledging the other’s presence. Stosur dined on calamari, tomato and mozzarella and pasta while Schiavone had spaghetti carbonara. Schiavone, who had a small tiramisu, was the only one to order some dessert.

Written by Deepan Joshi

June 6, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Is This A Gentleman’s Game?

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Cricket was a gentleman’s game. This was that I have used in the previous sentence was an is to a certain degree when the game was played in whites and the dirt it attracted was largely on the ground and could pass off as a by product of tough competitive cricket at the highest level—showing a bit of ‘mongrel’ as the Aussies would put it. These days the whites are not among the clothes that need daily washing in the home of a cricketer and there is too much colour in the game for the liking of those fans that prefer their cricketers in white.

Australian media mogul Kerry Packer was the first ‘visionary’. He brought coloured clothes, night cricket and a rival league of top cricketers called the World Series Cricket (WSC) in the late seventies and the game was never the same again with Wisden using the terminology ‘the world before Packer and the world after Packer’. Indian players were not involved with the rebel tours of WSC and the meteoric rise of the game in India started after they won the 1983 World Cup and it gained momentum post-liberalisation in the nineties.

Money was at the core of the Packer schism and it accelerated changes in the pay structure of players and umpires. The Wisden Anthology, 1978-2006, edited by Stephen Moss is a delight for the cricket lover as it records the movement of the game through the years. It has the pace of a timeless cricket match and the reader can approach it in an unhurried manner one piece at a time. It went to press before the vapid commercialisation of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and Stephen Moss in a section called Mammon wrote: “Wisden has been preoccupied with getting that balance right (of game and business), and has fought strenuously to protect the traditions of the game from being sullied by an excess of commercialisation. Its contention might be that if the game is only played for money, it isn’t worth playing.

…We should be ever vigilant but, compared with football, tennis, golf or the corporate beanfeasts that are American sports, cricket retains some degree of innocence. It has not yet sold its soul to the financial devil. Packerism transformed it without destroying it.” This cannot be said about cricket anymore.

Ceremonial and elaborate Test cricket has now taken a backseat and IPL, the high-profile entertainment package of Twenty20 cricket, is having a taxing time. This may be the ideal time to pause and think and to see where the game is heading. The crisis that came to the fore via some tweets has presented a wonderful opportunity to clean the entire mess. India is the financial powerhouse of cricket and it is not unalloyed by love of lucre and mean jealousies that threaten the very existence of the game. What precisely is the difference between the ICL and the IPL apart from the fact that one of them has the blessings of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)?

The IPL is supposed to make millions of dollars for the franchise owners and the BCCI while at the same time rewarding players generously; but, in my view, it has precious little to do as far as the betterment of cricket is concerned. The addition of two new teams would mean around 90 matches if the same format continues. It would make any cricket lover sick and also put immense pressure on players who are also representing their countries in the other two formats.

Having paid hefty amounts for the teams and then for the players the owners according to one estimate would incur losses for the first 10 years before they see some earnings. It is quite possible that in such a scenario the IPL starts thinking of having the tournament more than once a year. That would be the end of cricket as we have known it and young players would hone their skills to maximise their income via T20 and the rigour and discipline required for Test cricket would find few takers.

What is the locus standi of the BCCI with respect to seeing that Test cricket retains its pre-eminent status in cricket’s pecking order? Is the BCCI a charitable organisation? Where are we headed with the ICC’s Future Tours Programme? This opportunity must not be limited to just checking the account books of the IPL while allowing the BCCI to continue as it always has. It is the working of the BCCI that should be made transparent and open to scrutiny and the matter should not rest with just a witch hunt.

The BCCI is full of politicians and it means that there would be efforts to reach at some sort of a settlement without the public getting to know the truth. A few months ago the daring Sehwag stood up against rampant corruption in the DDCA and the crisis was finally settled by assurances from the President of the DDCA.

The BCCI has its own constitution and that is how it plays the game and if not to anyone else the Board should at least be answerable to the fans. The fans who invest their blood and their soul are the real stakeholders of the game and it would be naïve to presume that their trust would remain unabated when controversies are just swept under the carpet. The world’s richest cricket board needs to realise that it cannot function poorly.

Written by Deepan Joshi

April 26, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Eden Gardens And Post-Tea Ghouls

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India was almost there to make it two days in a row for them to get on top of South Africa and turn the Test match at Eden Gardens decisively in their favour but for the last six overs in which three quick wickets fell and the match was alive again. It has been a riveting contest for two days and India fought their way back into the Test valiantly from a seemingly-improbable position yesterday.

It was the magical combination of Eden Gardens and the Indian bowling attack, which had looked so out of sorts in Nagpur and for the better part of two sessions on Sunday, that turned the game on its head. With South Africa at 218 for 1 and both Amla and the debutant Petersen having reached their individual hundreds Sunday gave no intimation of the kind of dramatic turnarounds that have become part of the folklore of this magnificent venue.

Zaheer took over from a confidence-boosting spell by Ishant and got rid of both the centurions either side of tea. After tea when Harbhajan Singh was brought from the other end there were two new batsmen yet to open their account at the crease and two potent attacking bowlers operating in tandem.

The tension was palpable. You could see the destiny of the day and perhaps the match and the series precariously balanced as Harbhajan tossed the ball, got drift and some bounce. AB de Villiers used his feet to quickly reach to the pitch of a ball to defend it and then both Kallis and de Villiers stepped out to hit Harbhajan over the in-field for boundaries. Someone in the commentary box spoke about Harbhajan bowling just one maiden in Nagpur and that the pressure would not build if he went for runs. The fours came in the 60th and the 62nd over and they were both clean good hits. With two new batsmen, yet to reach double figures, stepping out to hit him over the top, Harbhajan needed no further indication to plot yet another episode of his serial killings. He kept at it.

Kallis and de Villiers were trying to upset the rhythm of Harbhajan; but the Turbanator is a sly fox with a good understanding of when to go for the jugular and from the moment Laxman took a blinder to send Kallis packing he was unstoppable. Harbhajan with a wicket in his bag is an entirely different proposition and this one was long due and Laxman did his bit to pluck a beauty running backwards after having dropped a sitter at first slip earlier. That was the beginning of the end.

It was the first ball of the 66th over and then there was the Harbhajan Singh magic show. With the first and second ball of his next over from round the stumps Harbhajan had both the south paws, in Prince and Duminy, dead in front of the wicket playing for the turn when the ball went straight. The batsmen plonked their pad to take the ball outside the line and play for the turn but the ball drifted in and pitched in line and went straight to have them both bamboozled and looking like ducks. Steyn survived the hat-trick ball by doing nothing silly; it was another lovely topspinner and he was on the backfoot with the ball missing the edge and the off stump by inches. It was pandemonium and de Villiers could not take it so he ran himself out. Zaheer picked the ball near short cover and in one smooth motion turned and sent it ripping towards the non-striker’s end to find the diving de Villiers short. Steyn looking gunned at the other end.

Today was good for India as their batting had not clicked in Nagpur and Gambhir looked solid with Sehwag and 73 runs came in just 9.2 overs. Gambhir’s run-out was unfortunate and though Sehwag compensated by making a big hundred himself he still would be kicking himself for a priced scalp like Gambhir needlessly getting out cheaply. Nine more runs and as solid as he was looking Vijay was back in the hut with India 82 for two.

Tendulkar joined Sehwag and tapped the first ball he played, a 147 kph full delivery outside off from Morkel, to point for a single. That was the beginning of an assured partnership in which Tendulkar gave another display of his class and his mastery. He played the ball with that natural and intriguing intimacy that he has developed in the last few seasons; something that can be metaphorically-likened to a completely in-sync romantic couple at ease with each other. He was solid in defence and gave no bowler even a hint of a chance. It was just beautiful batting.

Sehwag contributed 119 to the partnership and Tendulkar 106 and the runs came at a fair clip of 4.31 runs per over. The partnership was worth 249 runs and if Sehwag gave a few chances along with his exquisite strokes there was always the solid presence of Tendulkar to guide the partnership.

Alas, the twist in the tail came towards the end of the day and took some sheen off a day full of wonderful batting. Sehwag was the first to go, with a half-hearted drive to Duminy, caught by Prince at cover; the camera for a split second showing the anguish that it caused Tendulkar. With the partnership broken Harris went round the wicket in the next over and Tendulkar made his first mistake of the day and was caught in the slips. Steyn then uprooted the off stump of Badrinath and the game was more evenly poised than it was just half an hour before stumps.

The lead is only 46 right now and India should keep it in mind that the drama surely happens post-tea and if they can bat with application for two sessions before tea then it would not matter if the post tea ghosts of Eden Gardens surface again tomorrow.

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