Saturday, January 30, 2010


Friday: Australia beat Pakistan by 135 runs at Perth to go 4-0 up in the series. Saturday: Australia U-19 beat Pakistan U-19 at Lincoln to lift the Cricket World U-19 Cup Champions title. Sunday: Will Australia again manage to beat Pakistan at Perth to complete a whitewash?

As I had predicted in a previous blog, the U-19 match was a far better contest than the senior one. I think I should put it differently. The U-19 match was atleast a contest, the match at Perth was far from it. No one realistically expected Pakistan to beat Australia in either in Tests or ODIs. I would have thought that this situation will allow them to play a lot more freely and we could have had an exciting series.

In the end, I am forced to conclude just one thing: I should stop making predictions about anything involving Pakistan cricket. Even Nostradamus wouldn't have gotten them right.

All said and done, I have to congratulate Australia's U-19 team as well as Pakistan's U-19 team for their fine performance in the World Cup. Australia's situation scares me. Australia is winning matches consistently by playing a second- or even a third-string bowling attack. And now, their juniors have proven that when their time arrives, they'll be worthy successors.

Are we going to have an end to the era of Aussie domination? Or is it likely to continue even longer? At this rate, Australia can easily field two squads in the next World Cup and end up having a Final match between each other. Then, the cricket rankings will say that the No. 1 ODI team in the world is Australia (1st String), No. 2 is Australia (2nd String), followed by the rest of the cricketing world.

Friday, January 29, 2010


Right now, Greame Swann is ranked 5th and Harbhajan Singh is ranked 8th in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings in Test Cricket. Fourteen months back, when Swann made his debut against India at Chennai (days after the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai), Bhajji had already played 72 Tests and taken 306 wickets for India. He had also scored a healthy 1334 runs as a handy lower order batsman.

Swann grabbed an in-form Gautam Gambhir and an out-of-form Rahul Dravid as his first 2 wickets in his very first over in Test cricket. Since that Chennai Test, Swann has taken 69 wickets in 16 Tests as against Bhajji's 39 in 9 Tests. Both have taken 4.3 wickets per Test, but Bhajji played 6 out of his 9 Tests in the sub-continent whereas Swann has played only 2 Tests in the sub-continent. Swann's figures don't tell the entire story. He has not only closed the door on Monty Panesar by becoming the first choice spinner, but also become a certainty in the first eleven, even if the pitch is sure to be unresponsive. That is unheard of in the recent history of English spinners. To add to all this, Swann (like Harbhajan) is also a very handy batsman. Considering how much England rely on their lower order (sometimes last wicket pairs also), he has a bright future ahead of him.

Despite, averaging same number of wickets per Test, why is Swann's success looked at with greater respect than that of Harbhajan? The reason is very simple: Swann is making the most of the abilities he possesses. He does not possess the variety of Harbhajan Singh, but he makes up for it with his courage. His courage to flight the ball, his unruffled attitude when batsmen take him on and his consistent lengths have helped him garner his success.

Swann, alongwith Nathan Hauritz from Australia, has reignited the dying flames of the ART of off spin bowling. Whereas Harbhajan has lost his sense of art, and has continued to bowl his DARTS. Harbhajan's inexplicable tendencies of firing the ball into the pads and bowling defensive lengths despite attacking field settings have hampered his wicket taking abilities in the recent past. I know many people who would be happy to see him dropped against South Africa. Zaheer and Nehra have become transformed bowlers after their comebacks. Is it time that Harbhajan Singh is put through the same exile?

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Australia and Pakistan are scheduled to take on each other in 50-over contests thrice in the next 3 days. On Friday and Sunday, in Perth, the senior teams will fight what has been an extremely one-sided battle so far. On Saturday, the U-19 teams of the two countries will have their title clash in Lincoln, New Zealand. With the final matches of Australian Open 2010 Tennis tournament and 9 matches of Barclays Premier League (including a mouth-watering Arsenal v Manchester United clash) also scheduled over the next three days, sport lovers will have to plan out their schedule carefully to include some sleep in their agenda.

Out of the three Aus-Pak clashes, I am almost certain, just as many of you, that the juniors will produce a more watchable contest than the seniors, where the visitors haven't tasted victory on the entire tour yet. If Australia's senior team could swap places with their junior team for the weekend, who knows, they might end up winning all the three games! There is no better way of describing Pakistan's performance in this Australian summer.

They have squandered their chances and not looked formidable at all (except for one day during the Second Test). Controversies have engulfed them as usual - some generated by third parties like IPL, and some created by their own Board (captaincy issues). It seems that lack of cricket over the past one year has not had any effect on the way cricket in Pakistan functions.

With the series in Australia already lost, Pakistan should send Umar Akmal and Mohammed Aamer to New Zealand to join their junior squad (both are in their teens). Atleast, they can increase their chances of winning the U-19 Champions title. That's the least they can do for their fans in Pakistan.


The dust is settling over the controversy surrounding the issue of IPL auction and the non - selection of any Pakistan player by any franchisee. There are murmurs that Pakistan players might still get a chance in IPL 3. But I am already looking ahead... at the auction to be held for IPL 4.

Lalit Modi has promised the biggest auction as of yet for IPL 4. I am certain we will see many more cases of punctured reputations. The facts that we know are: 10 teams, 12 foreigners cap per team, 6 players (4 Indians and 2 foreigners) can be retained from the original team, and there are some more but I am not interested in those for the purpose of this blog.

Lets work out some numbers here. 10 teams and 12 foreigners per team means that 120 foreigners will figure in IPL 4. Out of these, 16 foreigners can be retained by the 8 original teams. This means that 104 foreigners will be on sale. Last I checked on each team's websites, they had an average on 16 Indian players in every squad. That makes it about 160 Indian players for IPL 4 out of which 32 will be retained in their original 8 teams. So, we can expect an auction of about 125-130 Indian players. Put in the amount of money involved, the best performers of IPL Season 3 and World T20 Championship 2010 can laugh their way to their banks.

IPL, since its inception, has been a centre of many controversies - relating to cricket and everything else under the sun. Almost all of these controversies have has a link to one man - no brownie points for guessing who - Lalit Modi. I have no clue what the man is like in real life. A person who can manage such a huge event almost single-handedly must be one heck of a person with a heck of a Blackberry. But I am here to speak, as a member of general public, about the public perception of this man.

Lalit Modi, more often than not, comes across as an arrogant man who has an air of superiority. Most people I know are almost embarassed when he makes his tall claims and tries to show that IPL is the best. And they hate him when he proves himself right. And they envy him when he whispers something to Preity Zinta or Shilpa Shetty. His lisp does not impress many either.

Indians have always liked their stars to be humble and down-to-earth characters (I don't have to look far ahead for examples - Sachin Tendulkar!). We find such men as the ideal role models for the youth. We don't mind a splash of brashness (remember Sourav Ganguly?), but we cannot tolerate self-obsession. And this is one of the biggest reasons why Lalit Modi generates a lot of hatred in the common man.

I do not know where the IPL is headed to in future. Soothsayers have made their predictions. Who amongst them will be the Nostradamus? Your guess is as good as mine. But one thing is for sure, there might be some respect but also a huge sigh of relief when the man who projects himself as Colossus steps down (or is made to step down... even better) from the helm.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


It will be right to assume that Gautam Gambhir's shot at equalling the great Sir Donald Bradman's record of scoring hundreds in six consecutive Tests has been lost. Dismissed for 68 in the first innings of the Second Test against Bangladesh, he is unlikely to get a chance to bat again in this Test match. India's lead, as I write this, has crossed 300.

However, Gambhir has equalled one other record of scoring a 50+ score in 11 consecutive Test matches, earlier set by Sir Vivian Richards. This fact has been well publicised. There has been one record though, that he is currently a joint holder of, which has gone completely unnoticed. Gautam Gambhir is currently holding a record jointly with Sir Don Bradman (again!) of scoring 4 centuries in consecutive 2nd innings of Test matches.

Gambhir scored 137 and 167 against New Zealand at Napier and Wellington respectively last year, followed by 114 against Sri Lanka at Ahmedabad and 116 against Bangladesh at Chittagong - all in the second innings. In between, the team did not bat in the second innings in the 2nd Test against Sri Lanka and Gambhir did not play the 3rd Test as he was attending his sister's marriage. As he is unlikely to bat again in this Test, he has a chance against South Africa in the upcoming series to cross this record. Mark Taylor (Aus) and Jacques Kallis (SA) have scored 3 centuries in consecutive 2nd innings of Test matches.

Irrespective of the fact whether he gets to these records or misses them, one has to look upon with awe at Gambhir's phenomenal success in all forms of the game over the last couple of years. Gambhir, before the start of this Test match, is 28 Test matches old and has scored 2692 runs. This is an Indian record, surpassing Sunil Gavaskar, for the most Test runs scored after 28 Test matches by a player. Considering the fact that Gavaskar had a tremendous start to his Test career against West Indies and Gambhir's start to his Test career can be described as lukewarm at best, this achievement seems even bigger.

I must confess that I did not predict great achievements from him at the start of his career. In fact, when he scored his maiden Test century against Bangladesh at Chittagong in 2004, I was of the opinion that we have a new minnow basher - a man who can be tried out every time when the team is scheduled to play Bangladesh and Zimbabwe (they weren't suspended back then). How wrong I have been proven!

I know it is too early in his career to assess his greatness or lack thereof. He is yet to play Test cricket in Australia, South Africa and England. He is yet to play a World Cup (ODI format... I know he has won one in the T20 format). So, there is still a long way to go for Gambhir, but early signals are extremely positive. Even if most of his runs are scored in the sub - continent, any player who is matching the world records of the likes of Sir Don Bradman and Sir Viv Richards must certainly be a quality material. He is now considered the Mr. Reliable in a batting line up comprising of Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman (who have a whopping 38023 Test runs amongst them including the current Test). Who would have though that a year and a half back!

P.S. (Updated after the end of 2nd Test between Bangladesh & India): Last ball of the 90th over of Bangladesh's second innings, Mushfiqur Rahim got down on one knee and dispatched Harbhajan Singh to boundary and India has to bat again. In the process, he ensured that Gambhir does not get a shot at either of Bradman's record mentioned above - centuries in last 6 tests OR centuries in last 4 second innings. The silver lining is that he atleast has Viv's records to look forward to.


Rise from slumber, Pakistan! Reading about Australia's whitewash over Pakistan (and especially, the manner of winning the Second Test), a lot of thoughts raced through my mind. Although surprised, I told myself that I shouldn't be. Over years, Pakistan and Australia have managed similar feats many a time. Pakistan is used to squandering advantageous positions and Australia is used to making a contest out of hopeless situations.

I am neither a Pakistan basher, nor their staunch supporter (which is a rare breed amongst Indians). However, their New Year Test Match against Australia in Sydney caught my attention to the extent that even weeks after it has ended, I feel that I need to write about it.

At the end of Day 1, having bundled out Australia for 127 and then reached 14 without loss at stumps, Pakistan would have (or should have) felt that they have a firm grip on the match. At the end of Day 2, having reached 331/9, Pakistan must have felt that though they hadn't taken full advantage of their bowlers' performance, they were still in a very good position to finish off the game in another day and a half. What unfolded next defies logic. Australia put in a strong batting performance to set a very achievable target of 176 runs for Pakistan in the fourth innings and then put in a strong bowling performance (aided by some reckless batting from Pakistan) to bundle them out for 139.

Pakistan had put in a phenomenal performance on the first  day. All that Pakistan needed to do to win the Test on third and fourth day was play sensible cricket, just like they had done on the second day. However, a friend of mine told me, Pakistan does not have the ability to sustain common sense cricket for lengthy duration, thereby explaining their wretched performance in Test cricket and laudable success in the shorter versions.

Such performances by a team are unhealthy for Test cricket. Though I can never support Pakistan (because I am a patriotic Indian), I certainly want them to do well in Test cricket, along with the likes of West Indies and New Zealand. I wish this for the betterment of Test cricket. I am not scared about the future of Test cricket as I have already expressed in an earlier post on this blog. However, I don't want the future confined to a few Test playing nations.

During the first half of the previous decade, we had ten Test playing nations. Of these, Australia and Bangladesh remained out of reach - one at the top and the other at the bottom. Soon, Zimbabwe went into strife and were suspended from Test cricket. Though Australia soon came within reach of certain other teams, Bangladesh's results haven't improved a great deal (even though their performances did improve significantly). With inconsistent performances from Pakistan, West Indies and New Zealand, test cricket soon became and still is, predominantly, a five - horse race. Sri Lanka have not had enough opportunities to play against top quality oppositions (except for India, whom they will be treating as brothers by now, I guess). England's performances, though exciting, have also been inconsistent - they depend as much on saving matches as other teams depend on winning matches. I shouldn't be complaining though. Their matches have provided some of the best advertisement that Test cricket has had over the past few years.

Amidst all this, it was pleasantly shocking to hear a few weeks back that Ireland harboured hopes of gaining Test status. I was very impressed by the Irish performance in the 2007 World Cup (not because they beat Pakistan - I was more worried about India's chances after the loss to Bangladesh on the same day... sorry, it was night in India). I really wish that their case is handled well and we have a genuinely competent new Test playing nation soon. I don't want their case to be like Bangladesh's (not getting enough results in a decade of  Test status) or like Kenya's (impressing in 2003 World Cup before fading away once again).

I hope, for a prosperous future of Test cricket, that the Test pool becomes a more competent one and that the next generation of Pakistani cricketers are taught the concept on common sense cricket. Its certainly possible (the ICC website, on Pakistan's U-19 win over India,  reported that Pakistan's fielding was exceptional). So you see, anything is possible.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


History repeats itself. Boys have emulated the men. Seven months ago, the senior Team India lost out in the second round of a tournament in which they were the defending champions. Now, it’s the turn of the junior Team India. In both the cases, expectations were high. In both the cases, the team stumbled through the first round with the help of a couple of victories over minnows.

Am I being too hard on the boys? Yeah, I think so. The expectations from them were generated on the basis of the performance of a completely different unit. Virat Kohli’s men (o sorry, I meant boys) had gone the distance and won a Cricket U-19 World Cup Tournament in 2007. Ashok Menaria’s boys, a different set of lads with big dreams and glorious ambitions, could not match them.

Yet, I have a feeling that Ashok Menaria will not be as disappointed about losing in the Quarter Finals as he will be about having lost to Pakistan. Almost 14 years ago, these two countries were involved in another Quarter Final at Bangalore. That turned out to be an epic contest producing come never-to-be-forgotten moments. This one was no less than an epic contest either.

Pakistan went on to win by 2 wickets with 3 balls to spare after the situation looked a little bleak for them. This is not the first Pakistan team to have done that (remember Javed Miandad’s six). The coach of India’s U-19 team, Chandrakant Pandit remarked, “We are shattered. I feel as low as the team felt when Javed Miandad hit THAT six in Sharjah off the last ball. We didn’t speak to each other for nearly two hours after that and here too we were just trying to gather ourselves. Yes, cricket is a tough hard game, but it is played by human beings and human beings have emotions. At this age, the boys can get very upset. Its two hours after the game and I can see some boys are still crying.”

I feel sorry for the boys who lost out to Pakistan. Their match acquired that extra edge and bite due to no fault of theirs. It wasn’t their fault that 26/11 happened. Nor was it their fault that no IPL franchisee decided to pick a Pakistani player at the third player auction (for reasons I’d rather not comment on right now). And now, after this shattering loss, I hope the boys recover as soon as possible. They have a bright future ahead of them and they cannot allow one loss to change it all. The coach, Chandrakant Pandit, a man who knows what shattering losses are like, needs to ensure that boys regroup to perform well again in the remaining matches of the tournament (the 5th to 8th place deciders).

Not even 48 hours have passed since the game ended, and voices from across the border are calling this win a fitting reply to the IPL snub received by the Pakistani players. Rameez Raja describes, “It (the win) comes at a time when this IPL incident has taken place and when our senior team is struggling in Australia.” Former Test player Basit Ali goes one step further, “No matter what he (Lalit Modi) does, he should know the base of Pakistan cricket is very strong and we will keep on producing winners.”

The boys don’t need all this. And here, I mean both sets of boys – Indians as well as Pakistanis. The Pakistan team needs to realise that there is a tournament to be won and that this game was not a be all and end all for them. The Indian team, on the other hand, will be on a self – depreciatory mode thinking that they have let the country down with this loss. No, the boys certainly do not need all this. But this is where they will become men. Or at least some of them will.

Adversity brings out the best in some, the worst in rest. Like Ian Chapell says, you tend to learn more when you lose rather than when you win. The Indian boys have had a big lesson. And we look forward to them learning and coming out better. These boys are the future of Indian cricket. But the future needs to come to terms with the present first.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Cric-sis. What is it? The name of this blog talks about 'Cricket Crisis'. The dictionary meaning of the word 'crisis' is 'a condition of instability or danger'. And that is what cricket is going through right now, was going through six months ago, a year ago, four years ago, a decade ago, a century ago and that is what cricket will go through every moment of its existence. At the risk of sounding a boring philosopher, I have to observe that just like cricket, life is all about crises, and just like in cricket, the one who can manage crises well comes out on top.

So, the issue I have chosen for today's blog is about the 'SURVIVAL OF THE TRADITIONAL FORMS OF THE GAME (TESTS and ODIs)'. I know that every known cricket expert (even the self - proclaimed ones like me) has a view on this topic. This is where I will express mine.

Some of you must have noticed (and if you haven't, please do so now) that I have included ODIs in the 'traditional' form of the game. The extreme purists will scoff at me, but indulgent purists will laud me (I hope!). Let me explain what I believe is cricket in its traditional form. For me, it means cricket played by batsmen and bowlers, not by batsmen alone. For me, it means cricket where everyone knows that only 10 balls are required to dismiss a team instead of thinking that 10 balls can fetch 30 runs in the Powerplay. I have included One Day cricket in the 'traditional' form of the game because I believe that it still is capable of producing that quality of cricket which will delight the purists.

But before talking of ODIs, let me talk about Test cricket. There are fears that Test cricket will soon become extinct and that it has already lost its importance due to the sudden relevance of Twenty20 form of cricket. I find them all baseless. The best cricketers in all the major Test playing nations are unanimous in their stand in favour of Test cricket. Admittedly, crowd attendance has been a discouraging factor in Test cricket in all cricketing nations except for Australia, England and South Africa. However, I do not believe that this warrants questions over the existence of this form of the game. The game is still popular, even in India, where the attendance of crowd has been especially disappointing. However, in every Test series that India plays against a major Test nation, there is still a lot of interest generated, even if the crowds don't flock the ground to show it. People do talk about it in their offices, keep track of the scores in the internet and analyse it (sometimes even without watching it) and yes, everyone has a theory and strategy even for Test cricket (even if they do not enjoy it).

And if we continue to have Tests of the quality of the South Africa - England Series 2009-10, Ashes 2009 or even like Ranji Trophy Final 2009-10 at Mysore, one can be sure that Test cricket will not only survive, but also thrive. It's like what Navjot Singh Sidhu once said about T20 cricket - "This cricket is like a burger, you can have it once a week but for a whole meal, you need to return to Test cricket. More than once a week, and it will give you a tummy ache".

One Day International Cricket. It started and soon revolutionalised cricket. It came, it saw, it conquered. Now is it meant to be vanquished? I do have certain misgivings about this form of the game. I love this form of the game, and I fear for its survival. The concept of ODIs started as an alternate form of cricket that used up just 1 day instead of 5 and guaranteed a result. Prima facie, it even seemed a more exciting version. It enabled the concept of multi - team tournaments and the World Cup was born.

Today, T20 cricket has seen two World Cups, the winners of which have a combined population of more than 30% of earth's total. It uses up just 3 hours of a spectator's time, guarantees a result and produces close encounters with a greater frequency than the ODIs. Moreover, it is a currency - printing machine for the administrators. All of a sudden, the ODIs have lost favour. Meaningless scheduling of tournaments such as the India - Sri Lanka - Bangladesh tri - series earlier this month have helped ODIs self - destruct. In fact, this series reminded me of the advertisement of 20 - 20. No, not the game. But the advertisement of 20 - 20 biscuits that appeared on the TV where the toss winning captain takes away the winners' trophy. Even men like Sachin Tendulkar have expressed their concerns and suggested remedies for the game.

Too many negatives. Is there hope for ODIs still? Oh yes, I certainly do think so. Recent bilateral ODI tournaments have drawn in crowds who have done nothing to suggest that they are bored with this form of the game. Youngsters have had their chance to prove their mettle by fighting it out in high pressure situations (Virat Kohli would enjoy his Kolkata ton a lot more than all the runs he has scored in IPL so far). The oldies have shown that even they still enjoy the game (Sachin - Hyderabad - 175 - need I say more?)

I believe that there is a very simple solution to give a boost that the ODI cricket may or may not require. ODIs have to regain the relevance they enjoyed in the 1990s. Meaningless tournaments should be scrapped. Bilateral tournaments should be limited to 5 - game affairs instead of stretching them to 7 - game affairs. The predictability of result at the time of toss needs to be eliminated. Bowlers need to be brought back into the batsmen's game (I quite like the idea of 2 bowlers having a quota of 12 overs each and it'll become even more interesting if 1 of these 2 bowlers is to be announced at the time of the toss itself).

There is so much of T20 cricket around that the common man is bound to get fed up of it sometime soon. It is One Day cricket that he will look to once again. After all, too many burgers do create indigestion.