Saturday, December 31, 2011


It was a mixed year - 2011. There were some incredible highs as well as some bitter lows for the teams and players that I like and support. It was definitely NOT as good as 2010 had been... from the perspective of the teams I follow.

Here are my top-10 sports memories (the pleasant as well as the unpleasant ones) from the year 2011 (sorted chronologically):

1. Cricket: England Win The Ashes 3-1 (7th January)

The Ashes had been retained already, but Australia had a chance to regain some pride after two innings losses. The redemption did not come, as England got their third innings win of the series as they sealed the Ashes win 3-1. It was a masterclass performance from the English side, bowling out Australia for 280 and 281, and scoring 644 themselves. Alastair Cook continued his golden run with 189 runs and the Man of the Match award. Playing without Ricky Ponting, who had injured himself at the Boxing Day Test of 2010-11, the Michael Clarke - led Australian team lost the Ashes at home for the first time in 24 years.

2. Cricket: ICC World Cup (2nd April)

I have far too many memories from this event. That is why I have already compiled a separate post of my World Cup Memories. But there is hardly any doubt that this was one of the highlights of the year in the game of cricket... and an event worth remembering! India became the World Champions for the first time in 28 years, becoming the first team to win the finals at home.

3. Tennis: Djokovic Rules At Wimbledon (3rd July)

It was the top-seed defending champion Rafael Nadal of Spain against the form player of the year and usurper of the No. 1 rank Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the Gentlemen's Singles Final at the 125th edition of the Wimbledon Championships. Djokovic won in 4 sets, and plucked out a few strands of the Wimbledon grass to put in his mouth. He was savouring the taste of his victory... quite literally! It was a difficult match to watch for a Nadal fan like me... mainly because he had been outplayed completely by the Serbian. Djokovic broke the Federer-Nadal duopoly for the No. 1 rank that lasted almost 7 and a half years.

4. Football: Japanese Women Triumph In Germany (17th July)

Ordinarily, this event would not have made my top-10 list. But this was not an ordinary year for Japan. The great earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 had left almost 16000 people dead, 6000 injured and 3500 missing. The aftershocks of the earthquake continued till June 2011, when the Japanese women began their FIFA Women's World Cup campaign in Germany. In this backdrop, they won the finals on penalties against one of the two favourites - United States of America, having already beaten the other favourite - hosts and defending champions Germany - in the Quarterfinals. It was an emotional moment for Japan, watched by huge crowds in Germany and a fitting end to an immensely successful World Cup!

5. Cricket: England Complete Whitewash (22nd August)

The No. 1 spot in Test cricket had already been sealed with a win in the third Test. But that was never going to stop England, as they emphatically completed a whitewash over India to stamp their status as the top team in Tests. It was extremely difficult to watch that performance from England as an Indian fan... the only solace being the realisation that the English squad was far superior. The wounds of this drubbing will take a long very long time to disappear... and even then, they may never disappear completely.

6. Rugby: All Blacks Win At Home (23rd October)

The hosts won the Rugby World Cup for the first time in 16 years (after the Springboks 1995) in a closely fought finale at Eden Park, Auckland. Like the Japanese women's FIFA World Cup win, this win for the All Blacks too came in a year where Christchurch had been affected by a big earthquake... so much so that some matches (including a quarterfinal) had to be moved out of that city due to the destruction caused. The All Blacks have always been an exciting team to watch... and there is no denying that they were the best team of the tournament, winning every single match they played.

7. Formula One: Inaugural Indian Grand Prix (30th October)

A few years ago, I would have said it's unfathomable so early! But in 2011, it actually happened. Buddh International Circuit hosted the inaugural Indian Grand Prix Formula One race weekend from 28th October to 30th October 2011... and apart from a small interruption due to a stray dog during the first practice session on Friday, it was a smooth affair. Karun Chandok set the first ever flying lap time on the circuit during the first practice session on Friday. Sebastian Vettel won the with his Red Bull car, both the Force India cars (Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta) managed to score points and Narain Karthikeyan finished at 17th position - equaling his season best with the Hispania Racing Team. Formula One had come to India!

8. Cricket: South Africa 96, Australia 47 (10th November)

What a day of cricket! If I tell you that the day started with visitors adding 70 runs for the last 2 wickets and ended with the hosts scoring 81 runs for the loss of just 1 wicket, then you might be forgiven for thinking that a lot of the day's play might have been washed out. It is scarcely conceivable that in between these 151 runs for 3 wickets, Cape Town witnessed the fall of 20 wickets for 143 runs! So the final equation - 23 wickets, 294 runs, 79.3 overs and a part of all four innings played out in one day! I watched Australia slump to 21 for 9, and then had to miss out on the rest of their innings as I was to go out. Their 10th wicket pair's 26 run partnership saved them the embarrassment of recording the lowest ever total in a Test innings, and ended up being greater than the sum of all their other 9 partnerships!

9. Cricket: Sehwag Also Crosses The 200 Barrier (8th December)

A lot of people believed that he would be the first man to do so. He wasn't... his idol was! But 652 days after Tendulkar had done so, Sehwag too breached the 200-run barrier in Men's ODI cricket and relegated that 200* (147b, 25 x 4s, 3 x 6s) to the second spot amongst the highest runs scored by a batsman in an ODI innings. The top spot is now occupied by a 219 (149b, 25 x 4s, 7 x 6s)... a phenomenal knock that could even have been a 250! Like it happened with the Tendulkar 200, I missed this occasion too. Atleast in case of the 200*, I had seen Tendulkar bat till he was about 130-odd... but this time, I was reduced to just following the scores on my cell phone. But the highlights were good enough to make you realise what a special knock that was!

10. Cricket: Sri Lanka Move On From Murali (29th December)

South Africa humiliated them in the 1st Test. There was hardly anyone predicting a win for the Sri Lankans before the 2nd Test began. But the Durban jinx struck again. Sri Lanka put up a stupendous performance to beat South Africa in the 2nd Test and level the series at 1-1, subjecting the hosts to their 4th consecutive loss at Kingsmead, Durban. The most important thing was that this was Sri Lanka's first Test win in almost a year and a half since the retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan. I was wondering when Sri Lanka would start winning again... for their year had gone nowhere but down after they had been beaten in the World Cup finals in Mumbai. This match ensured that they finished it on the right note!

There were many other moments worth remembering in 2011 - Sri Lanka's capitulation against England at Cardiff, Zimbabwe's brilliant comeback to Test cricket, Na Li becoming the first Asian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title at Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal's 6th French Open win, Jo Wilfried Tsonga's win over Roger Federer in the Wimbledon quarterfinal coming from 2 sets down, Novak Djokovic out-Rafa-ing Rafael Nadal to win his first US Open title, Manchester United losing the derby to Manchester City at home 1-6, numerous clashes between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa during the Formula One season, and many more! Looking forward to another exciting year full of great sporting action... Happy 2012 to everyone!


Just a few hours remain for 2011 to end in my part of the world, and as I looks back at it, the biggest and the most lasting memory remains that of the World Cup 2011 hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh from 19th February to 2nd April.

I was planning to write a post on my sporting memories of 2011... but since so many of them were coming from this one particular event, I thought I should first compile my World Cup memories, and then proceed to the sporting memories of 2011. So here are my top 10 memories from the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011:

1. Six And The Celebrations

The obvious first - the six that finished the World Cup! MS Dhoni's strike to win the World Cup finals and the celebrations that followed that hit shall remain memories to last a lifetime... and not just till the end of the year! Those images were magical and I can still recall them vividly - Yuvraj Singh was sobbing uncontrollably, Sachin Tendulkar was being carried around the ground on his teammates' shoulders, Virat Kohli's quote, and the celebrations once MS Dhoni received the trophy from ICC President Sharad Pawar! Cricket had never before been so emotional!

2. Ponting's Last Masterpiece

It was an eagerly anticipated match - the 2nd Quarterfinal between India and Australia at Sardar Patel Stadium, Ahmedabad. And though it came for a losing cause, Ricky Ponting played an innings befitting his calibre! It was virtually a risk-free masterclass century that guided Australia to a competitive first innings score of 259. There were other moments in this match that still remain fresh in my memory - the winning hit by Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina's first major contribution in the World Cup, Zaheer Khan's knuckle ball to bowl Michael Hussey, et cetera. But it was that Ponting hundred, eventually his last innings as the captain of Australia, that stands out... for it could scarcely have been any better!

3. Purple-Headed Destroyer

Yes, that is what he did - he destroyed them! Kevin O'Brien came to the crease in Ireland's match against England when his team was 106 for 4 in the 23rd over, and then saw them slump to 111 for 5 in the 25th over. Chasing a target of 328 to win at Bangalore, Ireland had no chance. But no one told this to Kevin O'Brien! He needed just 50 balls to reach his 100... the fastest ever in World Cup history! From the time he came to bat till the time he reached his 100, Ireland scored more than 6 runs in all but 3 overs. And when he got out on a 63-ball 113 with 6 sixes and 13 fours, they were well on their way to cause what was the biggest upset of the event. The Irish veteran Trent Johnston came at the fall of O'Brien's wicket and was present at the end when the win was sealed... just as he'd been there to hit the winning runs against Pakistan four years ago to cause their other big upset in World Cups!

4. #MOAG - Mother Of All Games

When India beat West Indies in the last league match, everyone knew that there was a chance of an India-Pakistan semi-finals at Mohali. And when India beat Australia at Ahmedabad, it was confirmed... a good 6 days before the match! A scramble for tickets, an excited build-up, cricket diplomacy in action, and the day finally arrived! The quality of cricket was not the best, but the occasion and the crowd more than made up for it. Virender Sehwag's attack on Umar Gul, the chances to Sachin Tendulkar en route to 85, Wahab Roaz's ball to get Yuvraj Singh for a golden duck, Suresh Raina's finish, Umar Akmal's attack before getting bowled out to Harbhajan Singh, and then the finish when Misbah-ul-Haq skied a catch to Virat Kohli off Zaheer Khan - some of the moments that still linger from the Mother Of All Games.

5. Muralitharan's Last Match In Sri Lanka

He was carried on his teammates' shoulders around the ground after the semi-finals had been won by Sri Lanka against New Zealand. Arguably Sri Lanka's greatest cricketer ever, Muttiah Muralitharan played his part in the World Cup for Sri Lanka. His final over in international cricket in Sri Lanka was a treat to watch too. Starting from around the wicket, he switched to over the wicket for the last few balls... and on his very last delivery, trapped Scott Styris plumb in front with a massively-turning off-break to finish off his home career in style. What a cricketer!

6. Tied At 338

The match should have been held at Kolkata, but had to be shifted to Bangalore. After a scramble for tickets where a few fans got hurt, the match began and the crowd loved it. Sachin Tendulkar hit a sublime century, which included 5 sixes - 2 of those came off consecutive Graeme Swann deliveries as he started a new spell. It was a message to the English skipper Andrew Strauss that his best bowler means nothing to him! Strauss took that message to heart as he produced his own masterclass innings of 158 after Tim Bresnan had cleaned the Indian tail with a 5-for. It took a beauty from Zaheer Khan to remove Strauss and bring India back into the match with 2 other wickets. Apart from the last ball single that resulted in a tie, there was another moment to remember from this World Cup - Munaf Patel's blinder (no pun intended) to remove Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell's LBW that wasn't! The infamous 2.50 meter rule denied Yuvraj Singh the wicket of Ian Bell after the field umpire Billy Bowden decided not to overturn his original not out call.

7. Ross Taylor Massacre

He was reprieved - twice! Both times by Kamran Akmal off Shoaib Akhtar's bowling. He made them pay! Ross Taylor, who was not in the best of form, capitalised on those errors by Kamran Akmal (which earned him a lot of jokes on Twitter) and smashed a brilliant century against Pakistan that included some violent hitting at the end. His ferocious hitting resulted in 28 runs being leaked off Shoaib Akhtar's last over and 30 runs off Abdul Razzaq's. Helped by Jacob Oram at the other end, Taylor was ferocious as they compiled an 80-odd run partnership at the speed of light! When Kamran Akmal's turn came to bat, he edged one to Ross Taylor at slip... and the Kiwi was in no mood to return Akmal's favours earlier that day! He grabbed the ball in his hands and the Black Caps celebrated.

8. The Whirlwind Start

It was arguably the best bowling line-up of the World Cup they were facing. The best fast bowler of the present era was to start the proceedings. None of that mattered! Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar began in a hurry... sprinting away to a 100 in just the 12th over. Tendulkar pulled South Africa's best bowler Dale Steyn for a six behind square leg after Sehwag had typically started the innings with a first-ball boundary. Sehwag scored a 73, Tendulkar 111 and Gautam Gambhir too compiled a 69 before the middle and lower order just gave away, as 9 wickets fell for 29 runs. The fact that India did not even manage to bat the entire 50 overs, falling short by 8 balls, eventually proved to be decisive as South Africa managed to seal a win thanks to Robin Peterson's cameo at the end!

9. Pakistan End Australia's Streak

Pakistan was the last team that had beaten Australia in a World Cup match. That had happened way back in 1999. Since then Australia had been triple World Champions and were looking to continue that streak when they faced Pakistan in their Group A match at Colombo. Umar Gul bowled beautifully and Kamran Akmal managed 3 catches as Australia was bowled out for 176. Then a young Pakistani batsman Asad Shafiq played a mature hand aided by the veteran Younis Khan, followed by another youngster Umar Akmal providing the finishing touches. A big performance was needed to finish off Australia's big unbeaten run in the World Cup... and that is just what Pakistan delivered!

10. England Keep Us Entertained

First, they almost goofed up against the Netherlands. Then they did the inconceivable against India as the match ended in a tie. Then they actually goofed up against the Irish, followed by snatching a win from the jaws of defeat against South Africa. Not satisfied, they then snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against Bangladesh before winning their most convincing win against West Indies - by 18 big runs! Lots of flashes of memory come to mind from England's World Cup campaign - Ryan ten Doeschate's magnificent hundred at Nagpur, some stuff already mentioned above from the India and Ireland matches at Bangalore, Robin Peterson's opening over and Stuart Broad's finish at Chennai, and of course the celebrations after Mahmudullah's and Shafiul Islam's rescue act at Chittagong... England single-handedly kept Group B alive!

There were lots of other moments to remember... Sehwag deciding to bat through the innings and almost doing so in his 175 at the World Cup opener, Chris Mpofu's rocket throw to run out Ricky Ponting that infuriated him to break a TV, Pakistan's tight win over Sri Lanka, Kemar Roach's and Lasith Malinga's hat-tricks against the Netherlands and Kenya respectively, West Indies skittle out Bangladesh for 58, an unknown Canadian teenager Hiral Patel's attack on the Australian pace trio as Canada scored 62 in their first 6 overs, Zimbabweans applauding and shaking hands with Steve Tikolo after the Kenyan legend was dismissed in his final match, and South Africa's choke against New Zealand amongst others.


Spoilt an already-bad MCG record!
The match fluctuated through the first 3 days, but not by much. At no point in time during those 3 days of the Boxing Day Test between Australia and India at the MCG could you say that a particular team has a clear, definite and big advantage.

On the 4th day though, only one team turned up and walked away with the match. While the match was very evenly balanced at the start of Day 4, and remained so when Michael Hussey fell in the morning, it started shifting in Australia's favour with the last wicket partnership of Pattinson and Hilfenhaus. And while Australia kept on making inroads when they came on to bowl, they sealed the deal when Pattinson had Laxman caught attempting his favourite wristy flick.

That wicket meant that two of India's Big Three were back in the pavilion. But more importantly, it sealed the deal for Australia in my mind because the wrong Laxman had turned up there and departed.

After Day 3 ended, my mind told me that Laxman would be India's key player during the chase. The thing to be seen on Day 4 would be which Laxman turns up - the one who averages 14.25 (after this match) at the MCG in his 4 Boxing Day Tests there or the one who averages 107.00 in 10 fourth innings chases between the 2007-08 and 2011-12 tours of Australia. Out of those 10 innings, 4 had resulted in Indian wins, 4 matches had been drawn and 2 were lost.

Sadly for India, the former Laxman turned up just when we needed the latter one after 3 early wickets. Well at least at the SCG, lets hope that this Laxman and this Tendulkar turn up... and most importantly, the bowlers can continue to bowl as many overs as they bowled at the MCG and help India level the series!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


I was far too young to follow India's tour of Australia in 1991-92. Once I started understanding and following the game of cricket, India has toured Australia in 1999-00, 2003-04, 2007-08 and the current one now in 2011-12... and each time, umpiring has been a subject of sharp focus!

If that is not enough, the scrutiny of umpiring decisions have started in the 1st Test on all but one of the above tours. Only in 2007-08 did the opening Test at MCG on the Boxing Day go through without an umpiring decision worthy of remembrance years later! Unhappy with how incident-free the 1st Test was from an umpiring perspective, the cricketing Gods put in all their efforts to ensure that the 2nd Test would not only compensate for the 1st one, but also supersede all other incident-involving Australia-India Tests of my living memory.

1999-00: The first Test was in Adelaide... and it will always be remembered for the infamous shoulder-before-wicket LBW decision by Daryl Harper against Sachin Tendulkar of Glenn McGrath's bowling. Even in that era, that particular decision gathered a lot of inches and minutes in print and television media respectively. I shudder to imagine what would have happened had such a decision been given in this era!

It was a marginal call, as the ball could have clipped the top of the stumps or gone over it. In normal circumstances, the benefit of the doubt goes to the batsman. Only when the batsman does not offer a shot does the benefit of the doubt go to the bowler. Was that a case of no shot offered? In my view, definitely not! When a batsman ducks under a bouncer that hits him on any part of his body and goes for runs, it is given as leg byes. When no shot is offered, and the ball is deflected of the pads of the batsman, no runs are given. This rule may be farcical, but as long as it exists, ducking cannot be deemed to be a case of no shot offered, and the benefit of doubt in that case should have gone to the batsman.

While I remember just this incident clearly from that tour, I do remember that there definitely was discontentment about umpiring during that tour. I have read that that particular tour accelerated ICC's plans of implementing the concept of two neutral umpires in Tests. This article from the Cricinfo archives points out that there were arguably three contentious decisions against Sachin Tendulkar alone in his 6 Test innings on that tour.

2003-04: The first Test was in Brisbane... and the central figure was once again Sachin Tendulkar. The bowler this time was Jason Gillespie and the umpire was Steve Bucknor. Again, the media coverage was immense and even Gillespie had admitted that his appeal had only been academic and that he wasn't actually expecting to get the decision in his favour.

While the ball pitched outside off and seamed in, even the naked eye could tell that the bounce was far too much in that ball to be able to hit the stumps. Truth be told, I think that this ball would have passed the stumps at a higher altitude than McGrath's bouncer four years previously that resulted in the shoulder-before-wicket dismissal. That same article to which I have provided the link above talks of the coverage that followed this Steve Bucknor decision.

2007-08: Like I said, the first Test at MCG was more-or-less incident-free, and the second Test at SCG overcompensated for that! There has been more than enough coverage of the Sydney Test of 2008 - both the racial abuse allegation as well as the collection of umpiring errors! Andrew Symonds was reprieved thrice (twice by Steve Bucknor and once incredibly by the third umpire Bruce Oxenford!) and Ricky Ponting was reprieved once and then given out when he shouldn't have been. Sourav Ganguly was ruled out caught by Michael Clarke by umpire Mark Benson in consultation with Ponting rather than the third umpire.

There were some more incidents (I remember Rahul Dravid too falling victim of a Steve Bucknor error), but the key one definitely was the first reprieve that Andrew Symonds received on Ishant Sharma's bowling. Steve Bucknor (once again!) failed to see/hear a very clear edge with its big woody noise and a clear deflection of the ball on its way to MS Dhoni behind the stumps. That decision was very clearly a result-impacting decision. Symonds was on 30 then, and Australia 193 for 6. Australia ended up with 463 with Symonds unbeaten on 162. Even though India had no business losing the Test on Day 5, there might have been a completely different result had Symonds been ruled out there and Australia slumped to 193 for 7.

2011-12: The first Test at Melbourne, Day 1... and both umpires in the limelight for one caught-behind decision each. Maraius Erasmus ruled Michael Hussey out for a golden duck off Zaheer Khan's bowling and soon thereafter, Ian Gould ruled the debutant Ed Cowan out for 68 off Ravichandran Ashwin's bowling.

While I wouldn't call either of those decisions a 'howler', the debate on it shall be no less than the other decisions of the past... because we live in the era that has tasted the implementation of DRS. Where I stand on the issue of DRS is absolutely unrelated to what this post is about, and so I'll refrain from getting into that. But it must be said here that there is a difference between a marginal call and a howler, and DRS is starting to obliterate that line. Had it not been for the debate on DRS, the Hussey and Cowan dismissals might have been talked about just for a few hours, and then archived somewhere in history. But now, we'll have gigabytes of data to tell the future generation different versions of what actually transpired there!

Monday, December 26, 2011


It started promisingly with the Australian captain courageously deciding to bat first. It must have been tempting to send India in, given that the Indian batsmen are known to be slow-starters on away tours... and slower still in difficult conditions. And the first hour was difficult... even though the Indian bowlers could not take maximum advantage of it!

But after the toss, the day was a bit of an anti-climax. There had been so much talk about the contest between hosts' bowling v/s. the visitors' batting (as is the norm before almost every Indian tour outside the sub-continent) that watching the contest other way round felt a bit drab.

The recovered-ankle duo opened India's attack... and might I say, gingerly! At Lord's earlier this year, Zaheer Khan had used two bouncers in his short and interrupted bowling spell. The first one had been under-edged by Strauss, and the second one was top-edged and caught at deep fine leg. Here at MCG, the first attempt at a bouncer came by the first-change bowler Umesh Yadav. And it was answered emphatically by David Warner.

So it was nice to see Yadav bang one in short straightaway after that small rain break... and he got his reward! Shaun Marsh fell soon, and Ponting got a knock to his head and fell down thrice at the crease before finding some sort of a rhythm in his batting. And all this while, almost invisibly, Ed Cowan ensured that he had gotten his eye in on his Test debut.

Then came the change in momentum. Australia consolidated with Cowan and Ponting, before someone whispered to Ishant Sharma that they were playing in Australia. He sent down an impressive spell before Yadav got Ponting caught at slip. Another brief fightback by Australia ensued before Zaheer Khan came in for a spell with the old ball.

It was Dhoni's most important throw of dice. As Cowan admitted in the press conference later, they were looking forward to blunt that Zaheer Khan spell and be right on top at the end of the day. But as Zaheer had done for India through the World Cup, he made the old ball count. A mini-collapse (which shall be debated for other reasons too) later, Australia found their Nos. 7 and 8 at the crease. Surprisingly, both Haddin and Siddle played out the day obstinately... making it a case of honours even at the end of Day 1.

A few thoughts on certain performances that made the cricket on this Boxing Day at MCG peculiar for me...

Ed Cowan looked compact and impressive. However, I did think that his judgment of the off-stump was not the best during the first session. Off his may leaves, there were a few in the opening hour that were far too close for comfort! So either he knew exactly where his off-stump was, in which case he must have nerves of steel... or the more likely tale would be that he was indeed jittery, but managed to get through that period and capitalise with a fine 68.

Ricky Ponting, without a doubt, started in jitters. Hit on the helmet early on, three of his first few leg-side shots made him lose balance and stumble at the crease, but he also got the runs at the same time. It was uncomfortable watching him bat that way, but it made for compelling viewing from my living room!

Umesh Yadav had India's best bowling figures today... but by no means was he the best Indian bowler on show! I thought he had been picked for his pacy stump-length bowling... but today, his lengths moved all around. His wickets came from a short ball, a full ball and a short-of-a-length ball. A couple more tomorrow from a length ball and from a yorker length ball would complete the entire set for him!

Zaheer Khan lasted the entire day. And he looked fit enough to last at least a few more! Every time he stretched his hamstring, I moved a little towards the edge of my seat... as if he was a time bomb ready to explode in a thriller! When he fell after having stopped a straight drive off his bowling with his left boot, I gulped and heaved a small sigh of relief when he got up with no apparent damage. But his old-ball spell was brilliant to watch. Working Clarke over, sending a snorter to Hussey, and then making Cowan fall on his back - all in the same over with an old ball. That was brilliant to watch!

While the cricket today was good in parts, there was nothing extraordinary! Maybe, it is quite unfair to expect something extraordinary on the very first day of the series, especially given that the hosts are batting and visitors bowling... but one drab day such as this surely increases the anticipation for the next day, for as Ravi Shastri would say "I just get the feeling that something's got to give here!"


My mind goes back to that morning 8 years and 10 days ago. 16th December 2003. I was 15, had just finished a class at my boarding school, and rushed out as it ended to find my Physics professor. I knew he would have the score.

When I found him, I did not need to ask. I knew. His smile (and he rarely smiled!) made it obvious. India had won by 4 wickets at Adelaide, and Rahul Dravid had hit the winning runs. "Poetic justice!" is what he had said back then!

I had followed that Test series (from Brisbane to Sydney) by snatching updates on All India Radio and begging for more updates from professors whom I knew had internet connections. Despite the fact that we were clear underdogs, I still had hopes from our team. Back then, I was less of a realist and more of an optimist! I still remember thinking that during the World Cup less than a year before that series, India had clearly been the second best team. The time seemed ripe to take on the best team in their backyard!

And take them on we did! That Adelaide Test took my love for the game to a different level... particularly Test cricket! India had won after conceding more than 550 runs in the first innings. If the Eden Gardens miracle of 2001 was not enough, this one just reaffirmed my faith that there is no game quite like Test cricket!

And then, on the next day (17th December 2003), Rohit Brijnath became my favourite cricket writer with this wonderful piece on the front page of The Indian Express. Yes, those three "architects" of our win deserved no less!

That Australian summer changed a lot of things about my relationship with cricket! I had followed India's tours to England and the West Indies earlier in the decade with considerable studiousness, but this was the tour that created an impact... an impact that made cricket a lot bigger than a mere sport for me!

An hour before the Boxing Day Test match kicks off at Melbourne Cricket Ground, memories of that match at Adelaide (and to think that I managed to watch just the highlights) create a nostalgia in my mind. I hope that this series is just as hard fought and fairly-fought, and when "dusk begins its quiet descent", the winners are wearing blue caps!

Monday, December 12, 2011


I haven't been very regular in posting here in the recent past. However, for some strange reason, I feel compelled to write here today. It's 12th December 2011 today... and it happens to be the day when a certain Yuvraj Singh turns 30.

Yuvraj Singh has never been on my list of most-liked sportspersons, but when it comes to his abilities... there has never been any doubt! He's been a match-winner for India in limited-overs cricket for quite a few years now, and there is no taking away the fact that he was one of the chief architects of India's greatest ODI triumph of this millennium.

But why am I writing all this? After all, everyone knows about these exploits of Yuvraj Singh! It's something else. He was in news recently when his mother revealed that he had been suffering from a non-malignant lung tumor for a few months, and that he was on his way to recovery and making a comeback.

At that time, I had been thinking about his career. Over the last couple of years, there is always a murmur of IPL in every cricket discussion. Even when one talks at length about Yuvraj Singh, it is difficult to refrain from talking about the IPL and its easy money.

In recent times, I have heard a lot of people on different forums question the commitment of cricketers claiming that increased remuneration from IPL and other Twenty20 leagues directly affects their desire to represent their country. In the specific case of Yuvraj Singh, there had been questions related to form, fitness, commitment, desire, and God-knows-what-else during his lean patch in 2010.

All these opinions were aided by the reporting done by our media houses, which sadly aren't the most responsible news presenters around! They never seem to present facts... their interest is more in passing judgments!

In response to all this and more, Yuvraj Singh played out of his skin and had a fairy tale of a World Cup earlier this year. There is one incident during the finals of the World Cup between India and Sri Lanka at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai that I clearly remember.

It was the first ball of the 10th over of the first innings... TM Dilshan was facing Munaf Patel. Dilshan unleashed a fierce cut that was headed between point and cover, certain to reach the ropes. However, Yuvraj Singh leaped across to his wrong side and cut it off... saving four runs for his team! This was just one of the many brilliant fielding efforts by him in that big match. Here's what the Cricinfo commentary description of that delivery reads:

"9.1 Patel to Dilshan, no run, 132.8 kph, The flying Singh again, Yuvraj leaps full length to his right at point and cuts off a Dilshan cut, which was hit hard into the ground and heading towards the boundary"

In that match, through the Powerplay overs, he fielded at point... a position that he has hardly fielded in during the last 4 years of his international career. He was diving around, and putting his body on the line, for a match that could be considered as the most important one of his career.

After that World Cup was won, Yuvraj Singh captained Pune's IPL side for a month and a half. But I don't remember seeing him at point in Pune's black-and-silver. He was back to fielding at mid-on and mid-off... and there weren't too many dives forthcoming.

In hindsight, it's easy to recognise where his actual priorities lay. He was ready to put his fragile and suffering body on the line for the glory of a World Cup win, but not for the millions of dollars of the IPL. And sitting comfortably at home, the armchair critics went on and on.

I too had been amongst those who had passed a few judgments about Yuvraj Singh during his troughs. Though I had stated in 2010 that Yuvraj Singh's good form is very important for India if the World Cup has to be won, but I had also been doubtful about whether he was still capable of putting in those kind of performances that had made him an indispensable part of India's ODI team. Those four months from February to May taught me a lesson! Yuvraj Singh's performances taught me a lesson about how woefully wrong our judgments sometimes tend to be.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Varun Aaron gets his first Test cap at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai today. He's played 12 First Class games before his Test call-up. And his First Class bowling average is 41.50 runs per wicket, striking at 77.2 balls per wicket - hardly the figures of a bowler that blasts his way even through domestic batting line-ups!

Aaron possesses speeds consistently averaging 140+ kmph, but there is no denying that his career has been built around just one delivery that he bowled at 153 kmph during the Vijay Hazare Trophy final for Jharkhand against Gujarat. Had he not touched the 150-mark in that match and continued with his regular 140-145 range, he might never have gotten his 2 ODIs and 1 Test (starting now) for India (and not to forget, an all-expense paid trip to England).

He performed decently in his 2 chances to represent India in ODIs, and now comes his Test debut. What if he does well here too? Are we going to take him to Australia then? Based on a decent performance against an English ODI team beaten 5-0, and upcoming performances (howsoever good) against a less-than-average West Indies side in 1 Test and upto 5 ODIs, are we really going to select him to tour Australia? I really don't think I need to mention the First Class average of 41.50 once again!

I really have no intention of sounding like a pessimist... just trying to be a realist here! Varun Aaron, with his speed, has promise and potential. But he needs to put in performances in the domestic circuit first and then rise higher. A media campaign following one delivery of 153 kmph should not be a basis for selection in India's team in any format of cricket. If he cannot improve that First Class record despite bowling against the Plate League batsmen in the Ranji Trophy, then I don't think he deserves to get his chance for an India cap.

A good performance at Wankhede Stadium today or through this Test match may make a lot of people say that my words have been proven wrong. But this is not an opinion that can change on the basis of one match, just like it was not formed on the basis of one delivery!

Thursday, August 25, 2011


On reading this piece by Andrew Miller on Cricinfo (How good are this England side?), I was left with quite a few questions in my head. There are a couple of points in that piece that immediately left me shaking my head in disagreement. Here is the first bit:

"It is said that the acid test for this England team will come when they are faced with Asian pitches in the UAE and Sri Lanka this winter, though it's hard to believe that's really the case. If any side has the ingredients to triumph in such conditions, it is England - the fittest squad of international cricketers on the planet, whose batsmen have demonstrated the dedication required to grind out big scores in attritional passages of play, whose bowlers build pressure by strangling runs, and whose spinner, Swann - for all that he falls short of true greatness - is indisputably the best in the game at present."

I do not quite understand why is it so hard to believe that the acid test for England will come on Asian pitches. The current England squad is undoubtedly brilliant, and arguably at the peak of its powers at the moment. They managed to earn a hard-fought draw away in South Africa, flattened Australia in Australia, and demolished India at home. Like the great teams of the past, the only ground that remains to be conquered is the sub-continent (or broadly Asia, since they will be playing Pakistan in UAE).

He reasons that England is the fittest squad currently (though I think that the South Africans might want to challenge him on that), their batsmen have the capability to be attritional and score big, bowlers can strangle runs when needed, and they have the best spinner in the world. Fine reasons those!

But each of those reasons applied even to Steve Waugh's men who conquered everything in their path... or rather, almost everything! They were the fittest squad of their time, some of the batsmen and bowlers on their payroll are acknowledged today as all-time greats, and they definitely featured the best spinner of their time - one who even managed to make it to Cricinfo's All-Time Test XI as a unanimous choice!

Yet, on either side of their run of 16 consecutive Test wins through 1999, 2000 and 2001, Steve Waugh's Australia failed in its acid test on Asian wickets. The Kolkata and Chennai defeats to India in 2001 are famously remembered, but what is not remembered is that just before the start of their 16-match winning streak, they had recorded a series loss in Sri Lanka (September 1999).

So hard as it may be for Mr. Miller to believe that Asian pitches shall be their acid test, they would really still need to pass it to be able to make a further claim. Just having ingredients of success is not enough, as we Indians learnt it the hard way this English summer! We may not have had all the ingredients of success in our Indian squad, but we had managed to hold on to the No. 1 ranking with whatever ingredients we possessed for 20 months. It all came down spectacularly in 1 month! While I don't think it will be quite as dramatic for England, they still do have a task on hand to consolidate their top-of-the-table ranking.

Now, coming to the second excerpt from Mr. Miller's piece that I actually managed to frown upon:

"Passages of play such as Mishra's stand with Sachin Tendulkar prove that England are not unstoppable, but given that no team in the world can replicate their current levels of desire, it's going to take something extra to derail their ambitions."

Just one question here - just how does one claim that a certain person or a certain team's level of desire is the greatest or the least? I am really not a fan of blanket statements such as these where desires, ambitions, courage, spirit, and other such immeasurable aspects of a sportsman or sportsmen are judged.

I was not the only one who did not quite agree with this statement. There were others too, like @thecricketcouch and @grangergabblog. In reply to @thecricketcouch's question as to how could he make such a statement of England team's desire, this is what Mr. Miller (@miller_cricket) replied: 

Honestly, I believe this is as wrong an argument as any I have seen. I don't think that desire is always directly proportional to your on-field performance. Does that mean that every time a team loses a match, they did not desire to win it? It's a very rhetorical question... so lets just explore this with a few examples.

India lost 7 for 33 vs. England at Bangalore, 4 for 30 during the middle overs vs. the Netherlands at New Delhi, a mammoth collapse of 9 for 29 vs. South Africa at Nagpur, and even a 7 for 50 vs. West Indies at Chennai during the league stages of the World Cup 2011. Does this mean that they had no desire to win it? Going by @miller_cricket's response to @thecricketcouch on Twitter, it would tantamount to lack of desire.

Lets use an English example. England lost 6 for 63 in the first innings of the 1st Ashes Test match at Brisbane last year. Does that mean that the Australians had more desire to win that Ashes Test match than England? Does Rafael Nadal's loss to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon finals this year (2011), or his loss to Robin Soderling in the 4th round of French Open 2009 or Federer's loss to Nadal in the finals of Wimbledon 2008 imply that the victors were the ones who desired those wins more?

That, in my opinion, would be an insult to the vanquished - be it India this summer, Australia last winter, or Nadal and Federer over those (and other) matches. Every sportsman in every sport (be it a team game or an individual sport) takes the field of play with the sole desire to win. That is my opinion at least, for that is how even I used to play during my school days even against an XI comprising of seniors! These men are professional, and to compare and judge their levels of desire, in my opinion, is quite like insulting them!

Monday, August 22, 2011


After my previous post on The Dravid Selection Debate, this one is now on the 2nd innings dismissal of Rahul Dravid during the 4th Test at the Oval. It looks like Dravid debates are the fashion for this season! Already, this dismissal has been discussed and dissected all over Twitter and other cricket forums on the internet. Here are my thoughts for what they are worth!

First, let me state very clearly that I did not see the dismissal live and did not even manage to catch a replay till well after the end of day's play. When I did see the replay, I already knew that Dravid had admitted to have edged it. So whether I think there was an edge or not does not matter, because my eyes were always going to be prejudiced after that admission by Dravid. But here's what I do know:

1. Most English commentators and tweeters were of the opinion that they saw a slight deflection from a certain angle, and so Steve Davis was justified in ruling Dravid out.

2. Most Indian commentators and tweeters were of the opinion that they saw no conclusive evidence for Steve Davis to overrule the on-field decision. Since DRS over-ruling works on the basis of conclusive evidence, Davis was not justified.

3. Amongst the neutral, I don't recall many opinions. But I do recall Mike Haysman tweeting that he didn't think there was any conclusive evidence to rule Dravid out.

I think that based on these statements, we can assume that it was a marginal call either way.

Now what I am going to state here has been stated so often already that it's sounding more and more like a cliché, but it has to be mentioned nevertheless. So here it goes again - the DRS was meant to eliminate howlers, and not rule on marginal calls. Where marginal calls are involved, the ground umpire's decision should be taken as the final one. Only when there is overwhelming evidence against the ground umpire's ruling should that decision be overturned.

But while I state all this, lets not forget that the primary aim of the judiciary (and this includes the umpires as well as the technology that has been provided for their aid) is to come to the right decision. And in Dravid's case, the right decision was indeed reached, even though in a wrong way! I remember once an umpire (I think it was Simon Taufel, but I'm not sure!) stated that they would not want their walkie-talkie conversations ever recorded, because often they reach the right decisions in very wrong ways!

So what to make of this debate? Now that we have the benefit of hindsight, in my opinion and strictly in my opinion, I think that the right decision was made and Steve Davis was good to have spotted that faint edge and deviation. In his mind, he was must have been reasonably sure that the edge had been taken, however thin it may have been, and he relayed that decision back to the ground umpire. That's it!

But that's not the end of the story! What I have trouble comprehending is that why are umpires inconsistent in this matter. Some like Billy Bowden prefer to go exactly by the rule book and rule Ian Bell not out in the World Cup match against India even though the evidence overwhelmingly suggested that he should have been Yuvraj Singh's victim! And some like Steve Davis decide to use their initiative and overrule the foundation on which the DRS is based - i.e. the foundation of overwhelming evidence!

I know that the "Ian Bell - Yuvraj Singh - Billy Bowden" example is not quite an exact parallel to this one. And to be honest, I couldn't find any exact parallel. So I will give you the best I could find...

The following video shows the wickets and close calls during the Canada vs. Kenya match in the World Cup 2011. Watch this video from 5:02 onwards - the batsman is Kenyan Steve Tikolo, and the bowler is Canadian Rizwan Cheema.

Now, from what I see here, I think that the edge was clearer here on Steve Tikolo's bat than it was in case of Rahul Dravid at The Oval. I know that it may be a futile exercise to compare, since the situations were different and the umpires involved were different (Bruce Oxenford was the third umpire in the Steve Tikolo case). But the point I'm trying to make is that Oxenford saw it was a marginal call, and though some angles suggested an inside edge, he decided to rule it in favour of the on-field umpire's call. He saw no overwhelming evidence to overrule!

Here, I am not trying to blame Steve Davis in any way. I have already stated that with the benefit of hindsight, we can all agree that the correct decision was made. But the blame lies entirely with ICC's pathetic implementation of the DRS, and its use for marginal calls.

I understand that Bruce Oxenford may not have been as convinced as Steve Davis was to overrule the on-field call, but if I am allowed to judge the third umpires here, I am sure that neither Oxenford nor Davis could have been 100% sure about the edges. Even if Steve Davis was reasonably certain about the edge, I am prepared to bet that he could not have been a 100% confident about his call... simply because it indeed was a very marginal call and the replays could not have been deemed to be 100% conclusive. The varied opinions all over Twitter suggest nothing else.

So what does the ICC have to state? Are the on-field calls to be over-ruled where the third umpires are just reasonably sure about the evidence on offer? Or are they to be over-ruled only when the third umpires are a 100% certain about the error in the on-field decision? Till the ICC does not answer this question clearly and decisively, we will continue to have such vagaries in decision-making even in the future. How this decision might affect the result of this match will be known only tomorrow (and even then, just speculatively), but what it did was that it ended a marathon effort by India's best batsman on this tour on a very sour note!

Well played, Rahul Dravid! Much respect!

Saturday, August 20, 2011


After what's been a nightmare of a Test series for an Indian cricket fan, the only silver lining is that it can continue for just 3 more days. I hope the change from white to blue will change the fortunes as well!

Talking of white to blue, I was just thinking about the Indian ODI squad for the 5-match series later. And obviously, the biggest surprise in that list was a certain Rahul Dravid.

Dravid has been one of the face-savers of India's batting in this Test series. With 2 hundreds against his name, he does seem to have gotten his touch back after a not-so-good run over the past 2 years. It was nice to see him bat the way he did, and the best aspect of his batting on this tour for me was that he did not get bogged down even when India was in a backs-to-the-wall situation (which was often). He still played his shots when the bad balls came (which was rare)! Over the last 2 years, I think he used to get bogged down quite easily but it didn't affect India much because the men around him were having golden runs.

Coming back to the ODI squad, as good a form as Dravid may be in, it was a surprise still to see him named in the ODI squad. I know that the Test team has been hammered by the English bowlers and English conditions. Yet, I somehow feel that asking Dravid to strengthen the ODI squad's Middle Order is a bit of a regressive step.

The last ODI that India played under MS Dhoni, it defeated Sri Lanka by 6 wickets in a match that was the finals of a World Cup! If you do not retain faith in a World Cup winning squad, it is quite a disappointment.

For the sake of argument, people would say that India was the No. 1 Test team too going into this Test series. Yet is floundered in a big way! But the point is, are we going to use this Test series then as a judgement scale for all our future selections in all formats of the game? Yes, it was a nightmare of a series, as I have already stated. But the ODI squad is different - even if it has to fail, it should be allowed its own chance to fail! The fact that the selectors have decided beforehand that the ODI squad is likely to fail and thus it requires services of Rahul Dravid, even without giving it a chance to fail, has disappointed me immensely.

The selectors have often been criticised for making Test selections on the basis of ODI performances, and Suresh Raina is still used as a case in point. Now they are making an ODI selection on the basis of Test cricket. How is the latter justified if the former is considered wrong?

I remember the time when the Vengsarkar-led selection panel decided to field a very young and inexperienced ODI squad against Australia in Australia. Back then, Australia were the reigning World Champions and also the World No. 1 team in ODIs (as they still are). Yet, we were bold enough to test our younger lot in the harshest way possible.

A certain Gautam Gambhir was the highest run-scorer for India in that tri-series. That same Gautam Gambhir went on to have a brilliant run in Test cricket over the next 2 years, and a little over 3 years after that tri-series, that same Gautam Gambhir fell 3 runs short of a World Cup final winning century while chasing a stiff target!

As a fan of the Fab Four batting lineup, I do feel happy to see Dravid back in the ODI squad. But as an Indian cricket fan, I do not think it is a move in the right direction. Rahul Dravid was persisted with despite a prolonged slump in his batting performances for over 2 years. I think the selectors should have shown similar faith in India's ODI batting unit!

Monday, August 15, 2011


This is a very frustrating time for an Indian cricket fan! Coming into the English tour as the World No. 1 Test team, India has now not only lost that ranking, but will also take field at The Oval seeking to prevent a whitewash!

There is such a hollow feeling in my head right now that I really cannot be coherent with my thoughts on anything related to cricket. The criticism and finger-pointing that I wanted to indulge in, I have done so in my previous blog post. In this one, I am not going to indulge in any of that.

Over the last 2 days, I have finished reading ESPNCricinfo's publication "Sealed with a Six". It is a journey through the World Cup 2011. Just to get the complete feel of revisiting that journey, I also read the blogs that I had posted myself during that time.

In this particular blog, I want to quote two excerpts. The first one is what I had written on 5th April 2011, just 3 days after the World Cup win for India. The second one is an excerpt from an article by Sambit Bal, the editor of ESPNCricinfo. He wrote that article on the eve of the penultimate match of the World Cup - the 2nd semi-final match between India and Pakistan at Mohali.

Here's the first excerpt (from my own writing):

"I felt proud to be witnessing this moment, and not just proud because I am a fan of Indian cricket team, no! That would kill my joy! I was proud of that moment in Indian cricket because I have supported Indian cricket team even through its darkest hours, like the World Cup 2007. I have had faith in these men and boys, and I have always wished for them to perform. There have been some players I have liked more than others, a lot of decisions from the captain that I have criticised, and I will continue doing so. I have and will continue pointing out shortcomings of certain players, and loopholes in our team. But through all this, I have never stopped supporting the team through its turbulent times, nor will I ever do so."

And now here's the second excerpt (this one from Sambit Bal):

"Sportsmen compete fiercely and proudly, exhausting themselves mentally and physically in the pursuit of victory, and then the victor and vanquished walk off the field, shaking each other's hand, and often with the knowledge that no victory or loss is final. They will compete again tomorrow and there will be another shot at redemption. That is the essence of sport."

In these two excerpts, I have summed up, as best as I could, the way forward for the fans of Indian cricket, who feel as distraught about the Indian cricket team's loss as I feel. India and England will meet again in the future, on the field of cricket, and we will have our chance at redemption. And when we earn that redemption some time in future, the memory of the pain of this defeat will make it feel that bit sweeter!

Friday, August 12, 2011


India, the World No. 1 Test team, is very likely to relinquish the ranking very soon to the rampaging English team. It's been frustrating and embarrassing to witness this Test series for an Indian fan. It was a tad bit embarrassing to see our famed middle order, known for its prowess against spin bowling of all kinds, catapult against Mendis in Sri Lanka 2008. It was embarrassing also to watch a virtually limp Indian team surrender to Australia 3-0 back in 1999-2000. But none of those experiences come close to what I have seen over the last 3 weeks in England.

After the ultimate high of World Cup win, I am feeling a bottomless low even before this series has ended. The Indian supporter in me shall never die, but I pray that it never has to face this kind of embarrassment ever again!

But why has Team India reached this position in the Test series against England? Last time that India toured England in 2007, we won the series 1-0 with a similar Indian line-up against a similar English line-up. What has changed? Both the teams have gotten better since then for sure, even though the scoreline suggests that only one team has gotten better, and the other has gone down to pits!

Why are we performing so badly then? Many people have come up with different reasons and explanations. The primary reason for me is not something new and unknown... but I will come to that later. First, I want refute another view.

Sanjay Manjrekar thinks that our bowling attack lacks ability. Maybe, it does. But India beat Sri Lanka in Colombo with an attack of Ishant Sharma, Abhimanyu Mithun, Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha. India beat Australia in Perth with an attack of Irfan Pathan, RP Singh, Ishant Sharma and the great Anil Kumble. The current bowling attack of Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, S Sreesanth and Harbhajan Singh / Amit Mishra is not much worse from those attacks. Both Sri Lanka and Australia were in-form teams at those times playing on their home grounds with a series lead in hand, very similar to England here!

Admittedly, this attack has misfired, and apart from Praveen Kumar, no one has been able to maintain consistency that demands respect from the batsmen... but is that the primary reason? Often in the past, our bowling attack has been helped by a scoreboard cushion provided by the batsmen, something that has not occurred this time.

This is the other reason that a lot of people have agreed on (and I agree too) - the failure to fire of our batting line-up. It has been somewhat surprising to see this line-up misfire so spectacularly. I still have no doubt that India's is the best batting line-up in the world in Test cricket. In the last five years, whenever our bowlers have managed to pick 20 opposition wickets, our batsmen have almost always ensured that they put enough runs on the board to beat the opponent. The only exceptions to this rule have been Lord's 2007 (draw), Cape Town 2011 (draw), Dominica 2011 (draw) and Nottingham 2011 (loss).

In fact, the last time (before Trent Bridge) that we lost a Test match despite our bowlers having taken 20 wickets was Mumbai 2006 against England. 5 years and a few months since then, there have only been those 4 aforementioned instances where the bowlers have done the job, and the batsmen have not capitalised. Worryingly, 3 of those incidents have come in a span of 7 months in 2011 while holding the No. 1 rank!

So if we agree that our batting failures is the single biggest cause of this situation in the series (and even if we do not agree, this question is still important), then the question that arises is how did it come to this! Why is the best batting line-up in the world misfiring so badly?

In the 1st Test, lack of acclimatisation could have been used as an excuse. But it's been 5 Test innings and 2 and a half practice match innings through this tour now, and we have not had a single collective batting performance to rejoice. Rahul Dravid has scored 2 hundreds, and there have been a few fifties to assuage some pride, but where is the good old Indian way of applying scoreboard pressure gone?

In my humble opinion, the failures have been caused not by the lack of acclimatisation, but by the lack of preparation. The English cricket team had their eyes set on an Ashes triumph in Australia, and so they prepared for it diligently and well in advance. They planned well, had contingency options ready, and when the time came, they delivered. They then had a new goal to aim for - the No. 1 ranking in Test cricket. They knew they would have to beat India at home quite comprehensively to attain that. So they prepared again, planned again, and seem to be delivering again!

It's not that the Indian team and its management is incapable of such planning. Our triumph at the World Cup 2011 is a prime example of how we planned for a campaign that was very precious and dear to us. Players have talked about how their mental preparation started a year before the World Cup in Dambulla. They have talked about how they worked at their fitness to be in the best shape during the final stages of the campaign. They have talked about how they wanted to peak at the right time. And they delivered!

So was it a case of not having planned and prepared well to take on England in England? Was there a bit of complacency after having creditably earned a draw away at South Africa just a few months ago? As a fan, I think that even I am a little guilty of having underestimated England a little bit before the series began.

But my assessment of England before the series was based on an English attack containing a misfiring Stuart Broad. But the Stuart Broad playing in this series is a different one from the one that played earlier against Sri Lanka and Australia in the Ashes!

Stuart Broad's new avatar has ensured that the English pace attack has been able to apply relentless pressure on the ill-prepared Indian batting line-up. In South Africa, after the pressure from Steyn and Morkel was over, India could play a few release shots against Tsotsobe, Kallis and Harris. Similarly, against all other attacks, our batsmen have always had at least 2 bowlers who could be attacked for pressure-release!

However, on the evidence of the cricket that has been played on this tour thus far, India's only hope for release in pressure has been in the form of Graeme Swann. The difficulty for the Indians has arisen because Strauss has rotated and managed his fast bowlers so well that Indians have not faced too much from Swann! Instead, it has been steady and relentless pressure and testing from a highly-skilled English pace attack!

When India's No. 1 ranking used to come under fire by people who used to say that they are not like the dominant West Indies and Australia of the past, I always defended India by saying that No. 1 ranking suggests that we are the best of the current lot. That ranking does not imply that the team owning it will be one of the all-time greats like those West Indian and Australian teams!

So going by the same logic, if and when England get to that ranking, I will accept their position there. However, to be dominant like West Indies and Australia, they will need to beat South Africa (home and away) as well as India (away). Nevertheless, if they get that No. 1 ranking, then No. 1 they will be, and deservedly so! As for India, I know that I will (like a lot of others) continue the support despite this nightmare. They may have been badly exposed this time in England, but the lessons will be learnt, and we will see better cricket from this team!

Sunday, July 31, 2011


NOTE: All the information on the cases mentioned in this blog post (except for the last one) comes from a singular source - this page on the official website of the International Cricket Council (ICC). Thank you to @HomerTweets for tweeting this link.

NOTE AGAIN: I have just quoted whatever information I deemed was relevant from the above-mentioned webpage. Whatever comments I wanted to make have been made after all the cases have been quoted.

So here goes...

Case 1: South Africa v India, 3rd Test, January 5, 2011, Cape Town

"Sreesanth kicked the boundary kicked the boundary rope after his two LBW appeals were turned down in the previous over. A charge was brought by Ian Gould and Simon Taufel of the Emirates Elite panel of ICC Umpires, third umpire Brian Jerling and fourth umpire Shaun George. Action: Sreesanth pleaded guilty to contravening Level 1 offence (Section 2.1.2) of the ICC Code of Conduct for Players and Team Officials which relates to "abuse of cricket equipment or clothing, ground equipment or fixtures and fittings". Sreesanth has been fined 10 per cent of his match fee.Sreesanth accepted the decision without contest, there was no need for a hearing."

Case 2: Australia v Zimbabwe, 21st Feb, Ahmedabad

"Roshan Mahanama of the Emirates Elite Panel of ICC Match Referees charged Australia captain Ricky Ponting after an incident was brought to the ICC's attention through the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the Gujarat Cricket Association. He was found to have breached clause 2.1.2 of the code which relates to "abuse of cricket equipment or clothing, ground equipment or fixtures and fittings during an international match". The charge was brought by the chairman of the Event Technical Committee David Richardson on behalf of the ICC Chief Executive, in accordance with the regulations. The incident occurred shortly after Ponting was run out in the match when he caused some damage to a television set in the team dressing room. The damage occurred when he threw down a piece of equipment which bounced off his kit bag and hit the corner of the television. Action: Ponting accepted the Level 1 charge and the proposed sanction. He was officially reprimanded. As Ponting accepted the offence and the proposed sanction, there was no need to convene a formal hearing. Level 1 offences carry penalties ranging from an official reprimand to 50 per cent of a player's match fee."

Case 3: India v England, 27th Feb, Bengaluru

"The incident took place on the last ball of the 49th over when Tim Bresnan, after he was clean bowled by Piyush Chawla, hit the stumps with his bat. Bresnan pleaded guilty to contravening Level 1 offence (Section 2.1.2) of the ICC Code of Conduct for Players and Team Officials which relates to "abuse of cricket equipment or clothing, ground equipment or fixtures and fittings". The charge was brought by on-field umpires Billy Bowden and Marais Erasmus, third umpire Rod Tucker and fourth umpire Aleem Dar who are all from the Emirates Elite panel of ICC Umpires. Action: As Bresnan accepted the decision without contest, there was no need for a hearing. All Level 1 breaches carry a minimum penalty of an official reprimand and/or a maximum penalty of the imposition of a fine up to 50 per cent of a player's match fee."

Case 4: Bangladesh v England, 12th Mar, Chittagong

"England off-spinner Graeme Swann was charged with a Level 1 offence under article 2.1.4 of the code which relates to, 'Using language or a gesture that is obscene, offensive or insulting during an international match.' The charge was brought by on-field umpires Rod Tucker and Daryl Harper and third umpire Aleem Dar, all from the Emirates Elite Panel of ICC Umpires. Action: Swann pleaded guilty to the charge and as such, under the provisions of the code, the matter was determined by Jeff Crowe of the Emirates Elite Panel of ICC Match Referees and so there was no requirement for a full hearing. Swann was charged with a Level 1 offence under article 2.1.4 of the code which relates to, 'Using language or a gesture that is obscene, offensive or insulting during an international match.' He was fined 10 per cent of his match fees."

Case 5: England v Sri Lanka, 2-6 June, Lord's

"England wicketkeeper Matt Prior was reprimanded for breaching the ICC Code of Conduct during his team's Test match against Sri Lanka at Lord's. He was found to have breached clause 2.1.2 of the code which relates to "abuse of cricket equipment or clothing, ground equipment or fixtures and fittings during an international match". The charge was brought by on-field umpires Billy Doctrove and Rod Tucker as well as third umpire Aleem Dar and fourth official Richard Illingworth. The incident occurred shortly after Prior was run out in the match when his actions caused the window to break. Action: Prior accepted the Level 1 charge and the proposed sanction from Javagal Srinath of the Emirates Elite Panel of ICC Match Referees after an incident where a window was broken in the England team dressingroom. As Prior accepted the offence and the proposed sanction, there was no need to convene a formal hearing. Level 1 offences carry penalties ranging from an official reprimand to 50 per cent of a player's match fee."

Case 6: West Indies v India, 20-24 June, Kingston, Jamaica

"India spinner Amit Mishra has been fined 10 per cent of his match fee for a Level 1 breach of the ICC Code of Conduct during his team's first Test against the West Indies in Jamaica. Mishra was found to have breached Article 2.1.3 of the code which relates to "showing dissent at an umpire's decision by action or verbal abuse". The charge was brought by on-field umpires Ian Gould and Daryl Harper as well as third umpire Norman Malcolm. Action: After play concluded on day two, the player accepted the proposed sanction offered to him by Jeff Crowe of the Emirates Elite Panel of ICC Match Referees. All Level 1 breaches carry a minimum penalty of an official reprimand and a maximum penalty of 50 per cent of a player's match fee."

Case 7: England v India, 29 July-2 August, Nottingham

"India bowler Praveen Kumar has been fined 20 per cent of his match fee after pleading guilty to a Level 1 breach of the ICC Code of Conduct during England's innings on the first day of the second Test at Trent Bridge, Nottingham. The charge related to an incident at the end of the 18th over of the day during which Kumar had an appeal for leg before wicket against England batsman Kevin Pietersen turned down and at the end of the over he then engaged in a debate with umpire Marais Erasmus about the decision. Action: Kumar was found to have breached Article 2.1.3 of the code which relates to arguing or entering into a prolonged discussion with the umpire about his decision. After play concluded for the day, the player admitted the offence and accepted the proposed sanction offered to him by Ranjan Madugalle the chief referee of the Emirates Elite Panel of ICC Match Referees. As such, there was no need for a formal hearing. The charge had been laid by the on-field umpires Asad Rauf and Marais Erasmus and third umpire Billy Bowden of the Emirates Elite Panel of ICC Umpires as well as fourth umpire Tim Robinson."

Case 8: England v India, 29 July-2 August, Nottingham (Source)

"Graeme Swann has been reprimanded for a level one breach of the ICC Code of Conduct during the second day of the second Test match between England and India at Trent Bridge. Swann was found to have breached Article 2.1.2 of the code which relates to abuse of cricket equipment or clothing, ground equipment or fixtures and fittings during an international match. After play concluded, the player admitted the offence and accepted the proposed sanction offered to him by Ranjan Madugalle, the chief referee of the Emirates elite panel of ICC match referees. As such, there was no need for a formal hearing. The charge had been laid by the on-field umpires, Asad Rauf and Marais Erasmus, as well as third umpire Billy Bowden, of the Emirates elite panel of ICC umpires, and fourth umpire Tim Robinson. The charge related to an incident at the end of the 80th over of the India innings when the England bowler kicked the stumps in frustration and dislodged the bails. He immediately apologised to the on-field umpires for his actions."

Now, here are a few points to note:

1. Sreesanth (Case 1), Ponting (Case 2), Bresnan (Case 3), Prior (Case 5) and Swann (Case 8) were all pulled up for the same offence, i.e. "abuse of cricket equipment or clothing, ground equipment or fixtures and fittings during an international match". Ponting, Bresnan, Prior and Swann were reprimanded. Sreesanth was fined 10% of his match fees. And though this isn't necessary, I should mention that kicking a boundary rope does not result in as much monetary damage as breaking a television or a window.

2. Mishra (Case 6) and Kumar (Case 7) were fined 10% and 20% of their match fees respectively for breaching Article 2.1.3. The Article 2.1.3 includes (pdf):

"(a) excessive, obvious disappointment with an Umpire’s decision; (b) an obvious delay in resuming play or leaving the wicket; (c) shaking the head; (d) pointing or looking at the inside edge when given out lbw; (e) pointing to the pad or rubbing the shoulder when caught behind; (f) snatching the cap from the Umpire; (g) requesting a referral to the TV Umpire (other than in the context of a legitimate request for a referral as may be permitted in such International Match); and (h) arguing or entering into a prolonged discussion with the Umpire about his decision. It shall not be a defence to any charge brought under this Article to show that the Umpire might have, or in fact did, get any decision wrong."

Given what Stuart Broad did on Day 5 of the 1st Test of this series at Lord's, I wonder why that was not classified in clauses (a) and (h) of the above-mentioned Article. Sitting on haunches after an appeal is turned down should easily classify as "excessive, obvious disappointment with an Umpire’s decision" and slipping in a word to the umpire at the end of that over / start of next over about that decision should classify as "arguing or entering into a prolonged discussion with the Umpire about his decision". Broad might want to argue that it was not an argument or a prolonged discussion, but if he is talking more than the umpire (for his lips seemed to move more than Billy Bowden's), it is "arguing"; and if that discussion continues at the end of the over, it is a "prolonged discussion".

3. As per Article 7.3 of the ICC Code of Conduct (pdf), if a Level 1 Offence is committed for the second time within a span of 12 months, then the penalty shall be "the imposition of a fine of between 50-100% of the applicable Match Fee and/or two (2) Suspension Points."

Swann was charged of a Level 1 offence (Case 4) on 12th March 2011. Only 4 months and 18 days have passed since that occasion and Swann has been charged with another Level 1 offence (Case 8). So why was he just reprimanded and not fined 50% of his match fees, which is the minimum penalty to be imposed.

And if my aforesaid argument of Broad's behaviour in the 1st Test holds good, then he too should have faced strict sanctions since he has already been pulled up and fined 50% of his match fees for a Level 2 offence on 1st July 2011, merely 29 days ago! Given that the earlier offence was Level 2, I daresay that he should have missed the current Test match at Nottingham!

Friday, July 22, 2011


Clutching the back of his right thigh before limping off to the dressing room, Zaheer Khan has ensured that more prayers by Indian cricket fans will revolve around the recovery of his hamstring strain than the prospect of Sachin Tendulkar reaching his 100th ton!

Words will never be able to describe fully the kind of loss that Zaheer's injury has imposed on India. It would be futile for me to even try! I'm hoping that his injury is not a very serious one. If the weather forecasts for the Lord's Test hold good, then India should be able to draw this Test even without Zaheer's services. In the mean time, I desperately hope that Zaheer will regain full fitness and be ready for the Tests at Trent Bridge, Edgbaston and The Oval.

Not only would his absence dent India's chances severely, but an unfit Zaheer Khan would take a lot of sheen of this contest. As far as I am concerned, Zaheer Khan is the most skillful bowler involved in this series, and as much as English fans would like to think that James Anderson is better, I still think that Anderson needs another 2-3 years of experience to get to the level that Zaheer bowls at these days!

Here's hoping for a quick recovery for the leader of India's bowling attack!

Thursday, July 21, 2011


It might not be what you think, mate!
Shane Warne may consider himself an expert in predicting the result of England v. India matches after he famously tweeted his prediction of a 'tie' in the World Cup 2011 group match between the two teams.

For the soon-to-being Pataudi trophy too, Warne has laid out his prediction - and it goes 1-0 in favour of England. Bold prediction that!

Over the last 10 years, India has failed to win a Test match on an away tour only thrice - South Africa in November 2001, New Zealand in December 2002 and Pakistan in January 2006. The last one was the most unexpected one, since we did not really play badly on that tour... just somehow contrived to lose it.

The point to note is that on all those occasions, India was nowhere close to being the team it is today. The opponent on this tour is tough - very tough! But it was no different a few months back in South Africa.

If India does win 1 Test on the tour, then England will need to win 3 to become the World No. 1 Test team. That is near impossible, for a variety of reasons, one of them being the rain-affected English 'summer'. In fact, as I type this, my Twitter timeline tells me that it's drizzling on-and-off at Lord's!

But why even think of England winning 3? I'm hoping that India win the Pataudi trophy once again... and if that does not happen, at least retain it! Lets get it going...

2000, 2001, 2003 AND 2004

Four Test matches between the No. 1 and No. 3 Test playing teams in the world. The prospect is exciting as it is, but the romance is magnified when you consider the number 2000!

Test cricket will grow up to become 2000 matches old in a little more than 12 and a half hours from now. The Anglo-Indian Test rivalry (never as highly celebrated and talked of as it has been over the last two weeks) will grow up to become 100 matches old. Indian coach Duncan Fletcher will attend his 100th Test match as a Head Coach... 96 of which were in the role of the English Cricket Team Coach!

And then there is the anticipation of Sachin Tendulkar's 100th international century - a remarkable achievement when it comes (though 99 is no less remarkable on its own either)! However, this post is a preview to the England v. India Test series that begins at Lord's, London tomorrow (which is why the title of the post extends till 2004, and does not stop at 2000; by the way, Test no. 2002 will be between Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in early August)... so I will keep the anticipation of this landmark out of it from hereon.

The teams first -

The hosts are fairly decided on their combination for the game tomorrow. The only spot up for grabs is of the third pacer... and the fight is between the off-colour Stuart Broad and the coming-back-from-an-injury-break Tim Bresnan. Out of the two, I am fairly certain that Stuart Broad is going to feature tomorrow, simply because of the talks of continuity in England's high cricketing circles as well as Broad's leadership role in the team. Add to it the fact that Bresnan is returning from an injury lay-off, I think the English team management would prefer to go for Broad rather than the former.

As far as the visitors are concerned, there are a few small question marks. The biggest one (relatively speaking) of these is the spot of the third pacer (just like the hosts). Some people are suggesting Sreesanth will be picked to accompany Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, others say (with reason) that Praveen Kumar would be a better choice.

Putting it simply, Praveen Kumar can be looked upon as a slower and more-controlled version of Sreesanth. While Praveen Kumar can generate similarly prodigious swing and with greater consistency and control than Sreesanth, it is also quite clear that he will never be able to produce balls such as the one that accounted for Kallis (yes, that snorter) in the Boxing Day Test at Durban 2010! Sometimes, if the game is tight and drifting away, those one-off plays decide the outcome! Nevertheless, if I were asked to pick my squad, Praveen Kumar might just marginally win the race for me. I would not want to gamble... atleast not in the 1st Test, which has always been India's Achilles heal. After Lord's, maybe I could reconsider.

The second question, the answer to which has been all but found, is the spot of India's No. 6 batsman. Raina has his problems against short balls and is almost devoid of backfoot play. England know that and will be ready to unleash Tremlett and Broad / Bresnan when he arrives to the crease. But what counts in favour of Raina is that in recent times, he has shown fight! Be it the crucial knock against Australia in the quarter-finals of the World Cup or through out the West Indies tour, Raina has impressed most observers. My respect for him has never been as high as it is at this moment in time. All in all, it means that Yuvraj Singh might just have to wait in the wings for some more time!

However, the third question, based on a slightly far-fetched idea, might reduce Yuvraj Singh's wait! There has been some talk of not using Abhinav Mukund as the opener and asking Rahul Dravid to open instead. In such a scenario, Yuvraj Singh can be accommodated at No. 5 / No. 6. I have a couple of issues with this idea. One, this would put two of India's main middle order batsmen in an uncomfortable situation - Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman (who will have to bat at No. 3). Yes, Dravid has opened before and might well have to come in at 10 for 1, but asking him to open will put him in a zone of discomfort. He prefers being at No. 3 rather than No. 1 or No. 2, and I would rather have him continue at that place. Laxman too has played well at No. 3 (where he scored that 281), but to push him up there at such short notice would be sacrilege. Two, India has tried this ploy of opening with Dravid to accommodate Yuvraj once before - Australia tour of 2007/08. It was a dismal failure. For me, it's now a case of once bitten twice shy!

Comparing the two teams, they look very similar on paper. The element that could have separated the two teams is nursing a shoulder injury and will not be available for a minimum of 2 Tests. I do not want to talk about how India will miss Sehwag, because everyone has talked about it, every knows about it, everyone has an opinion about it, and for once, hardly anyone has an opinion contrary to the popular one!

As a result, England gain significant advantage in the opening combination. Strauss may have been out of form in recent times, but his contribution has been more than made up for by his vice-captain and opening partner Alastair Cook. He is having the time of his life, and will be India's biggest threat at the top. As for India, Gautam Gambhir (returning from an injury himself) will now have to show the true worth of his leadership role in the team by guiding a young Abhinav Mukund at this big stage. Though Gambhir has moved on to captaining India in some ODIs, he has never commanded a big leadership role in the Test side, mainly due to the presence of some high-profile seniors. Now is the time to take on that role more seriously, and bring out his best... because in England, there is no doubt that he will be tested.

While the Indian middle order looks more impressive on paper, the English middle order is about on par when it comes to form. Trott is in a small lean phase, but he has been a run machine. Pietersen seems to be coming out of his lean phase that he encountered a year or so ago. Bell is in tremendous form himself, and Morgan is ready too. For India, Dravid is showing positive signs again and though Sachin is making a comeback to cricket after some break, he is expected to continue his golden run of 2010. Laxman is playing as well as he ever has and Raina, as I have mentioned, is showing the fight in him. In the keeper-batsman's role, Prior trumps Dhoni. The latter has not been able to play a Test innings of great significance for quite some time now (about 5 Tests).

As we come to the bowling, it gets interesting. Anderson and Zaheer are the main men and leaders of the attack. Skill-wise, they are similar. Zaheer is slightly more experienced of the two, but his fitness will be in question. Tremlett and Ishant Sharma are similar back-of-the-length bowlers who get good bounce due to their height. Both have shown a lot of promise in the recent past. Broad / Bresnan make the English pace attack a tad bit uni-dimensional... all right arm pacers - one swing bowler and two hit-the-deck-hard bowlers. With Praveen / Sreesanth, India's attack has more variety - one left arm swing bowler, one right arm swing bowler and one hit-the-deck-hard bowler. The attack is completed by off-spinners. Swann is currently the best spinner is the world, but he will be up against batsmen who play spin better than any other middle order in any team, arguably in any era! Harbhajan has, in recent times, been subject to immense criticism, but to his advantage will be the fact that he will be bowling to batsmen who are not entirely comfortable against spin.

There are shower forecasts on all five days of the Lord's Test. So even if they are scattered showers, I think it will be safe to assume a draw would be the most probable outcome there, unless we witness a batting collapse. India, slow starters on away tours, will have to guard against such a collapse.

The second Test is to be played at Trent Bridge, Nottingham. This was where India sealed the only result of their previous tour to win the series 1-0. A result is expected here too... and though most people think that the bowlers will decide the result here, I believe the contrary. In my opinion, the batsmen who guard their wicket the best will win here. The bowlers will have help almost all through. So the onus will be on the batting units to do that extra bit.

Before the Third Test at Edgbaston, India will play a two-day practice match against Northamptonshire. It will give a chance for reassessment of strategies, testing bench strength and recovering niggles. Therefore, I expect the best contest of this series to take place at Edgbaston, Birmingham (the 2003rd Test match, all the hype around the 2000th notwithstanding)... and yes, I expect a result here too.

A lot of people, including some English cricket followers, say that The Oval Test will result in a draw, making it two out of two draws in London. However, if Sehwag gets into the team and acclimatises himself by then, I wouldn't be surprised to see a result there too. With Sehwag's inclusion, the 'time factor' in a Test match has a different context attached to it, whether or not he clicks. If you don't believe me, ask Graeme Smith in the context of Cape Town 2011!

Now don't ask me to predict a series result. Since I have predicted three match results, the most likely scenario would be 2-1 either way. I would be very surprised if it goes 3-0 one way or the other!

In the build-up to this series, I have been surprised by the fact that there has been very little comparison drawn to this tour with the South African tour late last year. Or maybe there have been enough parallels drawn, but I expected more!

For one, both series' have put India's title as No. 1 Test team in the world on line. After all, a 2-0 or a 3-1 win for England will propel them to the top! Apart from that, India goes in to the First Tests not well acclimatised, though we did have the luxury of a tour match this time round! India will yet again be facing a bowling attack that can be considered superior to theirs in conditions of the hosts. The batting units of both the hosts are similar and in form too. Both hosts want to test the Indian batting of fast surfaces. And as if all this were not enough, the captains of both the hosts are left-handed openers, whom Zaheer Khan would love to bowl at!

However, unlike the result in South Africa, I am hoping for an Indian victory over here. I don't know how many will agree, but I think the English in England are a slightly easier prospect than the South Africans in South Africa! The added experience of having won the Test series on their previous tour here should help the Indians along. England, on the other hand, have not beaten India in a Test series since 1996 - the same series where Ganguly and Dravid famously debuted together.

So as the Test match no. 2000 descends upon us tomorrow, with an equally-enticing prospect of Tests no. 2001, 2003 and 2004, I am just delighted to be amongst those who will have the privilege of watching it live. I may well get the chance to watch the 3000th and maybe even the 4000th, but the first milestone is always the most special one. And given the surroundings and the setup of the 2000th, it will be hard for the future 1000s to beat this one. Lord's, we are waiting...