Tuesday, June 21, 2011


It's not quite Test cricket... but it's the closest a lot of cricketers who deserve to play Test cricket will get to Test cricket!

The ICC Intercontinental Cup is about to begin in less than an hour from now (weather permitting) at Aberdeen, as hosts Scotland will try to overcome a stern challenge of the Netherlands. Scotland finished as the runners-up, losing to Afghanistan in the finals, in previous season (2009-10) of this tournament, which is the only place where the players from Associate and Affiliate nations of the ICC get to play First Class cricket as a part of their national team.The limited-overs leg of the tournament will also run alongside the First Class matches in the 2011-13 season. The first round fixtures are:

I would like to see more teams, in further rounds, do what Kenya and UAE have done - that is, schedule the Limited Overs leg before the four-day First Class match. It will be beneficial for the away team this way. But more than anything else, I am most interested in seeing how Afghanistan copes up with the pressure of expectations this time round.

Afghanistan had a dream run last time, winning 5 matches and drawing 1 to a Zimbabwe XI. They started with a draw against the Zimbabwe XI, and then had a close 1 wicket win over the Netherlands. It was more convincing after that as the three-time defending champions Ireland was beaten by 7 wickets, followed by a 6 wicket win over Canada. Former champions Scotland was then thrashed by 229 runs, and then Kenya too was thrashed by 167 runs. In the finals against the Scots, they prevailed again by 7 wickets, despite being 41 runs in the deficit after the end of the 1st innings in a low-scoring game.

They are on a 6-match winning streak at the moment, and it will be interesting to see if they manage to extend it against Canada early in August. Afghanistan came in playing their first Intercontinental Cup in the last season, and ended up winning it. They were, to an extent, a surprise package last time. But the teams will be better prepared to face them this season, and if any team had made the mistake of taking them lightly last time, it will not happen again!

I hope there is some good quality cricket played in this season of the Intercontinental Cup, and I will definitely be keeping an eye on all the matches and results. If anyone knows where I can get the streamings or the video highlights of these matches, please do let me know.

Monday, June 20, 2011


When Rahul Dravid starts his 151st Test match in a few hours from now at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica, he will be doing so on the day he completes 15 years in international cricket.

On 20th June 1996, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly walked out to the cricket field as India's 206th and 207th Test players. Incidentally, it was also the last Test match of the great umpire Dickie Bird! Ganguly got his chance to bat on 21st June in the evening, but Dravid had to wait till the next day.

When he did get his chance, he fell agonisingly short of a Test century on debut at the Lord's cricket ground. Kumble recalls that Dravid was disappointed at having missed that hundred, and hopes he gets a Lord's hundred when India tours England next month.

But next month is way too far ahead. It is today (or tonight as per Indian time zone) that is a great moment. It would be fitting if he were to get a 100 to mark this day.

A lot of words have been written about him, his match-winning knocks, his attitude, determination and what not! I will never be able to match the cricket writers who have showered him with all the duly deserved poetic praises, much like his batting when in full flow... but in my own small way, I want to salute a great servant of Indian cricket!

He may not have a lot more time left to play for India... and his batting now may not be what it was once... but his contribution to Indian cricket shall never be forgotten. After winning the World Cup, Dhoni remarked in his press conference about the contribution made to the team by the former players like Kumble, Ganguly and Dravid. In a way, it was a salute to a remarkable generation of cricketers that India is unlikely to ever see again, and Rahul Dravid was a big part of it!

Not a lot of people got up this morning knowing that this day marks 15 years of Rahul Dravid's international cricket career, and a number of them may even sleep tonight without realising it. It's been like this throughout his career. Most of his accomplishments have come quietly. And quietly yet again, Rahul Sharad Dravid will take guard in Sabina Park...


The Wimbledon Championships will begin in a few hours from now - the 125th edition! The oldest tennis tournament in the world began way back in 1877, incidentally the same year when Test cricket was born. A quick look at the Wikipedia article on the 1st edition of the Championships reveals a curious connection with cricket.

"The tournament began on July 9, 1877, but due to the scheduling after the Semifinals had concluded on July 12 play was to be suspended until July 16 due to the Eton and Harrow cricket match at Lord's. The final was further postponed from Monday July 16 at 4 p.m. to Thursday July 19 at 3:30 p.m. because of rain. It was still showery, so the final began an hour late, at 4:30 p.m."

A lot has changed over the first 124 editions... but a lot has remained the same as well! A beautiful piece of writing on the traditions of the Wimbledon Championships by the unmatchable Rohit Brijnath (pointed out by Sidvee) is a must read for those who have ever followed the Wimbledon Championships.

As the 125th edition is set to begin with the Gentlemen's Singles defending champion Rafael Nadal starting the Centre Court proceedings, the focus will be on a lot of players across various disciplines.

Gentlemen's Singles

1st seed - Rafael Nadal (Spain)
2nd seed - Novak Djokovic (Serbia)
3rd seed - Roger Federer (Switzerland)
4th seed - Andy Murray (Great Britain)

The top-4 seeds are undoubtedly the best 4 players in Men's Singles tennis today. 3 of them played in the semi-finals of the last edition of the Wimbledon Championships. The one who did not feature in those semi-finals is the one whose name is etched on the glittering golden Cup no less than 6 times.

In the last Grand Slam played, on the red dirt of Paris just a month back, all four of them featured in the semi-finals. They have been consistently the best performers in the ATP tour, and there is no reason why we cannot have a repeat of the semi-finals line-up of Roland Garros 2011. In fact, there is no reason why we cannot have a repeat of the results of the last 3 matches of Roland Garros 2011, since the draws permit it to happen!

From the article by Rohit Brijnath that I have mentioned above, I'll quote this: "Federer will see the champions’ board and convince himself he owns this turf, Rafael Nadal will know he owns Federer, Novak Djokovic will believe he owns the tour." He makes no mention of Andy Murray, despite his win in the Aegon Championships, and it's not difficult to see why. His tendency to lose the nerve in big matches is always counted against him!

While the focus will undoubtedly be on the top-4, the others in the draw who will be worth keeping an eye on, in my opinion, are the 5th seed Robin Soderling (Sweden), 8th seed Andy Roddick (USA), 12th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and 31st seed Milos Raonic (Canada). The focus will also be on the first round match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut because of their record-breaking, energy-sapping 11 hour 5 minute encounter at the same stage last year.

Ladies' Singles

1st seed - Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)
2nd seed - Vera Zvonareva (Russia)
3rd seed - Li Na (China)
4th seed - Victoria Azarenka (Belarus)

In complete contrast to the Men's singles draw, I do not expect great performances by any of the Women's top-4 seeds. Maybe Zvonareva and Azarenka might make it to the last-4, but I do not expect either of them to win the Championships.

Caroline Wozniacki's game still does not look like a Grand Slam-winning one to me, and Li Na should be mindful of the fact that the French Open champion in 2010, Italian Francesca Schiavone (7th seed here), made a first round exit in the Wimbledon Championships of 2010. Schiavone, the French Open runner-up this year, should herself be mindful of the fact that last year's French Open runner-up, Australian Samantha Stosur (10th seed here), also bowed out in the 1st round last year.

The focus in Ladies' Singles will undoubtedly be on the defending champion Serena Williams, seeded 7th, and making a comeback after not just a career-threatening, but a life-threatening health scare. Venus Williams, seeded 23rd, will also be keenly watched... the two sisters have won 9 of the last 11 Ladies' Singles titles, and there is a good chance that it becomes 10 of 12 this year.

Apart from the Williams sisters, the only other Wimbledon Ladies' Singles champion in the current draw is the 5th-seed Russian Maria Sharapova. She has had a decent 2011 thus far, and a semi-final appearance at Roland Garros should give the 2004 Champion the confidence to put up a good challenge at SW19 this year.

Gentlemen's Doubles

1st seed - Bob Bryan (USA) and Mike Bryan (USA)
2nd seed - Max Mirnyi (Belarus) and Daniel Nestor (Canada)
3rd seed - Mahesh Bhupathi (India) and Leander Paes (India)
4th seed - Rohan Bopanna (India) and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi (Pakistan)

While the Bryan brothers may be the best team in Men's Doubles tennis in the world by a long margin, their record on the Wimbledon's grass is less impressive as compared to their records elsewhere. They have been the Champions just once here (2006), though they have also been runners-up thrice here.

Nestor won the title here with Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia in 2009 and 2008, whereas his partner Max Mirnyi has just the runners-up performance of 2003 to boast of. Incidentally, that 2003 run to the finals was in partnership with Mahesh Bhupathi, who will be looking for his 2nd Wimbledon Men's Doubles title after his 1999 title, also win in the company of Leander Paes.

For the Ind-Pak Express of Bopanna and Qureshi, a 4th-seed here just shows how far they have come together in this journey by playing Men's Doubles tennis together. While most people will remember their run to the US Open finals last year, most forget that it all kind-of started here for them last year, when they reached the Quarter-finals (their first Grand Slam Quarter-finals) and lost to the eventual Champions Jurgen Melzer (Austria) and Philipp Petzschner (Germany), who have continued their pairing and are seeded 5th here.

Ladies' Doubles

1st seed - Vania King (USA) and Yaroslava Shvedova (Kazakhstan)
2nd seed - Kveta Peschke (Czech Republic) and Katarina Srebotnik (Slovenia)
3rd seed - Liezel Huber (USA) and Lisa Raymond (USA)
4th seed - Sania Mirza (India) and Elena Vesnina (Russia)

The defending champions and top-seeded pair of King and Shvedova will be confident, particularly in the absence of the Williams sisters from the draw, who have won 4 Ladies' Doubles titles here. Huber (2 titles here) and Raymond (1 title here) will also be fancy their chances.

Srebotnik has the experience of making it to the finals in 2007, while her partner Peschke has only ever reached a Grand Slam finals once in Women's Doubles - the US Open last year. Similarly, Vesnina has the experience of a finals appearance last year, while Mirza has only ever reached a Grand Slam finals once in Women's Doubles - the recently concluded French Open.

The 14th seed pair of Cara Black (Zimbabwe) and Shahar Peer (Israel) will also be strong... given the record of Cara Black on these lawns - 3 Ladies' Doubles titles (2 of them with Huber).

The Indian Challenge

The Indian contingent in the Championships this year is strong. While not much is expected of Somdev Devvarman and Sania Mirza in Singles, there is quite some expectation from the Indian Express and Indo-Pak Express in the Gentlemen's Doubles. Even the 4th-seed Ladies' Doubles pairing of Sania Mirza and Elena Vesnina has had a good season together thus far, though I do not expect a lot out of them.

The Mixed Doubles seeds and draws have not yet been released, but the defending champions last year were Cara Black and Leander Paes. Paes and Bhupathi combined have 5 Mixed Doubles titles here and 2 Runners-up titles. So expect a good Indian challenge in the Mixed Doubles as well.

Last Word

The 125th edition of the Wimbledon Championships promise to be every bit as special as all the other editions have been. While we had the epic 11 hour 5 minute match last year, the Men's Singles finals of the 2 years preceding it were also epics, the 2008 one being more than just epic!


It's been a long time since I wrote here... more than 2 months. The break was partly forced and partly self-imposed. But now that I get back to this blog, I realise how much I missed it... the blogging, commenting, tweeting, the entire package!

Since I last posted, a lot has happened in the world of cricket and other sports. In India, the IPL started, dragged along, and then finished, taking up almost 2 months of the calender. Yet, the champions remain unchanged as do the teams that qualify for the Champions League. After that, a youthful Indian side went to a Gayle-less West Indies, and won the Twenty20 and ODI series. On the administrative front, the BCCI v. DRS standoff continues. I will be writing a detailed post combining all my previous opinions on DRS soon.

The Sri Lankan cricket team is in England, fighting hard to gain something out of the Test series, while their Board is trying to convince the BCCI to send the Indian players to the SLPL. The English cricket team is, in the meanwhile, looking well-oiled and ominous for Indian fans. But there are certain chinks, as are bound to be in the best of teams!

The West Indies Cricket Board and Cricket Australia are involved in two different, yet similar standoffs. Chris Gayle and Simon Katich. "If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys" - that's the case in Cricket Australia. "If you have monkeys, you cannot expect much wisdom" - that's the case with the West Indies Cricket Board.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Cricket Board continues to head the peanuts-monkeys scenario, with Ijaz Butt clearly the leader. The removal of Shahid Afridi and his temporary retirement, before fighting for his right to play cricket elsewhere in the Twenty20 format also made big news.

In South Africa, Gary Kirsten is the new coach and AB de Villiers the limited-overs captain. In New Zealand, cost-cutting is the word! The only Test-playing nation that has been relatively quiet with their cricket news over the last two months is Bangladesh... but then, that is how they have always been!

In football, the Champions League finals were played at the New Wembley, with Barcelona prevailing convincingly over the English champions, Manchester United. Though a Man-U follower myself, there is no denying that Barcelona is currently the best club in Europe, and it will take a super-human effort to beat them in their current form in a big match.

The Formula One news is all Sebastian Vettel! In 7 races, that boy has 5 wins and 2 second-place finishes! To think that it could have been 6-1 had it not been a final lap error at Montreal is just amazing! But Montreal did show that he does feel the pressure. And he is prone to making mistakes too. As the bandwagon moves to the European continent, McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari will take heart from that Jenson Button victory in their efforts to fight back and close in the gap!

In Tennis, the Djoko-streak was broken by Federer, who was in turn broken by Nadal, who clinched his 6th French Open title. As the Wimbledon kicks off today with Rafael Nadal opening the proceedings on the Centre Court, the Gentlemen's Singles offers the most mouth-watering prospect of quality tennis, as the top-4 seeds look in great touch. The Indian presence too is quite strong in the Men's Doubles and to an extent, in the Women's Doubles.

Back to Cricket...

As the England - Sri Lanka Test series comes to an end today with England trying hard to press for a 2-0 win, the West Indies - India Tests will begin on the other side of the Atlantic. India's next 7 international matches will be Tests... and that is partly why I chose precisely this moment to get back to the blogosphere.

Though a Zaheer-less India may struggle a bit against West Indies, my mind goes back to a similar Zaheer-less India that won the Third Test in Sri Lanka not too long ago. I wonder if Praveen Kumar will get a chance to make his Test debut... it would be nice if that happens! And even though Virat Kohli is more or less certain to make his debut, which is a very promising development in India, my heart also goes out to Cheteshwar Pujara, who misses this tour because of an injury suffered during the IPL.

A hectic sporting season awaits... and I am delighted to be back!