Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It's a team game, Sachin

For the record, that's one more of Tendulkar's big ODI knocks in vain. How many of those have there been in recent times? One too many, I guess. Okay, the team lost a couple of early wickets - although 36 for 2 in an ODI is not really a crisis - but to go on till the 46th over at a strike rate of 69.23 will lose the game for the team most times. Such a 99 is pointless, from the team's point of view. It's possible the team could have got bowled out cheaply if Tendulkar had fallen earlier in trying to accelerate. But it would have given the team a better chance of victory if he had set his sights higher. After all, the point is to win the game, not reduce the margin of victory. Even the 'Wall' Dravid went at 79.56 and Kallis got his 91 not out at 78.44, and he saw the team home - something Tendulkar does rarely. It was strange to hear the cricket pundits in evening TV shows lamenting our lack of bowling resources, and the fact that Tendulkar did not bowl! In fact, the bowlers did remarkably well to take the match into the last over despite having only 242 to defend. And it was an extra bonus to have the spinners doing well in conditions more suited to seam bowling. The Piyush Chawla googly that did Gibbs in was very nice. No, it wasn't Tendulkar's bowling that was missed as much as his normal attacking self, which he seems to have abandoned in favour of hanging on at the crease these days.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Beg, borrow, steal

Mickey Arthur, the South African coach, has made a few interesting observations about the Indian pace attack of Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth and Agarkar. He feels they all have the skills to pick up early wickets, in the kind of helpful conditions they will find in Ireland and England, but they are inadequate when the ball gets older and in the 'death' overs. He doesn't explain why, but it's probably got to do with their lack of height and inability to get the ball up sharply into the batsman's chest for variety. Anyway, Mickey's asking his top three batsmen to be more circumspect than usual, and have more of a go later in the innings. I think that's a good strategy in general on Irish and English pitches, and since India does not have a coach, Rahul Dravid would do well to pay heed to the South African!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Mutual back-scratching club

I picked up Mukul Kesavan's Men In White, after reading the glowing tribute to it in Outlook by Ramachandra Guha. Then in the book I found Kesavan's glowing references to Ramachandra Guha's book! Anyway, I still read Men In White, and here's my review (which also appears in DNA Sunday)...
Reading Enid Blyton, waking up at 5 a.m. to catch cricket commentary on Radio Australia, and cutting & pasting pictures from Sport & Pastime: Mukul Kesavan's Men In White takes the 40-plus reader on a nostalgic trip to a time when cricket formed a part of growing up in a way that is different from now. Kesavan tends to romanticise this, although the main difference was that there was no TV, which meant the poor fan had to rely on the often biased and ill-informed radio commentators.
The nostalgia is sweet, nevertheless, and older readers will be drawn to it like moths to a flame, at the outset. A chapter or two later, unfortunately, the confession on the book's jacket, that it's an armchair piece by somebody whose topscore was 14 in neighbourhood cricket, turns out to be more than a tongue-in-cheek self-deprecating throwaway line. Not that you have to be a Gary Sobers to write about cricket – or a Greg Chappell to coach India, for that matter – but perhaps more of a first-hand feel for cricket, or some other ball game, might have given the writer better insight into the game than is apparent in the book.
Of course, going by his many glowing references to Ramachandra Guha’s A Corner Of A Foreign Field, Kesavan obviously intended his book to be as much social commentary as about cricket. Another reason for this is his vocation, because when he isn’t writing about cricket, Kesavan teaches history at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi. Whatever the genesis, the book seems to fall between two stools, neither providing much in the way of fresh insight or interesting anecdotes about Test cricket as a game, nor going deep enough into its sociology or history to use cricket as a backdrop against which to view society.
His fan’s point of view is also ambivalent. The book’s jacket proclaims that “his self-professed credentials for writing about the game are founded on the spectatorial axiom: distance brings perspective”. And yet, in the book, he writes witheringly of the modern Indian spectator: “Not having played in years (or ever) he has no understanding of the contingencies that can turn a match, no first-hand experience of defeat… Seduced by the tidy perfection of televised cricket, failure, in his book, is inexcusable.” Instead of blaming the fan for not being more tolerant of failure, it would have been more worthwhile to look at the mismanagement of India’s most popular sport, which has now reduced us to such a sorry state that nobody wants to coach our team – John Buchanan, Tom Moody, Graham Ford, and even John Emburey having said ‘no, thanks’. Only the highly successful Dav Whatmore said ‘yes’, and our board showed him the middle finger!
Coming back to Kesavan’s Men In White, it covers the whole gamut of topics that come up on the sports pages – the effect of the camera on umpires, Gilchrist going against the Aussie grain by ‘walking’, how skewed the one-day game is in favour of batsmen – with his own takeaways such as this one about how to improve one-day cricket: “Just as there are no artificial restrictions on the number of balls a batsman can face, there should be none on how many a bowler can bowl.” He misses the difference that the batsman ceases to bat if he gets out, whereas the bowler can complete his quota of overs even if he gets smacked for a six.
Some of Kesavan’s asides are more interesting, such as pointing out the hypocrisy that’s become a matter of course in cricket. A batsman is not viewed as a cheat if he stands his ground after getting a nick, but a fielder who claims a catch off a grounded ball is considered plain dishonest, for instance. He also challenges the “Anglo-Australian definition of a ‘sporting’ wicket”, which is often taken for granted. “Why a pitch that turns from the first day is bad is not clear. Why this is worse or more unfair than a pitch where the ball bounces throat high or swings like a banana from start of play is even more obscure,” Kesavan writes. But, like a lot else in the book, the observation is on the dot, without moving the issue forward by really looking into the whys and wherefores.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Non-stop merry-go-round

I'm looking forward to seeing the newcomers in action in England. Not much to look forward to, though, because the only new faces are Rohit Sharma in the ODIs and Ishant Sharma and Ranadeb Bose in the Tests. Rohit, being a middle order bat, is unlikely to get a game unless somebody gets injured. So that's that. Ishant and Ranadeb have more of an opportunity and they might grab it too in the favourable English conditions for swing bowlers. Maybe that's why the selectors thought it would be pointless blooding a young batsman like Rohit Sharma in Test cricket. But then it was at Lord's that Sourav Ganguly established his place in the Indian team with a century, and Rahul Dravid almost got one on debut in the same match. Of course, thay had had a few years of success in domestic cricket before that. Pity we have no new batsman to project on the England tour this time, and this is symptomatic of the mismanagement and decline of Indian cricket. We keep going round and round and the same players keep getting dropped and coming back: Gautam Gambhir, Wasim Jaffer, Ajit Agarkar, VVS Laxman...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What next, Mr Gavaskar?

I sort of anticipated Sunil Gavaskar would trip up Whatmore (What more do we want?), given his antipathy towards Australians ever since his playing days, when Lillee's abuse got under his skin and almost made him abandon a match. But what happens now? Do Gavaskar and Shastri take the responsibility for the fiasco that the coach selection has turned into? No, and that's the problem in our system. There are any number of people influencing decisions, but when it comes to fixing accountability, there's just no clarity. And perhaps that's the way the board likes it.
Look at the coach selection committee. If Chappell turned out to be such a disaster, how come the same experts - Gavaskar, Shastri and Venkataraghavan - are called to select the next coach? What do Gavaskar, Shastri or Venkat have to lose if the wrong choice is made? The board needs full-time, paid counsellors and selectors, not part-timers who have other pre-occupations.
On top of that, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid want to have a say in the appointment. I can understand Dravid being given a hearing because as captain he takes the rap for the team's performance as much as the coach. But Tendulkar is an interested party, because one of the difficult tasks for a new coach will be to watch the performance and fitness of Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman and Kumble, and decide if they're contributing enough to winning and team-building.
With so many fading stars, anybody willing to take hard decisions will not be welcome, and yet that's just the sort of coach and selectors that India needs.

Cricket is delicious

Here's a news report that suggests Cambodians are lapping it up: "They’re considered a plague in most parts of the world, but for a province in Cambodia, the millions of crickets that swarm the plains every year are a cause for celebration. In rural Kompong Thom, crickets are a delicacy, served up deep-fried, crunchy and seasoned. Some Cambodians believe eating crickets regularly improves health and longevity and the region is the country’s leading cricket producer as its watery soil helps the insects flourish. "They taste very good and I like to eat them everyday," said Gnoun Vanny who regularly buys the bugs for family dinner. Crickets, like most insects, are rich in protein and some research suggests they help lower cholesterol."