Sunday, February 15, 2009

Reviving the blog...

Well, I am trying to revive this blog - which could not be updated because of reasons of unavailability, busy work/study schedule and admittedly, a lack of interest in doing so. But, as newer issues and various events over the past two months have got me back to hooking myself into cricket, I shall make them well known soon.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Musings of an Irate Mumbaikar

"Dekho Dekho Dekho Kya Hai Mumbai..."

"Rukti Na Yeh Chalte Jaaye Mumbai..."

"Haare Naa Yeh Jeete Meri Mumbai..."

"Lakhon Ko Yeh Paale Aisi Mumbai..."

"Bharat Ki Yeh Shaan Meri Mumbai..."

This is usually how my day begins, with Taufiq Qureishi's drums and Vijay Prakash's soothing vocals taking over the lyrics. And, if you ask me how it ends these days, "Oh man ! Mumbai is a crap team, when we have Harbhajan Singh and Ashish Nehra, how the hell are we going to win matches ?". Thats not all, there is a burning desire to just take the next flight from Delhi, land into the newly-furnished Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport and drive straight to the Wankhede Stadium, don the blues and take the field. Even as I am writing this post, and Gilchrist is doing a Barry Bonds by smacking a home run every delivery, there is a resigned fate on the face of the Mumbai "Indians" (as much as anyone, I do not approve of this name). But, its now been four times in a row now and for a team that fetched the highest amount in the franchise auction, I must admit, it is turning out to be an investment in vain.

Having said that, is there a connect between the city and the team ? How can it be, when eleven of your local stars are plying their trade elsewhere - for example, a Mumbai-fan has to take efforts to know who Siddharth Chitnis is, as it appears, nothing more than a rookie offie who hasn't done much to show. Compare that with the more experienced Ramesh Powar, who is with Mohali these days, unfamiliar territory indeed for someone who's grown up on the docile wickets of Khar Gymkhana. Similarly, Ajit Agarkar - who might well be SRK's best budget buy, and Rohit Sharma, who was himself flummoxed when he was supposed to don the shade of light brown instead of the blues. And who do we have instead ? People, who have no association to Mumbai, do not know the city's cricketing culture and even, the spirit of the city. Harbhajan Singh, who seems like Tendulkar's best-mate after the great man saved his backside following the Symonds issue, and what do Mumbaikars get from the temperamental offie ? A slap. Robin Uthappa, a Bangalorean is still okay. You then have an Ashish Nehra, who is still remembered for that one spell and his endless list of injuries. It was a big risk to take, especially on someone who hardly played any cricket all season.

Harbhajan Singh's slap on Sreesanth is not just a slap on Indian cricket, but a bigger slap on the city he's representing. Sachin Tendulkar, despite being provoked time and again over his career span, prefers to raise his bat and time it down the ground for that illustration we prefer watching over and over again. Cricketers in Mumbai, might have their eardrums filled with "Bat and pad close together", but never with "Haathala Uthavun Kanakhaali De". In the past, Mumbai cricketers and captains have always felt proud to wear the lion-crest, but this time the sudarshan chakra is flying where it is not supposed to. They ensured that with power and position, came a responsibility, a big one. Harbhajan, with his innocuous past carries no credibility in captaining this team. But when you're Sachin's best crony - things become a lot easier.

To blame this team for the depths of insipidity they have achieved would be a little too unfair, but even before things began on the cricket field, the auction room was where the mind-games were won. And to pick a team which consisted largely of Sachin loyalists wasn’t surprising but given that every team in this competition would have picked a winning combine – Mumbai lagged far behind on that front. They seemed adept in extending that large pampered family within the national set up, and at the same time picking some strange have-been choices in Sanath Jayasuriya and Shaun Pollock. The affluenza did not begin or end with Sachin Tendulkar, but almost seemed like an epidemic, when Harbhajan did not shy away from bringing down his buddies in Dominic Thornley (team-mates at Surrey) and Nehra. In many ways than once, it was a doomed strategy – one that lacked conviction and smelt of mediocrity at best.

On the leadership front, Mumbai were found wanting again. Tendulkar’s groin injury has not helped their cause, but it is his smart way of dealing with the situation that has. When Niranjan Shah, the BCCI Secretary, proudly announced that Sachin will not be fit for the Kanpur Test, but will play in the IPL – the buzz-birds had their final say. But, with four games in, Tendulkar has defied the worst conspiracy theorists. It was the moment for him to come out, and battle hard, but he chose to stay away to prevent further damage. If not now, then when ? If Mumbai are out of title contention by mid-May, will we be in a position to put up with the “He was preserving himself for the international commitments” crap ? MS Dhoni, displayed immaculate leadership when he chose to keep wickets to Murali and Jacob Oram despite a bruised finger. He meant business.

At the end of it all, Mukesh Ambani must realize that money cannot win you trophies. Money could have done something only if he invested it in the right players. Let’s admit, Mukesbhai, you were wrong this time. No one will remember if Mumbai or the then Bombay won 37 Ranji Titles, for it fails to match the aura of the IPL. Mumbai fans will ultimately come to terms with the fact that, their team was not built for winning, but to keep two men satiated.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

An event, in search of the process...

A defeat in sport can be a good lesson for everyone involved. It is the benchmark of where you as a team or an individual, were, are and can be. It is also an opportunity to turn things around and put up a brighter performance in the next outing. With the Indian cricket team though, a defeat is a reminder, if not a reflection of the way the game has forever been in the country's history - an event and never a process. What brings me to describe Indian cricket this way is the glorified importance we in the media give to sporadic victories here and there.

Great teams are great teams because they manage to achieve a percentage of unmatched consistency. That is perhaps the differentiator, if not the USP of a great team ! In football, to win a league, teams need to win a larger chunk of the matches and come May, the team with maximum wins is more often than not crowned champions. This is precisely why the Indian cricket team and by and large, the way cricket is run in India baffles me. Has India dominated world cricket on the pitch consistently for a period of time ? You do not become World No. 1 by winning a one-day tournament in Australia. With my vivid knowledge of Indian cricketing history, I can't think of a definite period when Indian cricket has risen to the ranks of the modern Australian team to achieve the sort of consistency and dominate the game per-se. Ajit Wadekar's team of the early 70's tried to, but before they could pr0gress further, the 1-os soon got reversed. They won the World Cup in 1983, when Kapil Dev's men conquered the West Indies, only to lose the home series 3-0 to the same team almost immediately thereafter.

We sung the praises of this Indian team in Australia, and fairly so. They managed to raise the levels when it mattered, especially after being subjected an early thumping. The way we finished off the tour by polishing the hosts in the one-dayers could have suggested something more, perhaps a higher level that India could have striven to achieve. But, as we are used to it by now, complacency has always been Indian cricket's 12th man. Before South Africa even arrived in India, Anil Kumble must have licked his fingers about the prospects of grabbing twenty wickets in a series yet again, only to realize that South Africa, through their repeated travails to the sub-continent have become far better equipped to handle spin bowling than any other non-Asian nation. If not that, from a team perspective, it would have been just a case of - wear the whites, cross the boundary line, turn up, pick wickets and pack your bags with the trophy within our grasp. And with the bigger balloon, the IPL floating above the players' heads, it was not surprising that they had their minds elsewhere when they were subjected to facing a recharged Dale Steyn and Co.

A team aspiring to be world champions in all forms of the game, will be willing to compete irrespective of the surface, opposition and conditions. They will not succumb to external pressures, instead focus on the job in hand. Thats what South Africa seem to be like these days. Having spent a year on finding the right combination that could win in all conditions, Mickey Arthur and Graeme Smith have finally managed to put the jigsaw pieces together and form a unit that has results to prove its ability. They won in the dustbowls of Pakistan, had answers to questions that the meek Bangladesh posed of them and now the win in Motera. The way the South Africans have managed to apply themselves and finally come out on top is a lesson for teams like India to see. South Africa, thus have turned out to be the most consistent team since the start of the 07-08 season, now on course to winning their fifth consecutive Test series, previously having overcome Pakistan, New Zealand, West Indies and Bangladesh. This is perhaps the march to being World Number 1 and not winning the twenty20 World Cup, beating a hapless Pakistan team at home, losing 2-1 to Australia and now, a test down to South Africa.

What India need from here on is perhaps establishing a process, a roadmap of sorts that will take them to the destination they desire to reach. Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid meticulously followed the catchphrase - the "process" but unfortunately, it was reduced to nothing short of a mockery by the Indian cricket media, where the word became a way to marginalize Chappell and his vision. Gary Kirsten has a job in hand, most certainly. The process needs to be brought up all over again, keeping in mind the long-term ambitions of the team at large.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Not obnoxious after all !

The hue and cry over Matthew Hayden's comment has reached its optimum - perhaps keeping in line with the theme of the summer - anything coming from the mouth of an Aussie must be treated like Al-Jazeera's coverage of the Iraq War. A tad obnoxious to begin with. As a matter of fact, in my previous post - I talked about how Harbhajan Singh has been elevated to this epitome of Indian racialism or the Indian truth - but I wonder why no one is talking about his performances in Australia, which have been below par for all the sympathies he has been getting from the public and the jingo media. Thats where the coverage goes crooked - no one is willing to question his place in the team ? Why ?

In a Hindi channel recently, one of the experts pointed to the fact that Muttiah Muralitharan has been himself struggling to bag wickets in Australia. So, it is assumed that Harbhajan struggle too ? What has he done after landing in Australia ? Picked wickets ? Or made slanderous or libelous statements against the Australian team or some persons in particular ? What was that all about ? And what does he get ? A lucrative IPL contract from a man who heard him foul Symonds from the other end ! As an Indian myself, Harbhajan is almost an irritant. If you are in your senses, you wouldn't want him to succeed and pick wickets. An obnoxious character indeed.

We rejoiced his apish celebrations in the Canberra game - but why didn't anyone question it ? Did the Sri Lankan fans do abuse him ? They wont. They are the nicest set of fans to watch cricket with. Yet, the man has the heart, or the lack of it to put his tongue out and go on a savage bush-run. To sound frank, it was supererogatory.
Again, obnoxious - for the jingos, it must have been something gratifying - the onset of a new Indian team that doesn't bother to tow the line where it is needed.

So Haydos, I am with you on this - you hit the nail on the head when you called him a "little obnoxious weed." Well done mate. Someone had to do it one day, keeping in mind his nuisance value to the Indian team.

PS: I am not racist, and neither is the statement.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Ushering a new domestic tournament

Last year, in May, I happened to visit Sidath Wettimuny’s house at Queen’s Road, Colombo. During my brief 45-minute chat with the man, he came across as a grand visionary, someone who knew what exactly Sri Lankan cricket lacked and also promised to fill the gap, if given the chance. And indeed, he did as the SLC decided to shake-up the interim committee.

The first signs of Wettimuny’s immediate influence has been seen when the SLC decided to go ahead with a more regionalised form of the domestic one-day tournament. He told me in May ’07, “Well, Venkat, if I get the chance, I will do something about our domestic structure. I hope to create an identity for teams, something that every young Sri Lankan kid aspires to play for.” And that’s how the Basnahiras (North & South), Wayamba, Khandurata and Ruhuna were formed. Well, to translate, Basnahira refers to Western Province, Khandurata is Central Province, Ruhuna is Southern Province and Wayamba is Uva Province. The names have changed and perhaps have given the tournament a more local flavour, which was lacking earlier. A lot of Sri Lankan corporate houses and conglomerates also chipped in to rake in the moolah for this dream turning into a reality. The crowds didn't quite pour in, but it still is a start.

Chaminda Vaas captains Basnahira-North, which to the best of my Colombo geography must cover areas like Negombo, Ja-Ela (where Dilhara Fernando hails from) and Wattala (Vaas’ hometown) while Basnahira-South, led by Tillekaratne Dilshan comprises of players from the Colombo-City/South-Colombo Districts of Panadura, Ratmalana.

Is provincial cricket the way forward for Sri Lanka ? Kumar Sangakkara gives his verdict in his column for Cricinfo. Muttiah Muralitharan also told me in the affirmative, when I asked him during an interview, he said, “It looks like it. Provincial cricket is the only way our cricket can move on.” Ranjit Fernando, the global voice of Sri Lankan cricket, also reckoned it would do wonders for Sri Lanka if they sustained this tournament.

In a way, provincial cricket is a necessary evil for Sri Lanka. As Wettimuny reckoned, “There are about 144 votes with the clubs here. And everyone who wants power, registers their clubs just before election.” This model gives Sri Lanka only six teams vying for the honours instead of the 20+ clubs that play the first class competitions. Also, the best players from the clubs qualify for the Provinces – so there is no below-par talent playing. And most importantly, the sheer experience of rubbing shoulders with and against the likes of Kumar Sangakkara, Muttiah Muralitharan, the Jayasuriyas and the Jayawardenes would only enrich the youngsters or the fringe players.

It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Sri Lanka Cricket have identified the right sort of format to take their cricket to the next era. Personally speaking, there is a lot of talent in the island-nation, but unless it is given the right sort of opportunity and the platform, things cannot take off. For a start, the administrators have struck a positive note – the problem though is, to sustain the good show.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Impressive India !

"What a win !", that was my first reaction after India pulled off a deserving victory at Perth. Events at Sydney might have just spurred them, but it was a thorough cricketing performance that won them the game, and not emotions of outrage or revenge.

Firstly, winning the toss and batting first was a bold, bold decision at Perth - going by some of the devilish pitch-games played by the ever-so-hostile Australian media. Now, having won the toss - they had a job to do that is to bat well and they did put up a reasonable performance. Runs on the board was always the key and 330 was not a bad score to be honest, especially with two inexperienced Australian openers. And then, keeping the Aussies to around 220 was an admirable effort.

Secondly, the hosts played like saints and not their usual sinners image. There was less noise behind the wicket, except for the odd "C'mon Symmo" chant from wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist. Shows the amount of difference a week can make to a team whose image was tattered to pieces among their own populace. And this makeover, I hope came at the right time. The sledging went out of the book, and all one could see were smiles exchanged. I have not seen a more naive Australian side in the past 10 years. That won't please John McEnroe one bit.

Thirdly, we saw the young Indian bowling attack come of age. Irfan Pathan might have just swung the game for India and as much as Ricky Ponting seems touchy on this subject - Australians have a problem against quality swing bowling. They lost the Ashes in 2005 to Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff rather than Ashley Giles' mundane left-arm-over-the-wicket line. RP Singh's stint with Leicester early in the English summer seems to have helped him mature into a dependable bowler and not to forget the most improved bowler on view - Ishant Sharma. The vicious spell he bowled against Ponting was critical and it was a refreshing sight to see an Indian bowler make a the world's best batsman look like a first-class debutant. Ponting hopped, skipped and jumped and at his own admittance, claimed that "I was not good enough to see through his last over". Way to go, Ishant !

Lastly, before I forget - one of my close friends remarked the other day that India have picked up this recent trend of performing on responsive wickets. I could'nt agree with him more. Johannesburg 2006, Delhi 2007 and now Perth 2008. Now, the key is to pick 20 wickets on really barren - rather "unresponsive" tracks and prove that they weren't a flash in the pan at Perth. Adelaide will probably bring some back nostalgia of the previous tour, but emotions should be kept at check as India must remind themselves that there is a Test match to be won.

Friday, January 11, 2008

This is so not cricket...

I don't quite know if it is right for me to indulge in writing such posts, but controversy has been the theme of the week and I don't quite mind indulging into one myself.

It was almost that all those media throries came knocking on my doors again. Call it lack of objectivity or sensationalism or even for that matter selective reporting, the reportage of the Sydney Test highlights each of these factors. There were plenty of things that were forgotten - especially India's bad batting. Barring two players in the media, there was hardly any highlight of what was a rather abject Indian surrender. It was almost that Steve Bucknor became the most hated personality in India after Narendra Modi, Mark Benson playing Jinnah and Harbhajan Singh was worshipped as if he was the apostle of all truth in Gandhi. This bullcrap is going on since a week and everytime I switch on the TV sets or read the newspapers, all I see is some erratic statements coming from India's new Shakespeare - Sharad Pawar or his comrades.

Why can't Indians also be racists ? If you ask me, we are racists of the highest order. How does one justify calling our fellow Indians from the North East as "chinkis - to suggest their mongoloid features or triple (a popular term in Mumbai derived from Triple Schezwan)" or for that matter, even using offensive terms against the minorities ? We still do live in the class mentality, where an upper-class Brahmin beats a Dalit almost to death when he tries entering a Temple ? Our famous perverts rape foreign tourists with an assumption that we are a superior race to the famously referred Goras. These sort of issues baffle me, not what Harbhajan said or did not say on the cricketing pitch. There is an acute sense of hypocrisy that prevails through the Indian mind when it comes to racism. Perhaps, they don't yet know what it means. What is even more surprising is the clean chit we give ourselves as not being a "racist state". I mean, there is this entire feeling of "Oh, how can we Indians ?" when it comes to being called racist.

The scope of analysis in the Indian media has stooped to a bad low that one of the news channels actually had the guts to balance Nayan Mongia with a man of such high repute as Shashi Tharoor, cracking the year's first big joke. There is a big wave of self-pride that has crept in and everyone has forgotten that the Indian batsmen failed to play 70 overs to save their backsides. That was the bottomline. Had they drawn the game confidently, would the media be crying foul ? Doubt so. And to the best of my modest cricketing knowledge, they had no business to surrender as haplessly as they did with just two overs to go. People argue about why did they slump to 210/7 (umpire's fault) and I answer, with three wickets in hand and not being able to bat out 2 overs is a crime. And then we have primetime shows on mainstream english channels with questions like "Should India withdraw the tour ?", "Are Australia playing fair cricket ?". And then a barrage of highly opinionated Indians wasting their time and money on sending SMSes to these television channels. What began as a stupendously serious effort on the part of the media to create public opinion on the issue, took an ugly trivial turn. Why ? Chomsky's first filter. The enormous or awesome power of the media to influence the public on an emotive issue is most certainly a good way to earn a healthy revenue. So what looked like a serious issue was dumbed down horribly to suit the media's needs. Audaciously enough, one of India's oldest newspapers carried their SMS poll results to justify the BCCI's actions, claiming "We told you so. Thank you readers." What sort of bullhockey was that ?

And then the other question that has crept up gradually - who runs cricket - the BCCI or the ICC ? Its a fairly complex issue to be honest. Indian cricket has grown beyond its sporting self to become a commodity, something like the Premier League in Football. So, its fantastic to come up with terms like "Hell yeah ! Money Talks man". Sharad Pawar, also the Union Agricultural Minister, talks about pulling out of the Tri-Nations in Australia if Harbhajan Singh is not exonerated of the racism charges against him. Thats like holding someone in ransom. I mean, who knows what exactly happened. Cricket must go on, and irrespective of whatever happened, the game is a mammoth compared to one individual. And none, I repeat none of the Indian media have even thought about citing a similar instance that happened in the West Indies, where Dwayne Bravo accused Graeme Smith of racially abusing him in 2005. Both of them were let off after inconclusive television evidence. Instead of constructively pursuing what could be an important precedent in the Bhajji affair, all they did was to go after personalities a la Bucknor, Benson, Procter and Ponting.

Is bastard a racist word ? Whoever asked the Indian manager to look up the dictionary and pronounce it to the media. That was something uncalled for. The unsporting crowds at the Wankhede Stadium often resort to using the term in an outrightly derogatory manner, but is there any action taken against them ? And why are we justifying what Harbhajan said or did not say, the term "monkey" - and for all you, who don't know about racist chants - MONKEY is a racist term irrespective of the usage and the sport. Or, as conspiracy theories are flying all over, I am tempted to defend Harbhajan by saying that "Ponting cant score a run of him to be honest" and thats something the Aussies have often used against people they don't quite dominate. On the other hand, it would be easier to say that the Aussies target players with acute temper problems, and Harbhajan falls under that category for sure.

This cannot be the cricket I knew, watched and wrote about. What we need to remember is that there is a Test match to be played at Perth and we need to come out of the psychological shell of persecution and denial and play some hard cricket. Everyone knows whatever happened at Sydney, but it is only fair to suggest that India go out and vent their anger, frustration in the middle and not at ICC meetings in Dubai. And the turn of events over the last week has unfortunately and unfairly increased the already existing burden of winning a match on this tour. It's only a matter of time that the breeze blows the other way and if India fail to put up stronger performances, the same who stood up will desert them.