Jun 272011
 
 June 27, 2011  Posted by at 5:41 pm Series Reviews Tagged with: , , , , ,  3 Responses »

Few people associated with the Indian Cricket scene are as reviled as Greg Chappell, the former Australian batsman and captain, later the coach of India preceding over a disastrous World Cup in 2007. In fact the only other person who has been despised more is probably Mohammed Azharuddin in the aftermath of the match-fixing scandal.

Chappell took over the reins of coaching the Indian team in May/June 2005 after John Wright’s long and successful stint. John Wright, it must be remembered, forged a combination with Sourav Ganguly that helped take India to the finals of the 2003 World Cup, and pushed India up the test and ODI rankings. Under his tutelage and Ganguly’s leadership Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman became the architects of many groundbreaking victories (2001 Eden Gardens, 2002 Headingley, 2004 Adelaide), Virender Sehwag became the first Indian to score a test triple century and the Indian batting order morphed into the juggernaut that it always had the potential to become.

Tracing the Roots

During the halcyon years of the Wright-Ganguly partnership, two tours stand out: India in Australia in 2003-2004, and India in Pakistan in 2004. During the former everybody expected Australia to stomp over India. However what took most fans by surprise and changed the tone of the series was the very first match – a rain-marred drawn fixture at Brisbane. The match featured a stunning innings worth 144 runs of counterattacking brilliance from India’s captain, Sourav Ganguly. The innings was surprising because it came from the least expected link in the Indian lineup: prior to the series the batting hopes had been pinned on Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar. Ganguly was seen as an asset on the team more as a captain who could bat rather than as a pure batsman. It was before this innings that Ganguly took some suggestions on playing on the bouncy Aussie wickets from Greg Chappell. Chappell was a legendary left-handed batsman in his day and his advice to Ganguly proved invaluable.

Convinced that Chappell would be of immense help as a coach, Ganguly proved to be the catalyst in hiring Chappell when Wright retired. And so Chappell started amidst a lot of fanfare in a role that must rank as one of the toughest in all of Cricket.

Continue reading »

Jun 052009
 
 June 5, 2009  Posted by at 11:58 pm Sports Tagged with: , , ,  2 Responses »

In the history of sports there have been a few incidents where a hand has been dealt in a rather unusual manner

  1. The most famous such incident of course, was Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal in the 1986 FIFA World Cup Quarter Final in Mexico against England. The goal was the first of two made against the English (the second was an equally memorable goal, often dubbed the “Goal of the Century”). Maradona acknowledged 19 years after the incident that he had deliberately hit the ball with his hand and knew it was illegitimate, but the goal still stands. The England fans have never forgiven him for this transgression.


  2. Three years later in a different sport, Michael Chang was playing Ivan Lendl in the 4th round of the French Open at Roland Garros. Lendl was the reigning World #1 and Chang was the 15th seeded 17-year old upstart. Lendl comfortably took the first two sets 6-4, 6-4. Chang then started suffering from severe leg cramps. That is when he changed his strategy. He started killing the speed of the ball and started repeatedly lobbing them to the baseline (moon balls) and generally unsettled Lendl. This way he managed to win back the next two sets 6-3, 6-3. Then, serving at 4-3 in the final set, Chang suddenly hit an underhand ball (a perfectly legitimate way to serve, if you are wondering) that had a typically calm Lendl become atypically flustered and the World #1 eventually lost the point and his temper.

    I was trying to break his concentration. I would do anything to stay out there.

    Michael Chang, about the match

  3. The third incident, was chronologically the first among the three that I have listed. This happened in the 3rd final of the World Series Cup of Cricket at the MCG on 1st February 1981. This involved serial troublemaker Greg Chappell and his brother Trevor. New Zealand required 15 runs off the last over and had 4 wickets in hand. Greg tossed the ball to Trevor and the first ball was belted for 4. Trevor picked up Hadlee LBW the second ball. That brought Ian Smith to the crease, while Bruce Edgar was at the non-striker’s end, batting on 102. New Zealand 7 for 225, with 11 runs needed off the last 4 balls. Smith picked up a couple of 2s off the next two balls, bringing the equation down to 7 runs from 2 balls. Then he was bowled. This brought tailender Brian McKechnie to the crease with 6 needed off the last ball to tie. That was when Greg advised Trevor to bowl underarm, to ensure that the six couldn’t be hit. The incident triggered massive outrage among players, fans and officials alike and underarm bowling was outlawed after that.

    Quotes about this incident:

    No, Greg, no, you can’t do that.

    Ian Chappell, during the match commentary


    Fair dinkum, Greg, how much pride do you sacrifice to win $35,000?

    Ian Chappell, in a newspaper column after this incident.


    It was an act of true cowardice and I consider it appropriate that the Australian team were wearing yellow

    Prime Minister of New Zealand, Rob Muldoon

Apr 252009
 
 April 25, 2009  Posted by at 1:47 am Sports Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

It so happened that during my fourth year at IIT there was an ODI series between Australia and Zimbabwe – a classic case of ruthless extermination, if there was one. In the second match of the series at Harare on 23rd October, 1999, with Damien Fleming bowling to David Mutendra (the No. 11 batsman), Steve Waugh decided to try his mental disintegration and packed the slip cordon with 9 fielders (the maximum possible):

Fleming With Nine Slips

Australia vs Zimbabwe - 9 slips (If you know the source let me know)

This was the first and to date only time that such a field setting has been employed in ODI cricket. On the day after this match I recall the Times of India reporting this incident and stating:

Such a tactic had been used earlier in a test by Greg Chappell against New Zealand. At that time the bowler was Dennis Lillee and the batsman was not a tailender, but the top order batsman Glenn Turner.

This tidbit became a rage with trivia buffs and people would ask you to identify the batsman and the bowler from this picture:

Lillee With Nine Slips

Australia vs New Zealand- 9 slips (Source: Wisden Asia Cricket, July 2003)

The answer, as I always knew, was Glenn Turner and Dennis Lillee. Then I started subscribing to Wisden Asia Cricket in April 2003. The July issue of the magazine had the above picture and the following story as recollected by Lillee himself:

Australia were playing New Zealand in the second test at Auckland in 1977. We were heading for an easy win with more than two days to spare. It was the centenary year and Greg Chappell was about to bring out his book, ‘The 100th Summer’. He had a photographer standing by for the right opportunity, and when their No. 11, Peter Petherick the offspinner, came out, Chappell called all the guys in. I ended up bowling to nine slips, but it was a pretty poor ball. As you can see, Marshy [Rod Marsh] had to go down the leg side to collect. I was trying too hard I suppose. Petherick wasn’t the greatest batsman in the world, but I didn’t get him out for a while that day.

So the answer should have been Dennis Lillee bowling to Peter Petherick! I realized almost four years late that TOI had been misleading.

I have seen several instances where newspapers (and reputed journalists) get their facts wrong. The Times of India is notorious for this. I recently read the film reviewer Nikhat Kazmi claiming that Slumdog Millionnaire was set to become the 4th highest grossing movie of all time worldwide, while the truth is that it was/is nowhere in the top 100.

Indian journalists are notoriously lax in their research, perhaps taking Indian readers for granted. Maybe that is why plagiarists run amok in the Bollywood music industry, because if the journalists did their homework properly and branded every plagiarist a cheat, things would be so much better.

Mar 302009
 
 March 30, 2009  Posted by at 9:07 am Pinched It, Sports, Take a Bow Tagged with: , , , , ,  No Responses »

I had written about Nadal and Federer at this year’s Australian Open, applauding the spirit displayed by Nadal after his victory. Today I came across an article in the Guardian (yes, I read all the British and Australian newspapers whenever India does well in Cricket, just to see what other countries think of it) that talked about the author’s top 10 favourite sporting gestures on the field. While a few readers have commented that Nadal’s act should have made the list, I was happy to see Andrew Flintoff consoling Brett Lee figure in the top 10 – that was something I had appreciated in my post.

I will be keeping my posts short till 24th April. The 7-day work weeks clubbed with a work-related repetitive stress injury has severely hampered my capacity to write here or to work on Aquoid.

Ciao.

Feb 242009
 
 February 24, 2009  Posted by at 12:51 pm Sports, Take a Bow Tagged with: ,  2 Responses »

I had promised as far back as December 2007 that I would pay a tribute to India’s retiring generation of cricketers. I never really blogged much after that promise, until the start of this year. As a result I more than missed the bus. 2 of the 5 cricketers I had hoped to profile have already retired and another is under immense pressure to perform. In any case by the time this “Fab Five” retires India will have pretty big shoes to fill, hence the inevitable void.

If you know me personally you are probably aware of my passion for cricket. And if you don’t know me personally, here are 3 things I should tell you:

  1. My stated hobbies on Orkut include “memorizing cricket statistics”
  2. You can find evidence of the above in some questions that I post on Cricinfo.
  3. Even without a dish antenna here in the US, I manage to follow every ball bowled in every match that India plays, thanks to the Cricinfo commentary. I avoid sopcast, mind you, so Cricinfo commentary and my extremely fertile imagination help me create the whole picture in my mind quite effortlessly. In addition I follow every international match that takes place, though not necessarily ball by ball.

Anyway, back to the point. The cricketers I am going to talk about are:

  1. VVS Laxman
  2. Anil Kumble
  3. Sourav Ganguly
  4. Rahul Dravid
  5. Sachin Tendulkar

I initially set out to pay my tribute in a single article, but then I realized that of late consulting has affected my brevity and I have been writing pretty long articles. So I split this out into 5 different posts. Hope you like it.

The first player I will talk about is VVS Laxman.

Some good players raise their level of play to a stratospheric level when faced with a tough opponent. Laxman is one such player and the opponent he likes so much is Australia. Though people remember him for the epic 281 at Eden Gardens, he has a lot of noteworthy innings.

  • 167 in Sydney against Australia, 2000 – This innings should have given the Australians ample warning about things to come. Though India lost the match by an innings, Laxman’s 167 was breathtaking. More importantly his score was almost 64% of India’s total of 261 – something that fell marginally shy of breaking the oldest record in cricket – the one that Charles Bannerman set in the very first test by scoring 165 out of Australia’s 245, a whopping 67.35%!!
  • 281 at Eden Gardens, Kolkata against Australia, 2001 – The innings of a lifetime! Australia had won 16 tests on the trot, crushing India in the previous test by an innings. Here they set up a solid 445 in their first innings and bundled out India for 171. Following on, when India lost its first wicket, in an inspired move captain Sourav Ganguly sent Laxman in at one down – a position typically occupied by Dravid. Then India lost 3 more wickets, including those of Tendulkar at 115 for 3 and Ganguly at 232 for 4. India still needed 42 runs to make Australia bat again.

    What followed was the stuff of dreams. Dravid joined Laxman at the crease and the 5th wicket partnership lasted a whopping 376 runs. The pair batted throughout the fourth day and thoroughly wore out Australia on a hot and humid summer day in Kolkata. The sad part was Laxman missing out on becoming the first Indian to make a triple century on the 5th morning. But the battering was so severe that Harbhajan Singh and the Indian spin attack played havoc. And quite incredibly, Australia LOST!!

    I remember sitting at the office during the last half hour of the match, unable to concentrate. One of my good friends, Ashish Goel called up his home, asked his wife Alankrita to put the phone’s receiver near the TV, then switched on the speakerphone at his desk. And all of us shared the thrill of this spine-tingling victory.

    There have been only three instances in the history of cricket where a team following on has won a match. Australia has been at the receiving end in all three and this was the third instance. This match had such a profound impact on cricket in general that teams have been very reluctant to enforce a follow-on ever since.

  • 154* at Kolkata against West Indies, 2002 – This was in the third innings of the match, after West Indies had built a first innings lead of 139. India was in the danger of being bundled out for a poor score after being 4 down for 87. Laxman joined Tendulkar in the middle and took India to safe shores. India managed to draw the match.
  • 148 at Adelaide and 178 at Sydney against Australia, 2003-2004 – Two big centuries, two 300+ partnerships and an utterly frustrated Australia. By this time Laxman was a permanent fixture in the test team and his confidence was sky high. These innings were sublimely beautiful. The Adelaide innings came when India was in a tough situation. Again his partner in crime was Dravid, but this time Laxman played the supporting role. The Sydney innings was in Tendulkar’s company. Tendulkar had adopted a monastic approach, leaving any ball outside the off stump because of his dismissals that series. But Laxman had no such reservations and he delighted in feasting on the Aussie attack.

Laxman seems to derive sadistic pleasure in tormenting Australia. 6 of his 13 test centuries and his top 4 scores are against them. Most of the time he is a delight to watch – wristy, aggressive and with an array of strokes to rival the best. He has somehow not made much of an impact on ODIs, though 4 of his 6 centuries are against Australia in this format as well. Some of his ODI innings are remarkable too, like his 103* at Brisbane (against who else, but Australia!) and his 107 at Lahore against Pakistan in a match that helped us win the historic ODI series.

He has always been a stable influence on the middle order and is an expert on extracting the most from the tail. He also works excellently in tandem with Dravid. With his teammates being more high profile Laxman often doesn’t get the credit he deserves mainly because he bats so far down the order. I forever will remember him for one thing. 281.

Status: Still strong in tests, but out of ODIs.

Next up: Anil Kumble

Mar 112008
 
 March 11, 2008  Posted by at 3:26 pm Pinched It, Sports Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

At the end of the Commonwealth Bank Tri-Series Cricket tournament in Australia in March 2008, there was a hilarious comment posted on the website of an Australian newspaper:

Securing the services of Matt Hayden: $375,000
Securing the services of Ricky Ponting: $400,000
Securing the services of Andrew Symonds: $1,350,000
Making these Australians eat their own words in their own backyard – Priceless
There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else there’s BCCI.

- Comment by “Sagar”, Melbourne Herald Sun
Apr 062007
 
 April 6, 2007  Posted by at 8:31 am Sports Tagged with:  No Responses »

Reams of newsprint have been expended on India’s recent Cricket misadventures. I resolved to keep myself away from making any comments, but felt inexorably drawn towards breaking my resolution. Well, anyway, the straw to break the camel’s back has indeed landed on the camel’s back, so let me get started with it already.

A few issues keep popping up and that make me believe that this whole drama is more due to misrepresentation of facts in some media reports, misreading of media-reports in some other cases or reading a bit too much between the lines in a few others. I will cite two articles here:

  1. The prediction of Chappell’s report to the BCCI
  2. The report on Tendulkar’s rebuttal

Quoting from the first:

From all accounts, Chappell’s report, due to be submitted to the board before April 6, will be scathing in its criticism of the attitude of the senior players including Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh. It is learnt that Chappell, and some members of the board, believe that the return of Ganguly, and later on Tendulkar’s captaincy aspirations, had a destabilising effect on the team, forming groups within the eleven and perhaps stifling the growth of some of the younger cricketers trying to make a mark.

As a direct fallout of this report, most of the cricket fans in India went up in arms against one party or another. Some people went about rubbishing Chappell for his high-handedness and others wanted to consign Tendulkar to a similar fate for his poor form over the past few years. But the operative phrase in the report was “From all accounts, Chappell’s report, due to be submitted to the board before April 6, will be scathing in its criticism of the attitude of the senior players including …”. Did Chappell’s report on April 6 actually do that? I will address that shortly.

What happened next? Tendulkar spoke out to the press and said (from the second link above):

“Again, it’s not that we are defending ourselves. We do realise that we played badly and, as a team, we take full responsibility for that. But what hurt us most is if the coach has questioned our attitude.”

Again, the operative word here is “if”. Tendulkar never said anything about having a bad day or even about having a rift with Chappell. His only remark was that if the coach questions his attitude, he will be hurt.

The rest of the report is speculative:

His statements come in the wake of reports that many members in the team have rallied together against Chappell and Dravid and want Tendulkar to take up their case to the board. Cricinfo had reported on the crisis in the team , one largely owing to the rift between Chappell and the senior players, and Tendulkar’s statements reinforce the players’ stance.

I don’t see any comments by Tendulkar in the entire article making any allusion to a rift or to players asking him to pick up cudgels on their behalf. So isn’t this a case of reading too much between the lines? I think a lot of people let emotions override their thought process and jump into hastily formed conclusions, causing massive misunderstanding – something that never gets corrected. The press is a major reason for this, because it tries to sensationalise irrelevant bits of news with attention-grabbing headlines, then leaves the fire simmering. I guess this incident will go the same way.

Jul 032006
 
 July 3, 2006  Posted by at 4:05 pm Sports Tagged with: , ,  1 Response »

Disclaimer: I mean no offence to baseball-lovers. The following is my attempt to explain some quirks of cricket by drawing parallels to baseball.

One of my stated hobbies on Orkut is “Memorising Cricket Statistics”. This may seem weird. Hell, it is weird. But it is fun. I guess it follows as an extension of liking both, cricket and numbers.

Most of my American friends find it difficult to understand an Indian’s obsession with cricket, the same way most Indians (and in fact, most non-Americans) find the attraction of Americans to baseball quite queer. To a bystander it does often seem funny that cricket is a game where you could play a match over 5 days and still not have a winner!

The Other Laws of Cricket
You have two sides, one out in the field and the other in the clubhouse. Each man that’’s in goes out, and when he is out he comes in and the next player goes in until he is out. When all the players are out, the side that was out comes in and the side that was in goes out to get those players that are coming in out. Sometimes players are still in and not out. When a player goes out to go in, the players who are out try to get him out, and when he is out , he goes in and the next player in comes out and goes in.

There are two men called umpires who are all out all the time, they decide when the player who is in, is out. When both sides have been in and all players are out and both sides have been out twice after all the players have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game.

Now do you understand cricket? To avoid complicating matters more, we haven’’t got to the ““silly mid on”” and ““sticky wicket” scenarios.

What, then, is the reason that a country of over a billion people obsesses over cricket? The reason is hard to pinpoint, though I believe that it is because individual brilliance in a team game is never showcased better than in cricket. Football (not the American breed) is the quintessential team game. In cricket, though, more often than not you have outstanding individuals in ordinary teams.

Then there is a question of skill. I know next to nothing about baseball, hence given my rudimentary understanding of the game baseball experts might find my knowledge of their game as superficial as a layman’s understanding of cricket. The little that I know of baseball tells me that you have to thump the ball as far as you can and run like your life depends on it. Cricket is different. Often it is not about thumping at all.

Douglas Jardine: Like most batsmen I can play one or perhaps two different shots to any given ball, whereas Bradman can choose between four or five.

Percy George Fender: Oh, he doesn’t choose. He just plays the first shot that comes into his head. But he has no technique. Now he can get away with it on those true hard Australian wickets. But put him on one of our green strips, with Morris, seaming the ball late… Oh no, he is too unorthodox. Now take the third test in Melbourne. On at least three occasions the ball was short-pitched, screaming out to be hooked. He played a cover-drive.

Douglas Jardine: At least two of those balls went for four. That is the power of Bradman. He’s learnt that the batsman’s sole objective is to score runs and he’ll play whatever shot, unorthodox or not, which best fulfils that purpose. It makes it almost impossible to set a field to him.

- From Bodyline – The Mini-Series

Every game is about scoring runs and getting the opposition down. Bradman happened to be the best batsman ever, but there have been several players for whom the above statements hold true. Now, would it be possible to say the same in a game like baseball? That is not to say that baseball-type slogging isn’t a part of the batsman’s repertoire in cricket. You do have some pretty brainless heaving exhibited by players like Shahid Afridi which would not be out of place in baseball.

There is, then, the whole different aspect of bowling. The very fact that you get to pitch the ball before it reaches the batsman opens up a new vista of options that would be quite out of place in baseball. You could have a bowler bowl really fast, the way you would ideally like to pitch in baseball and you could have the classic art of spin exhibited by slow bowlers to fox batsmen. Personally I like the sight of a menacing fast bowler sending down a thunderbolt to a batsman and the batsman promptly dispatching the ball to a corner of the field.

Greg Thomas was bowling to Viv Richards in a county game. Viv missed a superb outswinger, and Thomas said “It’s red, round and weighs about 5 ounces.”
Next ball Viv hits Greg Thomas out of the ground and replies, “Greg, you know what it looks like. Go ahead and find it!”

Running between the wickets is akin to running between the bases in baseball, I guess. But often it can lead to hilarious results due to a breakdown of communication on the field. Records of players like Inzamam-ul-Haq and Sourav Ganguly tell their own tales in this aspect.

“Bomber” Wells, a spin bowler and great character, played for Glocuestershire and Nottinghamshire. He used to bat at No.11 since one couldn’t bat any lower. Of him, they used to paraphrase Compton’s famous words describing an equally inept runner.

“When he shouts ‘YES’ for a run, it is merely the basis for further negotiations!” Incidentally, Compton was no better. John Warr said, of Compton “He was the only person who would call you for a run and wish you luck at the same time.”

Anyway, when Wells played for Gloucs, he had an equally horrendous runner as the No.10. During a county match, horror of horrors… both got injured. *Both* opted for runners when it was their turn to bat. Bomber played a ball on the off, called for a run, forgot he had a runner and ran himself. Ditto at the other end. In the melee, someone decided that a second run was on. Now we had *all four* running. Due to the confusion and constant shouts of “YES” “NO”, eventually, *all* of them ran to the same end. Note – at this point in time, the entire ground is rolling on the floor laughing their behinds out. One of the fielders – brave lad – stops laughing for a minute, picks the ball and throws down the wicket at the other end.

Umpire Alec Skelding looks very seriously at the four and calmly informs them “One of you buggers is out. I don’t know which. *You* decide and inform the bloody scorers!”

Harold “Dickie” Bird’s From the Pavilion End

While the batsmen and the bowler are in the thick of the action, the fielders too have their part to play. I don’t think catching the ball in baseball does the batter any harm (or does it?). In cricket it surely does. So a napping fielder often gets a good hiding from the bowler.

Fearsome English fast bowler Fred Trueman extracted an edge from the batsman, which flew straight into the hands of Raman Subba Row at first slip. The ball however went right between Row’s legs to the third man boundary. Fred didn’t say a word. At the end of the over, Row ambled past Trueman and apologised sheepishly. “Sorry Fred. I should’ve kept my legs together”. Trueman retorted in classic fashion “Not you, son. Your mother should’ve!”

Perhaps more than in any other game, the most thankless job is that of the umpires. Not only have the poor souls have to stand and watch an entire game, they also have to listen to at least one appeal each over (which makes it a good number of them in the course of a match) and then have each of their decisions scrutinised very thoroughly.

Lot of our appeals against the New Zealand players were turned down. Chandra in particular had a really bad time with a lot of legitimate decisions going against him.
He finally bowled the batsman out and turned to the umpire, “Howzaaaat?”
The umpire said, “He is bowled”.
Chandra’s reply was a classic, “I know he is bowled. But is he out?”

- Sunny Days by Sunil Gavaskar

The humour, though, is not restricted to the field. There can be a fair bit beyond the field too.

Jack Crapp, who was born on 14th October 1912, played seven Tests with reasonable success but is best known for the amusing, and possibly apocryphal, story of a misunderstanding with a hotel receptionist. When Crapp reported to the front desk, he was asked “Bed sir?” Presuming he had been mistaken for Alec Bedser, he replied, “No, Crapp.” The receptionist duly directed him to the first door on the right.

Well, this article has been the most unfit among the lot with the subject, “Eloi and Morlocks”. So what was my real motivation behind writing it? Nothing, I guess I just wanted to rant against baseball and show how cricket stands out in spite of or because of its idiosyncrasies!