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.

Initial Successes

Things weren’t all bad when Chappell started out. It is an oft forgotten fact that he was the coach when India strung together a remarkable record of 17 successive victories while chasing in ODIs, starting from September 2005 and running up to May 2006. India won ODI series at home very handsomely against Sri Lanka (6-1) and England (5-1) and trounced Pakistan in Pakistan (4-1). In tests the showing wasn’t very good: 2-0 against Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe, 0-1 against Pakistan in Pakistan, 1-1 against England in India and 2-0 against Sri Lanka in India. One test result worthy of mention was the 1-0 victory over West Indies in West Indies: India’s first test series victory outside the sub-continent in a country other than Zimbabwe in a long time. The other test achievement of note was the 2-1 defeat against South Africa, where India managed its first test victory on South African soil.

Premonitions of a Debacle

What the sensational 17-match chasing streak successfully hid however, was a simmering discontent in the team. There were reports that all was not well between Chappell and the seniors of the team. The strife within the team and the management was hidden for the most part by the victories, but cracks in the team’s capabilities on the ODI front were there for critics to see. It was chastening to lose 4-1 to West Indies, and a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of South Africa was all the more humiliating.

However, with some token victories India landed in the Caribbean for the World Cup in 2007 tagged as one of the tournament’s favourite teams.

The Tipping Point

All issues of infighting and conflicts aside, matters came to a head after India suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Bangladesh in its very first match in the 2007 World Cup. This resulted in putting a lot of strain on the team in its last league match against Sri Lanka, and India spectacularly crashed out of the World Cup in the first round for the first time since 1992.

As a post-mortem Chappell prepared a report slamming eight seniors in the team for not allowing younger players to grow: Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Harbhajan Singh, VVS Laxman, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Ajit Agarkar.

At this point things boiled over. A player like Tendulkar, who is well-known for his frustrating levels of equanimity, felt compelled to express hurt at Chappell’s insinuations. And in India if Tendulkar says something against you, you might as well leave the country or create a new identity for yourself and start afresh in life for, his fans will not let you live in peace.

The Backlash

If the board is happy with a coach, it tries to retain him when his contract comes up for expiration. Chappell’s contract ended right after the World Cup and neither did the Board consider renewing it, nor did he request an extension. Indian fans, who aren’t exactly renowned for moderation, tend vacillate between extremes of adulation and castigation. During his spat with Ganguly he was vilified in Bengal (Ganguly’s native state) and by Ganguly’s supporters, and yet he found appreciation in other places in India (where people felt less charitable towards Ganguly). However, after the debacle in the World Cup an abhorrence for his methods spread across all of India. The dislike worked both ways – while an Indian fan hit Chappell on the back in Bhubaneswar, Chappell returned the gesture by allegedly showing his middle finger to the Kolkata crowd from the team bus (he didn’t deny showing the finger, but claimed that the media maliciously misinterpreted what he did).

While most of India was up in arms against him, the rest of the world looked on in bemusement wondering what the fuss was all about. And quite expectedly Australian cricketers and fans did jump to his defence.

The Chappell Dossier of Offences

Chappell’s failure as a coach stemmed from several corners, primary among which was poor man-management. Of course, there was ego too, but the Indian team wasn’t really low on that front.

A Clash of Personalities

The most notable fight that Chappell picked was with Ganguly, the man responsible for hiring Chappell. There were several leaked email transcripts highlighting how Chappell wanted Ganguly out of the team. The Board, toeing the line Chappell had drawn for them, first stripped the captaincy off Ganguly, then yanked him out of the team. This was of course compounded by Ganguly’s loss of form. But compelled by cricketing and non-cricketing factors Ganguly had to be brought in again. However the damage had been done.

Of course, to have a “clash” you need to have two personalities. Ganguly, having been at the helm of affairs for so long felt he deserved some slack to help him recapture his form, but Chappell would have none of it. The result was, obviously, quite a lot of bad blood.

Breach of Confidence

Chappell and his staff struggled with keeping things to themselves. Private conversations between players and the team psychologist would become matters of public record. From an interview with Sehwag in 2009:

PTI: And Greg Chappell wasn’t quite like that? He also tried to change your batting style?

Sehwag: He had his view on my front-foot play, my footwork. The thing with him was that whatever you shared with him, it was promptly disclosed to media and selectors. He talked and that hurt the trust. I wasn’t comfortable with him.

PTI: He made you visit psychologists. The most uncomplicated of batting stylist was made to curb his instincts?

Sehwag: I never went alone to psychologist Rudi Webster. In a session with Webster, we all had our chunk of time. I am one who believes that if you open up your thoughts to someone you trust, you feel lighter and thus better. But I found out that Webster couldn’t keep things confidential.

Making matters worse were Chappell’s open criticisms of the team members. These typically happened after defeats, and often were handed out “off the record” as juicy nuggets to the rabid media. He had also been accused of breeding his own coterie of journalists to whom he would leak out any story of any player who expressed any sort of dissent towards his methods.

Mixed Signals

The biggest fallout as a result of Chappell’s team-development plan was Irfan Pathan. An enthusiastic young bowler who could bat a bit, Irfan had made a very strong impression in Pakistan in 2004 under Wright-Ganguly. The Pakistan coach and former batting legend Javed Miandad had disparagingly said prior to the series, “Your Irfan Pathans are in every gully and mohalla of Pakistan. We don’t even bother to look at them”. The test series obviously showed that Pakistan was to master the art of playing their own gully and mohalla players, as Pathan picked 12 wickets at 28.5 in the series, only bettered on either side by Anil Kumble.

A couple of years later India again visited Pakistan, but this time under Chappell-Dravid. In a sensational first over in the third test at Karachi Irfan became the first bowler in the world to take a hat-trick in the first over of a test. And, quite curiously, this match showed that all was not well with him. By the end of the match he and the entire Indian bowling attack was panned for being totally unthreatening with the ball, and within the timeframe of one match Irfan transitioned from an ace bowler to the gully-mohalla player of Miandad’s appraisal. In the meanwhile, Chappell tried to actively transform Irfan from a bowler into an all-rounder by making him bat at different positions. Towards the end of it all, Irfan couldn’t find place in the team either as a bowler or as a batsman.

Fostering Instability and Insecurity

A lot of other established players started having their places in the team questioned on a daily basis. The BCCI policies forbid players from airing current grievances in public, so anything that came out did so via the grapevine. Several players recounted their troubles later.

Sehwag mentions in the same interview linked above:

PTI: You cut your teeth under Sourav Ganguly. He was the one who made you an opener?

Sehwag: Yes, it was in Sri Lanka I hit gold in the third match with that blistering century off 69 balls (against New Zealand). A lot of youngsters, including me, came to the fore under Dada. Remember, when he took over world cricket was reeling under the impact of match-fixing.

He always backed us. For instance when I was Man of the Match against Australia early in my career, he assured me that I would play in at least next 30 one-day matches. Even when he promoted me as an opener, he told me to bat without worry as he wouldn’t touch me for the next 30-35 games.

When your captain backs you in this manner, your confidence is sky-high. He was also an extremely aggressive captain.

More criticism of Chappell flowed from other players, notably Harbhajan Singh, who rarely got along well with him:

(Under him) our mind was not working properly. He put a lot of doubts in my mind and in other players’ as well. That you know you are not good enough.

Lot of things were happening and we were not happy with lot of things.

He (Chappell) just wanted to say whatever he felt and didn’t want to listen.

As told to the Times Now channel

Another player anonymously said:

Give us a foreigner, give us an Indian, give us anyone but him. Chappell was a great player, he’s a brilliant batting coach, but he has not done any good for this team. He has no respect for the players and looks to blame one of them any time the team loses. A coach is supposed to give the players confidence, not create insecurity in the team.

And then there was Zaheer Khan’s latest salvo:

It was as if you’ve been framed. It was like “We don’t want you in the team. It’s not about performance, we don’t like your attitude, you’re stopping the growth of cricket in the Indian team”. I felt it personally because I was dropped straight after the Sri Lanka tour, even though I had not performed badly.

As a part of an aggressive chop-and-change policy a well-functioning batting order was changed innumerable times. Well-playing members of the team were “rested” to try and blood younger players. The stated reason was the formation of a core for the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, never mind that the frequent rotation created an alarming instability in the team and the team didn’t really get its core defined. The proof of the pudding lay in India’s crashing out in 2007, then winning the 2011 World Cup with pretty much a team built by Wright-Ganguly. The only player of prominence from the Chappell era who finds a place in the team regularly is Suresh Raina.

An Unintended Casualty: Dravid

Perhaps the most unintended and tragic casualty of the Chappell fiasco was Dravid. In the first half of last decade Dravid as a batsman had no peer anywhere in the world. During that period the only persons who could give him a run for his money were Brian Lara and VVS Laxman on their days. But there was none as consistently brilliant as him for such a long time. Purely statistically, his test average went over Tendulkar’s and it was befitting of him as a player.

As a part of Chappell’s political machinations Dravid was made captain of the team, displacing Ganguly. Whatever the intentions, this was a good choice, for given Tendulkar’s slump (and general disinclination towards captaincy and his poor performance therein) and Laxman’s not being a permanent fixture in the ODI side, the only other choice would have been Anil Kumble who was the oldest of the lot.

Now, cricket captains can be compared to train engines. The first is a “Lead by example” kind, where the captain is the best player in the team or close to the best. If the rest of the team can keep up with him the team does well, but otherwise the captain cuts a forlorn figure. This is the most common kind of captain, and in the Indian context Tendulkar was the clearest example of this kind of captaincy, where his teammates simply couldn’t match up to his high standards. Brian Lara too would fall in this bucket. In the train analogy the engine would be at the front of the train, but the train would only move as well as the links between the coaches let it move. Tendulkar and Lara would be really powerful engines, but the rest of the train would have a tough time living up to the examples set by their illustrious captains.

The second is a “Push the team forward” kind of a captain. Ganguly is the best example of this kind of captaincy. If he were a train engine, he would be at the back of the train, pushing everybody else forward. The train would move, but the engine itself might perform at a much reduced level. Case in point: Ganguly’s return to cricket towards the end of his career showed what kind of a batsman the team had forsaken for captaincy skills. In 2007 Ganguly finished as the second highest scorer in tests and the fifth highest in ODIs. A few more batsmen in this mould would be Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh, both of who were instrumental in taking their teams to the top.

The third kind would be the captain of a team where everybody is an engine. Ricky Ponting reaped the benefits of this sort of captaincy for a long time, when he had a team of champions bequeathed to him by Steve Waugh. It didn’t matter if you didn’t play well: every person in the team was capable of turning a match on its head. When Ponting lost the champions on his team, the Australians started looking a lot less like the all-conquering team it used to be.

There is a fourth kind of captain: one of a team where everybody is an engine but is running on a different track. To be a captain of that kind of team you would have to be Imran Khan, who led a bunch of supremely talented and equally uncoordinated players to World Cup glory.

Though Dravid played the role of a captain of the first kind with aplomb, he really started out as one of the third kind, where his team was packed with match winners (not as good as the Aussies, but good in their own way), all on track. And yet, due to Chappell’s divisive and disruptive policies, the team morphed into one where each team member had to fend for himself, and basically started running on different tracks. The media stoked the flames by putting forth unsubstantiated reports of the players revolting against both Chappell and Dravid making it a battle between Tendulkar and Dravid. A cohesive unit painstakingly constructed by the Wright-Ganguly pair was now a chaotic mess for little fault of the captain or the players. Dravid’s got caught in the crossfire and his own form kept crumbling, and barring the priceless contributions in the test victory in West Indies, he had very little to write home about.

Following the World Cup debacle Chappell was gone, but Dravid was allowed to continue. A few months later Dravid led a coach-free India to a glorious 1-0 triumph in England. And then he resigned. It seemed like the English tour was his catharsis – a way of atoning for all the bad things that happened under his reign, and he simply wanted to go out on a high. People felt that free from the shackles of captaincy he would be able to recapture his batting form. Though the old Dravid does make an occasional appearance, gone is the consistency or the reliability. It has been a while since he has set up or won a test match for India, particularly against opponents of high calibre. Combined with Tendulkar’s renaissance and Laxman’s emergence as India’s Houdini, Dravid might soon find himself staring at retirement. That will be one sad day for Indian cricket.

Chappell Vs Wright

Taken in isolation the coaching efforts look bad enough, but Chappell’s stint looks decidedly terrible in contrast to the ones that immediately preceded (Wright) and succeeded (Kirsten) his. To understand why, you need to see how each approached the same issue.

In John Wright’s Indian Summers, Wright recalls an incident from the 2003 World Cup days. As the Indian team was trying to build a winning mix, some players were slotted into uncharacteristic roles. Notably Dravid was made to double up as a wicketkeeper to accommodate an extra batsman, and Tendulkar was asked to bat at number 4. Both had been fairly successful in their roles, and more importantly the team did quite well with this arrangement. In particular, Tendulkar scored some sparkling centuries in the NatWest series in 2002 batting in this position. So the preliminary draft of the World Cup team had Tendulkar slotted at #4. However, when India fared disastrously in a warm-up match, Wright had some interesting discussions (quoted verbatim from John Wright’s Indian Summers):

I consulted Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble, two wise old heads, telling them I had enough; the batsmen had been batting like lottery winners for months, and it was time they were told a few home truths. They advised me to hold fire, but if it happened again, then by all means let rip.

They had a question for me: where did Tendulkar want to bat? Their view was if we were going to do well in the World Cup, our best player needed to be batting where he wanted to bat. The issue wouldn’t have come up if we were playing well, but we weren’t, and what we needed above all was some leadership with the bat.

That evening I went to see Tendulkar and put the question to him. “I’ll bat wherever the team wants me to bat,” he said. “Wherever they need me most.” “Fine,” I said, “but forget the team for the moment; where do you want to bat.” After some toing and froing, he finally said, “Well, if you really want know, I’d like to open.” The next step was persuading Ganguly and Rahul Dravid that that was the way to go.

Contrast this with Chappell’s approach to the 2007 World Cup. In a book titled “SACH” by Gautam Bhattacharya, Chappell offered his views:

It wasn’t just me alone. Rahul Dravid was also involved in the thinking which felt the matches were going to get decided in those middle overs and you needed the brilliance of either a Sachin or Sehwag to play in that position.

Sehwag didn’t seem very keen. So we sat down with Sachin who in any case was the first priority. We put it down to him and he seemed reluctant. He thought top-of-the-order was the best place for him as it has always been.

But we were still in the discussion as Rahul and myself were convinced no other batsman in the team would be able to do it. Sachin finally agreed. Next day he got back to Rahul.

Though he made it known that he was not happy doing it. He felt that his reputation demanded two places higher in the order.

This was four years after the World Cup, and you can still see a dig at Tendulkar (“He felt that his reputation demanded two places higher in the order”), in spite of all his assurances that he admires Tendulkar’s commitment.

Wright wasn’t a soft person by any stretch of imagination. In his book he talks about various disagreements he had with team members at different points. But he also describes how the conflicts were resolved, either by having one-on-one chats with the players, or by someone else educating him about some aspects of Indian social mores so that he could work things out. As a net result, none of any of the players with whom he had any tiffs ever has had anything bad to say about him. Chappell, of course would have to walk to the ends of this world barefooted to find such appreciation.

Chappell Vs Kirsten

As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20: five of the players whom Chappell reported for not kowtowing to him were later core members of the victorious 2011 World Cup team – Tendulkar, Sehwag, Yuvraj, Zaheer and Harbhajan. Tendulkar ended up as the second highest run getter in the tournament, Zaheer finished as the joint top wicket taker, Yuvraj was the Man of the Series and Sehwag finished with the top score in an individual innings in the tournament (175 against Bangladesh). Of the remaining three members, Laxman continues to be the world’s unarguably best fourth innings batsman in tests (he has never played in the World Cups) and Ganguly had a second coming that even his most vociferous critics are compelled to appreciate. He eventually retired happy and content.

The players were effusive in praise of Kirsten and his approach to coaching. To quote Sehwag:

He is the best coach I have ever seen. He doesn’t force things on you. His basic premise is: you all are international cricketers and you know how to succeed and how important it is to succeed. So I won’t thrust myself on you. But whenever you need me, for practice, throwing balls, sharing ideas, worries, I am always there.

And Zaheer:

He has given everyone their space. He’s understood the Indian culture and how we do things. He’s taken that step of coming closer to us rather than dictating. He was our friend, not a coach.

After the World Cup victory the Indian team carried Tendulkar and Kirsten on their shoulders to show their love and respect. Kirsten’s good coaching credentials aside, you could almost sense that the team was giving him a lap of honour as a cathartic release of the gloom of 2007, as if to tell Chappell to shove it.

Chappell – Mark II

Chappell’s stint in India was painted by many as a failure due to clash of cultures. Supporters of his methods said that the Indians couldn’t adjust to the Australian way of professional sports, and that it was the Indians’ loss.

Creative supporters claim that it was due to his “innovative” methods that players were unable to take their places for granted, hence they started playing better, and therefore Chappell is indirectly responsible for India winning the World Cup in 2011. That is an apologist’s defence at best, and a Neanderthal one at worst. It is almost like saying, “A rapist is to be given credit if his victim comes out of the rape ordeal with a stronger character”.

If Chappell’s methods were indeed beneficial, the team would have played better while he was coach, and wouldn’t have to wait for him to leave and the older nucleus to re-form to start playing better again. After all, he had 2 years at the helm and the team went from  being good to very mediocre.

When Chappell was made a selector in the Australian side in October 2010 a lot of Indians rubbed their hands in glee, as seen in evidence on Cricinfo’s forums. While India-Pakistan matches still stir up extreme emotions particularly in World Cups, a lot of Indian fans relish the prospect of a match with Australia a lot more, because at the time of Aussie domination in tests India was the only country that had an enviable record against the champions. Seeing Chappell join the Aussie selectors therefore gave Indians visions of Australian humiliation.

And true to form, the once invincible Aussies now find themselves 5th in the test rankings and for the first time since 1992 weren’t able to reach the finals of the World Cup. Of course, this is not Chappell’s fault – he is only a selector.

What really thrills most Indian fans today though, is Simon Katich’s reaction to his own contract not being renewed. Over the past few years Katich has been the best and most consistent test batsman for Australia, far ahead of Clarke, Ponting and even Mike Hussey. Furious with not getting a renewed contract, Katich made a statement:

He is an inspiration to all of us older guys, because he was written off a couple of years ago, ironically by one of our selectors, and the fact is he has proved him wrong.

No praise is higher than that bestowed by a worthy opponent, and no indictment more damning than one provided by someone close. The “he” above is Sachin Tendulkar, and “one of our selectors” is, obviously Chappell. After Chappell questioned Tendulkar’s commitment and motivation following the 2007 World Cup (and then ceased being the Indian coach), Tendulkar’s resume reads 4000+ runs in tests with 16 centuries (and 2 double centuries) at 63.87, and 3200+ runs in ODIs with 7 centuries at 51.00 with a gasp-inducing ODI double century, the first of its kind in men’s cricket. Obviously Chappell’s policies don’t cut it amongst people of his own country too.

These are still early days for Chappell as an Aussie administrator. On the face of things he seems to have already made one bad decision. Time will tell if he ends up wrecking the team of his home country, though his countrymen will be thankful he is only a selector and not a coach. A lot of Indians (myself included) believe he got away lightly after his Indian debacle. If he succeeds in destroying the team of his native country, the circle will be complete indeed.

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.


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!