Dravid reaches 10,000 Test runs

April 5, 2008

On a day when Sehwag was on song careening at breakneck speed to his triple century with a strike rate of over a hunderd, as ironic as many things associated with Rahul Dravid, there he was on the other end with a strike rate of 13 edging his way, meticulously to a mammoth landmark achieved only by an elite set of cricketers. While the contrast between Sehwag and Dravid was both ironic and unmistakable, it was perhaps very fitting that he reached this landmark in the sweltering heat of Chennai, under trying conditions, and characteristically Dravid-ian for his own landmark of the day to be eclipsed by Sehwag’s triple century.

I was at work on the morning of March 29th, 2008, and the buzz around the office was thus.

“Sehwag is on 192 yaar!”, said one.

“Look at the other guy. Strike rate is like 13. Put Dravid on any pitch and he is consistent”, said another.

Although this was said sarcastically, it took me some thought to understand the profoundness of that statement, in a positive way. Here was a man, who toils for every run, with dogged determination and has had to and continues to live the life of an unsung hero in the shadow of a prodigy called Sachin Tendulkar. Having seldom been invited to the crease with the cheer and bravado that a Sachin or a Sehwag might get, he does his job, often of playing the un-sexy sheet-anchor role with the class of cricketers from a by-gone era. Perhaps it is only fitting for the mild-mannered Dravid, whose stats do the talking, to recieve acclaim only from a select group who understand the depth of his game.

While flipping channels in the evening of the Test match in which Dravid made it past 10,000 Test runs, NDTV was running an opinion poll. ‘Is Dravid the greatest? Better even than Sachin and Lara?‘. This made me recall some of my earliest memories of Dravid: the 98-99 ODI season where it could be said that one saw a different Rahul Dravid, one that was solid, yet belligerent; not building fortresses, but castles with some of the most beautiful drives. If I were asked to pick a best among Dravid’s ODI innings, I would probably pick the 145 against Sri Lanka during the ’99 World Cup. The question also brought to mind, some of his most valiant Test innings: the 93 at Perth, 270 plus at Rawalpindi and the 233 against Australia to pull off one of the most exhilarating Test victories. Having said that, In some ways, I think Dravid was lucky that the during the early stages of his career, people weren’t as obsessed with 6s and strike-rates (as they are today) and that he didn’t have form issues-at least in a way that was apparent to us. Had someone with his technique started his career now, with people going gaga over T20 cricket, I don’t think that person will have much of a chance. For even Dravid, after 10,000 runs, each in both forms of the game, is unsure of a place in the ODI side.

So if you are wondering that I haven’t answered the question, no, I will not duck this one. Is Rahul Dravid one of the greatest, over Sachin and Lara? Differences aside, I would say, definitely yes. For Dravid is a genius: one of the best cricketers India has produced; a unique combination of class, technique, patience and grit. His class is almost timeless and technique solid, above all his contemporaries, and one which would perhaps make him the only world cricketer in the current breed to feel at home playing when placed a few eras ago, alongside greats like Viv Richards and Bradman. I was rather pleased to find that I’m not the only one of this opinion.

His perseverance alone has been for me, one of the most awe-inspiring aspects of his personality. He is doubtless going through a rough patch of his career, but if anyone is likely to break out of this perhaps primarily mental block, it is Dravid.

Congratulations, Dravid on the milestone. Some of us lay folk do know your value, love you and respect you. Hope to see you scale greater heights.

Umpiring errors help propel Australia – Sydney Test, Day 1

January 2, 2008

Just when the Indian fan starts to sit up and watch the game, umpiring errors strike! India were on a roll today when they had Aus on the mat for 140-odd runs with only 4 more wickets in hand.  Symonds came to the crease, and stayed on it after being gifted at least 2 lives by umpire Steve Bucknor and one by the third umpire on a stumping. Ponting was let off when on 17, but was given out lbw when on 55, when there was a thick edge. What is with umpiring these days? India have been on the receiving side of some horrendous decisions in the past year. But India are not alone. Sri Lanka having recently toured Australia were victims as well with the Sangakkara episode readily coming to mind.

There is a strange issue with Australia and its a vicious circle. Umpires are under pressure when Aus is fielding, and the bowler gets the benefit of the doubt; and the Aussie batsmen receive the benefit. The only way to turn tables on this issue would be for other teams to defeat them, but that won’t happen unless the issue is addressed. And no, I don’t believe the oft quoted-adage “some times they [umpiring decisions] go against you…” with sometimes now becoming a couple of times every innings often.

Check out more reactions on this:

Summary, Day1 of Sydney Test
Adelaide Now, Match Summary
Bucknor helps Australia recover

I’m not looking forward to watch India batting now, given the standards of umpiring by this trio.

Boxing Day Test – things to ponder for India

December 31, 2007

The Boxing Day test started out with a promise and ended with a disappointing result (if you are an India supporter, that is). When we thought that there wasn’t much bowling, they delivered. I certainly did not expect India to bowl out Australia, that too for a 300-odd. Getting Ponting early was key! Go Bhajji! Whatever Ponting says, he is your bunny. Captaincy seems to be inspiring Kumble to greater heights. Hope his sublime form continues.

The much celebrated batting line-up disappointed and I say that only because the bowlers delivered. Going by the stats, (if my memory serves me right), India hasn’t done too well in the Boxing Day Test. So, what I expected was Australia scoring 600 plus, not getting bowled out, and the Indian batting attempting to survive and more of this in the second innings. It was pleasantly uplifting to see the bowlers do well, but sad to see the batting cave (albeit a few horrible decisions given against them).

The Dravid opening-experiment was excellent on paper: the kind of experiment that would pay dividends if it worked, but shake the foundations if it didn’t; but it did not go the planned way. He saw the new ball through, no doubt, but didn’t do much else. It is essential that Dravid does well for Indian batting to get some respect and for that, he must return to his usual #3. Ganguly threatened and Laxman attempted to and there ended the tale of the celebrated Indian batting.

For the next Test, I would like to see Sehwag open with Jaffer and that means confining Yuvraj to the bench which is unfortunate, but the gamble is worth a try. Do I see that happening? Not really.

Hope to see some kind of a fightback from India in the Second test.

Thoughts on the concluded India-Aus Future Cup series

October 24, 2007

With the Future Cup series concluded, we get a fair picture of the T20 champs’ position in the ODIs. Realistically, I doubt if any serious Indian cricket follower would have expected India to win this series. I certainly didn’t; however, after the Bangalore ODI was abandoned, I thought India stood a good chance to draw the series. What I did expect to see was fighting Team India and was fairly happy to see that happening. To me, although the series ended with Australia winning 4-2, this could have very well been 3-3.

Looking back I think the Vadodara ODI disaster was the only thorn that cut deep into the faith that one had in Team India; that is where India were comprehensively outplayed. Again, even in that match, if Ganguly had stayed on for a few overs, the result might have been different. In Vadodara, the Indian batsmen lost the psychological battle to the swinging ball and Mitchell Johnson. Backtracking a little bit further to the Kochi and Hyderabad ODI there were issues in all the departments; the bowlers struggling in the middle overs, the opening batsmen weren’t the greatest and the middle order were in 20-20 mode. The Chandigarh ODI was another close where things started to fall in place for India: batting clicked; bowling got better, although still errant and spray-prone, especially from the speedsters. In the Nagpur ODI, the Indian team’s fight started to really threaten Australia; that is a match they should have won, either by conceding lesser runs or batting a tad more responsibly. In the four matches that India lost, they missed the #3 batsman very badly. Does the word responsible come to mind? I had written earlier about my thoughts on Dravid in this series. Looking ahead to the upcoming Pakistan series, India will need Rahul Dravid to come to terms with himself; much will depend on him if some consistency is to be expected from the middle order.

Here are my votes for the some of the best and worst performers from either side:

Best Batsmen:
: Tie between Sachin Tendulkar and Robin Uthappa.
Australia: Tie between Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke
Rationale: For India, this was a tie because both shone in their own ways. Sachin was brilliant in a few innings and managed to plod through when that was required, especially in Chandigarh. Check out what I wrote about Sachin’s Chandigarh innings. Uthappa’s positive aggressive cricket rocks and adds a new dimension to Team India. To me, he’s the best bet looking ahead beyond the Big Three, for the opening slot. While Symonds’ the runs speak for him, Clarke seemed brilliant in the early knocks; would make a great #3 after Ponting retires; definitely a promising one for Australia.

Best Bowler:
India: Murali Karthik; honorable mention: Sreesanth
Australia: Mitchell Johnson
Rationale: Murali Karthik was sensational in his comeback. I’ve written more about that here. I had to mention Sreesanth got under Hayden’s skin several times this series, even in the T20 match, Hayden seemed to struggle against him; in spite of the high economy of 7 odd runs, Sreesanth is a fiery wicket taker and remains a good option despite the downside. As for Johnson bothered the Indian batsmen the most and thus ends my best bowler winner for Australia.

Most Influential Player:
: Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Australia: Ricky Ponting
Rationale: There are players who can add value the team with their presence alone. No surprises in either category; perhaps it not a co-incidence that they lead their sides! For India, Dhoni has shone light on a face of Team India that we never knew they had. As for Ponting, his experience and presence-of-mind makes part of what Australia are and this could be gathered when Gilchrist lead the team.

Most disappointing Batsman:
India: Rahul Dravid; dis-honourable mention Yuvraj Singh
Australia: Brad Hodge
Rationale: No surprises here. I had to include Yuvraj due to sheer lack of consistency: a few fair knocks, one patient century, and few single digit scores.  If you were wondering why I didn’t mention Sourav Ganguly after the 2 ducks, we are looking ahead aren’t we?

Most disappointing Bowler:
India: R P Singh
Australia: I don’t think anyone disappointed enough to make to it to this list; dis-honorable mention to Bret Lee.
Rationale: After an amazing T20 world cup and a fairly good England tour, R P Singh set the expectations high and disappointed. As for Lee, he makes the list for some average (compared to the high Aussie standards) performances towards the end.

Having said all that, I think this series will be remembered most for the off-field action; two names come to mind instantaneously: Symonds and Sreesanth. When Sreesanth said of Australia, earlier this series “I am a child, they are all legends” he may well have been talking about sledging as well. They are after all the legends and Sree is just taking a leaf from their book. Sreesanth was right on another account: he is still a child and needs more match-wining performances to reach the legendary levels. As for the so-called line, I don’t think Sreesanth in particular crossed the line; if he did indeed cross the line, then Aussie are guilty of that too, not just in this series, but in the past 10 years of their cricketing history.  As for Symonds, the racial row got hyped and blown up. Even, Steve Waugh, former Aussie skipper joins many others in questioning the racial nature of monkey chants. I am not in support of what sections of crowd allegedly did to Symonds. It is definitely bad behavior and a stark contrast to the culture of India where guest are to be treated like God. My take on the crowd behavior is that it is a reaction to on-field sledging exhibited by both sides. Such disturbing crowd behavior wasn’t as pronounced earlier perhaps due to the fact that the India media wasn’t as aggressive with its reports on sledging earlier. The honest remedy for such behavior lies in remedying sledging: when the on-field abuse stops, the crowd will behave. But I don’t see that happening at the moment as the players and the spectators seemed to be enjoying the added “spice”.

 All in all, an eventful series and India looks more promising than ever before; looking forward to a successful one against Pakistan. Go India! Go!

Anticipating a thriller: Australia vs. the T-20 World Champions

October 19, 2007

That sounds good doesn’t it? For once, Australia are playing in a format in which they are not the best. Right, its time for party-cricket: the 20-20 encounter that will conclude Australia’s tour of India.

For once it is the Indian side doing the ‘bahaduri’ talking with Uthappa taking Ponting’s place with the word-campaign and captain M S Dhoni’s coming up with a new tag-line for an automobile company. Robin Uthappa oozes confidence in this T-20 team “..You want to think of the positives, go out there and give your best. Everyone in the team has been absolutely positive.” Dhoni on the other hand seems cautiously positive yet upbeat and seems to have more confidence in this successful young line up: “I want 14 players who, if I ask them to, will stand in front of a truck.” Check out the match preview article from NDTV.com for details. This statements makes me think two things: firstly, this T-20 team will be one with very little team-politics, where Dhoni will be captain in all senses of the word; after all it can’t be as straight forward in the normal ODI side with  3 ex-captain egos clashing; secondly, after hearing some the recent statments from MSD, I think if he didn’t end up in cricket,  advertising would have been a good fit :). A few days ago, I though my favorite Dhoni quote was the one on the Bangalore one-dayer: “Bahaduri aur bevakufi ke beech bahut kam fark hai [There is a very thin line separating bravery from foolhardiness]”, but it seems to be getting better. Check out quote-unquote from Cricinfo for the entire context.

Having said all that, the reality check is that the T-2o game can be a little bit of a gamble, where the toss can matter big time. One bad over can cost you the game; a few good overs can win you one. This is where I think nerves play their part, and the T-2o World Cup proves that India can indeed hold nerve. Go India! You’ve done it before, do it again! Chak de!