Cricket Quickies: from Vengsarkar to Yuvraj and Younis

November 16, 2008

Yes, I promise to keep this short, for I’ve been rambling too much and I’m short of time but not of enthusiasm.

While channel surfing today, I caught a special on India’s tour of Australia in 1986 – an ODI at the MCG. Sunil Gavaskar was batting with a somber looking South India, whom I correctly guessed to be our very own Chika. While Chika’s simple style (at least of what I’ve seen in this innings) was catching indeed, what surprised me more was Dilip Vengsarkar. I’ve only known this man for the unkind words he’s had to say of Dravid. Today I got to the see the batting talent (among other things) that got him to the place from which he barbed. What struck me most in his expansive use of the crease, the sort of which reminds me of some 20-20 batsmen of late. The disregard for the stump guard that Vengsarkar displayed in this innings seemed very contemporary and is certainly not something I would have attributed to the batsmen from that age. Another thing that surprised me is that the next generation – Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Co – did not seem to have this disregard for the stump guard, but in fact meticulously guarded it and in effect seem perhaps rather orthodox given such precedents. If you’re thinking I’ve watched only one innings from the 80s and that my observations are off-base, do enlighten me.

Meanwhile, “flat-pitch-bully” Yuvraj slammed an impressive century at Rajkot and the cricket site are abuzz with polls of whether Yuvi should make it to the Test middle order. Strangely 72% of cricketnext visitors seemed to think so, while 52% of cricinfo visitors seem to think not! Strange isn’t it? I’d be interested in knowing the age groups of the folks to who’ve voted and their vote. In case you’re wondering, I voted against, on both the sites. 🙂

Another thought struck me today while watching parts of Pak vs. WI clash today. While I’ve labeled most of India’s recent ODI matches as boring, I found this one to be the contrary. I was not yawning, or absently glaring, waving my hands unconsciously when a four was hit, but was actually watching. There was class in Younis’s batting today (Ten Sports interrupted this with the ICL). There were elements from the ’90s batting, wristy flicks and “towards the ground” shots reserved in Indian cricket only to Tests nowadays. Call me old fashioned, but this was good ‘old cricket, without the fracas. May it live long!


An Open Letter to Dilip Vengsarkar

October 15, 2008

Mr. Vengsarkar,

Why are you vomiting? Perhaps this is why you decided to step-down as chief selector at the end of your term – because you couldn’t contain that verbal diarhorea that you had to contain on the insistence of the BCCI.

I have many questions for you. Let me start with by asking you – do you have any sense? I was going to ask if you had any grace, but then I realized you might be a little less on the sense quotient and often grace comes only after sense.

Didn’t you have enough with your barbs at Dravid last year. First it was criticism for not enforcing the follow-on in that Oval Test. As defensive as that might have been, given that we’d gone one up, was that victory – one that eventually came after a 35-year drought – worth gambling in hope of another? You effectively “suffocated” captain Dravid enough for him to step down. Though we know it is you, we may never know for sure.

Then you unceremoniously dropped the same man with over 10,000 runs in ODI cricket, who had produced a blistering 92 at a strike rate of over 80, not more than 5 matches ago. I won’t even question the selection as much the as unnecessary trash talk: “Dravid is a one-dimensional player[… he] does not add value to the ODI team”. When being asked to make a courtesy call to inform Dravid on being dropped, you apparently asked so arrogantly asked “Why should we call him? Did he bother to inform the selection committee before he resigned as captain?

Fortunately for you, Dravid’s fans are not like Ganguly’s. They will not gather in the streets or burn effigies; some may blog, but largely they may not even boo.

Maybe that is why you did not stop there. You’ve irked the Ganguly fans an embarrassed an Indian hero and great exponent of the game by dropping him from the Irani Trophy squad. I had written earlier asking why Ganguly became the “sacrificial goat”, if you care enough, you can read that here.

The most disgusting thing you’ve done so far is to lash out against Ganguly and vowed to “give back more than what he asked for” without even bothering to verify if he had in fact complained of your selection, on being let down, and made statements on cricketers’s change in hairstyles. Ganguly has denied having given that controversial interview. Now what do you think you look like? No, I won’t say it, as I have some grace left. What I can say, is that, going by the standards of the cricket fans in Kolkata and their adulation for their Dada, you may not be able to walk in the streets of Kolkata.

As if that wasn’t enough, you’ve also shot one at Test Captain Kumble. If an “..unfit Kumble [was indeed] letting the team down..” or you thought he “..should have come clean about his fitness..“, you could have told him, not the media, not in a middle of a toughly fought series likened to the Ashes.

Perhaps the BCCI should not have “gone soft” with your newspaper column writing in which you so unceremoniously trashed our heroes. It is rather bizarre why BCCI was as toothless as it was in the 80s with this prank of yours for long enough for you to have done significant damage.

I’m done with this rant of mine for now but I must add that I mean no evil to you and hold nothing against you other than your trash-talking crassness throught the wrong medium at the wrong time. While I don’t expect you to stop vomiting just yet, I only ask you think if any of this is justifiable, at least in retrospect, even by your own double standards.

PS: Actually that should have read as another open letter, for at least one has already been written by CommonFan here. I’ve been planning for this letter for some time, but CommonFan has inspired me to write my own rather caustic one.


Some Grace for the Fab Four

September 18, 2008

There aren’t too many Indian cricket journalists who write anything other than jingoistic match reports. Picking among the few that do write well, Pradeep Magazine is one of my favorite. He writes here on how the onus is on the selectors to allow our Fab Four an exit befitting their accomplishments and stature. Indeed, they’ve scripted some very famous victories in India and overseas and have given us some wonderful memories. Thank you, Mr. Magazine! Yes, Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman need to be given some space and a respectful farewell when it comes to it, not unceremoniously shoved through gaps between the door and its sill. Vengsarkar! Are you listening?

And there is no need to hurry this. While the argument of picking players on merit and form is valid, there aren’t enough quality replacements, especially in Tests. In fact the young ODI side is yet to prove itself overseas. Somewhere between ’96 and now, the quality of India recruits seems to have either gone down or gone unnoticed, especially in the batting and spin departments (though spin is a different story altogether and merits a separate post). There hasn’t been another decent batting recruit after that of Ganguly and Dravid in 1995-96. Yes, there was Sehwag, but aren’t we still debating his worth? Yes, that might also be because we try to shove all of them in the opening spot, but we still don’t have a decent opening pair. Thanks to T20 cricket and IPL, the  batting situation may only get worse unless deliberate efforts are put in. The India-A tours are a step in the right directions. In a few years, we should have a good idea about who from the India A is worthy of the India cap for a decent term. That should be way to go.


Sehwag rules and Big Two falter – India in SL Galle Test Day 1

July 31, 2008

Sehwag played an almost uncharacteristic innings to steer India to a respectable total. As he got to his fifty, he played a very responsible hand sans the traditional “I am holier than thou” atttitude. It might seem hypocritical of me to brand Sehwag with attitude, as it is that very aggressive nature that has got him (and India) double and triple centuries. But that’s the way its been with Viru. Even while he played the responsible hand, punishment was meted out to the bad balls – a very Hayden-esque manner. Or maybe that takes credit away from Viru. I particularly enjoyed both his and Gambhir’s onslaught of the flatter of Mendis of Murali’s deliveries. Atta, boy(s)! Way to show the kid his place. Gambhir gave good company too. Maybe India has found it opening combination in Tests too.

If you’re wondering why the above reads Big Two falter (instead of Big 3), according to the laws, Sec 32(e) to be precise, Dravid should not have been given out. While there is speculation if the ball first hit Dravid’s own helmet or the fielder’s shoulder, it seemed to have hit the fielder’s helmet before Warnapura took the catch. Skeptics check it out here.

I have no words for Tendulkar and Ganguly and some sympathy for Dravid (although that should have been a better shot) – he finds a way to be given out in the most bizarre ways. Critics and Vengsarkar will only see the scores not the trivia. Dravid! Wake up! Please!

While we’re on the topic of Dravid, I find it interesting that two other #3 batsmen have been struggling for some time now: Michael Vaughan and Jacques Kallis (not to mention Ponting, who has aside of some aberrations, been in rather woeful form since Oct 2007). While Kallis seems to have found it this evening, Vaughan is still looking for it. What is it with these #3s? Is it us? Do we notice their failure more than others because the #3’s success or failure can psychologically, if not really, turn the course of game?

Meanwhile the umpiring referral has taken a new turn. The on field umpire seems to be becoming more conscious of his shortcomings and keeps his fingers in his pocket if he isn’t sure. Should they have always been this way? Given batsmen out only when they actually are? In case you’re wondering, I’m still ambivalent of this referral/review system.

At stumps with Laxman and Sehwag at the crease, India would do well to reach 300, though I doubt if that will be enough to win the game. If there’s anything to be thankful for it’s the toss. At least this way, India wouldn’t be batting in the fourth innings. With the pitch being all cracked-up even on Day 1 and the rain adding its bit to the already complex looking wicket, I think it would only be fair if Sri Lanka get to play through the wicked phases of the pitch.


Dhoni – villain or scapegoat?

January 23, 2008

When we are supposed to be talking about the Adelaide Test, look what’s grabbed the headlines – rifts in the team. Yet again, there is this seniors vs. juniors all over again. If new reports are to be believed, it was not Vengsarkar but Dhoni who insisted on the Ganguly ouster. Apparently, the selectors considered including Dravid too.

Dhoni doesn’t seem to be dealing with this very well. When asked about it, “…still have one more Test match to go, so I think we should wait with the questions regarding the One-Day players. We have waited for two days, let’s wait for another six days..” was what he had to say. Not pleasing the Indian media is a dangerous thing for an Indian captain – a thing Dravid learnt the hard way. On the youngsters dealing with the situation, he said “..it’s not about the people’s expectations, it’s about the players’ expectations.” Perhaps, Dhoni who claims to have learnt a lot from Kumble, also seems to have had lessons of arrogance from Ponting. You don’t want to alienate yourself from the fans, Dhoni; that could get ugly. Remember that match when the crowds at home cheered for the opposition team?

Allow me to emotionally rant here. This begs the question – is Dhoni, with head-rush from the T-20 World Cup victory, a villain or a scapegoat? If this young side with batting line up as brittle as fresh ice succeeds, Dhoni will be spared. If not, he will be made the scapegoat. Consider this, Dhoni is sure to have already lost some public favor. In an emotional country like India, his alleged back-stabbing will earn him the wrath of the Dravid-Ganguly supporters and some neutrals alike. Should his side lose out – which is almost a certainty given that it is the Aussies that they will be facing, and that too in Australia – his captaincy will come into question. His batting has already been questioned time and again; it is only now, after the T-20 success and some against Pak in the recently concluded series in India, that there seems to be some silence on that aspect. With the series lost, fans crying and burning effigies, and the media joining the party, BCCI will be back to the situation of being under pressure of media and public opinion. Then, as my friend Ottayan jokingly suggests, Dhoni may be soon playing his farewell match!