IPL, Soviet style

Unlike many purists and cynics, I love the Indian Premier League and the Champions League, which has the potential to be its big brother. Over the last two years, I’ve been to nearly 50 games in both competitions. Right from the Brendon McCullum blitz in the inaugural game through to the heartwarming displays of Trinidad and Tobago in Hyderabad last year, I’ve seen most of the highs and tolerated some of the lows – the plug-a-minute commentary and Shiamak Davar dancing like an idiot to the anti-apartheid anthem, Gimme Hope, Jo’anna.

Now, the IPL is to spread its wings, and the Champions League will surely follow. The United States is the favoured destination for some matches next year, and it’s the next logical step given that Lalit Modi took the franchise model from American sport. The south Asian and Caribbean population in the US should ensure that it’s no outrageous gamble either.

But for every step forward, Modi and the IPL appear to take one back. Continue Reading »

The mild maestro

In the pantheon of Indian cricket, Rahul Sharad Dravid stands tall alongside Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar. Yet, despite more than 21,000 international runs, he has never been one for trumpet solos. A flamboyant 177 in Ahmedabad last November became the launchpad for India to win the series against Sri Lanka. It also raised many a surprised eyebrow, especially amongst those who had thought that the sun had set on Dravid’s pitch. He followed it up with 144 in Kanpur, becoming the second-highest scorer in the series after Virender Sehwag.

From a player living on the edge after being dropped from the ODI team, one would have expected a triumphant swagger. But Dravid is a man of few words. And when he does talk, he is as watchful and circumspect as he is with bat in hand.  Today’s fast-track media detests sportsmen that aren’t quote machines. When a subject is neither florid nor effusive, reporters have to take the trouble to dig deep. Dravid doesn’t come giftwrapped with sound bytes. With such individuals, even the smallest gesture tends to be deconstructed for clues. Often, motives are ascribed where none exist.

Was Dravid’s uncharacteristic exuberance on field after his century in Ahmedabad—which reminded one of his exultation after a hundred in the match against Australia at Eden Gardens in 2001—a response to some of his detractors? He laughs and shakes his head. Continue Reading »

Riotous stuff, but no classic

After that Wanderers game , I argued long and hard with those who thought it a great game of cricket. Nearly four years on, my views haven’t changed. In the days to come, many will speak of Rajkot as another classic. Some opportunists might even come out with commemorative DVDs, but nothing will change the facts. A game in which batsmen score at more than eight an over hardly constitutes an even tussle between bat and ball. Great entertainment, sure. Great cricket? Not really.

If you want to watch a real classic, watch how Pakistan chased down New Zealand’s total in the World Cup semi-final in 1992, or better still, go and watch footage of the greatest one-day match of all, Edgbaston 1999. Until there’s a tie in a World Cup final, that will remain the greatest cricket played in coloured clothes. The enormity of the occasion and what was at stake ensured as much.

There were two big differences between Rajkot and the Wanderers though.

You can read the full article here.

Last Sunday, Bollywood luminaries and team-mates, his childhood coach, Ramakant Achrekar, and those he grew up admiring gathered at the south Mumbai residence of Mukesh and Nita Ambani, owners of the Mumbai Indians IPL franchise, to celebrate two decades of Sachin Tendulkar in Test cricket. There was even Asha Bhosle – of Cornershop’s Brimful of Asha fame – to sing that classic from Umrao Jaan, Aankhon ki Masti (The Magic of these eyes).

Tendulkar was a John McEnroe-admiring curly-haired bully of eight when the movie was released in 1981. But as much as he would have enjoyed the evening, it wouldn’t have been a patch on what had happened earlier in the day, as victory by an innings and 24 runs over Sri Lanka at the Brabourne Stadium took India to the top of the Test rankings for the first time.

To understand what it meant to Tendulkar, you perhaps need to go back a decade, to a Test tour of Australia when he was captain.

You can read the full article here.

The new power generation

Sachin Tendulkar was 17 when he lit up the Summer of Graham (Gooch) with a match-saving 119 not out at Old Trafford. It was his first Test century, in his ninth match. Nearly two-and-a-half years later, the 23-year-old Brian Charles Lara had the old-timers harking back to Sir Garfield Sobers as he stroked a magnificent 277 at the SCG. It was his fifth Test in the maroon cap. Half a decade later, Ricky Ponting was a year younger when he played his sixth Test. His maiden Test hundred (127) and a 268-run partnership with Matthew Elliott were pivotal in deciding the destination of the little urn.

Last week, two 19-year-olds from opposite sides of the world made brilliant debut hundreds on either side of the Tasman Sea. Adrian Barath’s effort was one of the few bright spots in an another depressing West Indian performance away from home, while Umar Akmal’s technique and poise couldn’t quite save Pakistan in a fascinating Test at Dunedin.

Both have been talked about for a while.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Like everyone, Sanjay Manjrekar remembers those days, the excited buzz around the maidans, the heady whiff of potential greatness from Shivaji Park. He was heir apparent to the great Mumbai batting tradition when the two schoolboys came along. Few could have predicted then what we know now, that one boy would go on to be the greatest batsman of his era, while the other would become a cautionary tale, a trivia question, a symbol of promise unfulfilled. One is a “legend” to the other. For the one that conquered cricket fields from Sydney to Multan, the failure of the other to do so is “one of my biggest regrets”.

“At the school level, Vinod Kambli’s performances were on par with Tendulkar’s,” recalls Manjrekar. “They would get big scores in big games. That’s where the comparisons began and people started mentioning them in the same breath. But I’ll tell you one thing. Mumbai cricket’s custodians knew who was the better of the two, because Tendulkar got his break much earlier. There was absolutely no doubting his ability. Kambli was a talented left-handed batsmen, but there was a bit of a question mark about his ability to play fast bowling. In Mumbai, you’ve got to be a good player of seam bowling to get the respect of the senior players. They were a little sceptical about Kambli.”

Having announced his arrival in such emphatic fashion, Kambli’s career essentially unravelled in less than a session on home turf. Continue Reading »

then perhaps you should read this.

Pitching it right

What can you say about a series in which 2,133 runs have been scored in 19 sessions for the loss of just 25 wickets? What can you say of the 10 centuries scored already, of a bowler as accomplished as Muttiah Muralitharan being carted all around Green Park? And is Test cricket in India really on an intravenous drip if more than 25,000 take up vantage points in the dilapidated concrete stands in Kanpur?

Over the past 24 hours, I’ve fielded calls from two radio stations, one in the UK and the other in Australia, both wanting to know why pitches in India are so placid, and whether they are responsible for the decline in popularity of the five-day game. Sunil Gavaskar quipped during the Ahmedabad Test that the surface was like a road and, apart from the opening hour of the series when four wickets fell, the contest between bat and ball has been as unedifying as Muhammad Ali reducing Ernie Terrell’s face to pulp while hissing: “What’s my name, Uncle Tom?”


You can read the full article here.

More on the pitch

Part two.

Call that a pitch? With sponsors in short supply for this Test series, the BCCI erred by not looking to Rajasthan’s quarries. Some countries use drop-in pitches. Ahmedabad presumably used a slab of marble that was then painted a dull brown. On it, 21 wickets fell in five days, including eight in the final nine sessions. Most of those dismissals were boredom induced, with batsmen finally tiring of taking candy from babies. Seven centuries were scored and while there were three or four great batsmen on view, not one will make a list of all-time-great innings.

Whine all you like about Test crowds, but who’d spend good money to watch this kind of rubbish? The days of one TV channel are long gone, and Indians have better things to do with their time than watch boring Test cricket. It’s not as though the BCCI’s incapable of producing result-oriented pitches. The 2001 series against Australia was one for the ages. The 2004 one wasn’t half bad either. But over the past five years, this is the 11th draw in 24 Tests. Just not good enough, and a poison pill for a form of the game that’s already threatened by the relentless advance of Twenty20.