Posts Tagged ‘Doosra Redux’

Over the next fortnight, as a glorified exhibition event called the Champions League – which proper tournament would have a player eligible to represent two or three teams? – seeks legitimacy in the eyes of the game’s aficionados, India’s selectors will be peering nervously through their fingers. There are three Test series scheduled for the next four months which will decide whether India remain at the top of the tree or come back to Earth with a thud. As important are the 13 one-day internationals tagged on, especially with a six-week-long World Cup to start in February. A player will need to be Bionic Man to play all the games and how shrewdly the five-man panel rotates the resources available will have a huge bearing on whether or not India become only the second host nation to win the World Cup.

It’s one of those little nuggets of trivia now that India’s legendary spin quartet played only one Test together, at Edgbaston in 1967. They took 18 wickets and kept England under 300 in both innings, but traditional frailties with the bat away from home scuppered any chance of victory. Thereafter, it was always a case of musical chairs, with S Venkataraghavan or Erapalli Prasanna usually missing out. (more…)


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“We had just won the World Cup, and I thought I could get away with murder, man … I think one has to have a guide, a mentor they can talk to, trust, and blindly believe what they say. It could be a fellow player, a coach or parents. If that other person says you are crap right now, you close your eyes and believe that is so. Thankfully due to my education and upbringing, I realised soon that I was heading the wrong way.”

These are not the thoughts of the 18-year-old Mohammad Amir, who played his part in Pakistan’s World Twenty20 triumph last year. Those words came from Robin Uthappa, now 24, in an interview with Cricinfo. With Amir now suspended and likely to face a ban from all forms of cricket, we should focus on what Uthappa says. Make no mistake, Indian or Pakistani, every young player who comes into the bubble is vulnerable. (more…)

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Two men have effectively been steering Indian cricket’s ship over the past few years. One of them is a liar. Which one? And can the game afford to have either in a position of power? Despite not being the figurehead, Lalit Modi was the prime mover for a half decade, the man who wheeled and dealed, set up the Indian Premier League and was then ousted based on misdemeanours that have yet to be proved. N Srinivasan is the board secretary, the man now as influential and powerful as Modi once was. Given his ownership of the Chennai Super Kings, through India Cements, he has been at the centre of conflict-of-interest allegations for a while now. But with the gloves off and open hostility between the two men, there are so many skeletons tumbling out of the cupboard that they could remake Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.

Last week, a TV channel released emails that suggested the 2009 IPL auction had been fixed so that the Super Kings could sign Andrew Flintoff, who then turned out to be the biggest waste of money in the fledging league’s history. Modi later told Cricinfo that Srinivasan and the Super Kings “pressurised the [IPL] operating team”. When he was asked if other successful bids were less than transparent, he replied: “Yes, to my knowledge”. (more…)

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At some point in the 1990s, George Best, the greatest footballer the British Isles had ever seen, popped into his local pub in London and sat down with a half-pint. His liver was already failing and the doctors had told him to go easy. A while later, a giant of a man walked in. Eyeing Best in the corner, he walked up to him and said: “Can I get you a pint?” “No, thanks,” said Best. “Too important to drink with the likes of me, are you?” said the man with a hint of menace in his voice. Best ignored him.

When he leaned in closer, Best looked up and told the man to **** off. “Make me,” he snarled. Best, who had never shied away from a challenge on the field, stood up and socked him one flush on the jaw. The man didn’t flinch. “That the best you can do then?” he sneered. “Oh, alright then. Get me another half!” said Best.

I was reminded of that anecdote when I read the non-story about the eight Indian cricketers inside Tequila Joe’s in St. Lucia. (more…)

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Lee Bowyer could have been somebody. At the turn of the new millennium, he was the engine of a young and vibrant Leeds United side that had the football world at its feet. Then, after a drunken night at the Majestyk nightclub, Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate – also “daft as a brush” – were accused of a racist attack on Sarfraz Najeib, a Pakistani student. The court case took months and its aftermath resulted in Leeds being relegated and then sliding down the leagues. Bowyer, who was once seen as being on the same level as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, plies his trade for Birmingham City these days, any chance of greatness having long since passed him by.

The English Premier League, like its Indian cricket equivalent, is a harsh environment to grow up in. Pots of money, a fancy car a week if you feel like it, an endless stream of faux-celebrity girlfriends and groupies. Parasitic agents and hangers-on. But for every idiot like Bowyer who hits the skids, there are others like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, exemplary professionals who have lasted nearly as long as Tendulkar at the top. (more…)

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As a microcosm of life, sport too has its I-was-there moments, occasions that made you believe it was more than just a game. If away victories in the West Indies and England in 1971 were akin to the fall of the Berlin Wall for Indian cricket, then the agony [the Miandad six in Sharjah and narrow defeat in Sunil Gavaskar’s final Test, both against Pakistan] and the ecstacy [upsetting the West Indians to win the World Cup in 1983] of the decade that followed were like Nelson Mandela’s long walk to freedom. Those were the games that defined a generation of players and fans alike, the faded photographs of the lover whose face has become increasingly blurred with time.

Test cricket, with its drawn-out plots and Hitchcockian twists, is an anachronism in the 21st century, and you half-suspect that there are those in the game’s administration that wouldn’t mind seeing it go the way of the T Rex. After all, it’s one-day cricket, the Govinda movie with popcorn, and Twenty20, the five-minute cartoon, that have the cash registers going ker-ching. Test cricket, though, is a resilient beast and from time to time, it throws up matches that captivate a nation and bring in a whole new breed of fan.

English cricket is ineffably richer for the Ashes series of 2005, five matches where Dame Fortune didn’t seem to know which team to favour. From Ricky Ponting’s bloodied cheek at Lord’s to Kevin Pietersen’s dashing final-day century at The Oval, a generation that had never seen English Ashes success lapped it up.

Sadly, in India, where respect for elders is a way of life, the most venerable form of the game has often been given short shrift. Every other major Test-playing nation has its traditional matches, the ones that people plan their holidays around. Whether it’s Boxing Day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the New Year’s Tests at the Sydney Cricket Ground or Newlands, or Lord’s in summer, these occasions have become part of the social fabric. Whatever happened to the Pongal Test in Chennai? Why not play at the Eden Gardens during Holi, or in Mumbai during Diwali?

Those that run the game won’t give you any answers. After all, board politics meant that Kolkata didn’t host a Test in 2008 or ’09, while games were played at venues like Nagpur and Mohali in front of largely empty stands. Ask the players where they’d rather play and they’ll tell you. “Eden has always been special,” says Harbhajan Singh, one of the heroes of the innings win that kept India at the top of the Test tree. “I have not heard this kind of noise anywhere in India. In Test matches, we don’t always get crowds but at Eden, you do for the whole five days. It’s fantastic.”

The game was too, with India resurrecting its hopes after a dire first two sessions that saw South Africa canter to 218 for 1. The famed Eden roar, that helped bring Steve Waugh’s Australia to its knees back in 2001, then came into play as the middle order fell apart. India never looked back, with Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni all scoring contrasting centuries as a massive lead was built. Then, without Zaheer Khan, the pace talisman had picked up a thigh strain, and in spite of the magnificent Hashim Amla – who batted 499 minutes for his unbeaten 123 – the patched-up attack bowled India to victory.

When Harbhajan trapped Morne Morkel leg-before with only nine balls left to be bowled, there was bedlam in the stands. Reports of Test cricket’s imminent demise had clearly been exaggerated. Keeping it healthy in the age of popcorn cricket may not be impossible after all.

*This was the latest column for the Sunday Guardian, a new newspaper published out of Delhi.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. (more…)

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