Saturday, 31 March 2007

India Continues To Dominate Headlines

As all good things must come to an end, so should Anil Kumble's ODI career. The strike rate may not truly reflect the yeomen service he did when in coloured clothing but he will be well and truly missed. Anil was just coming in to the Indian team when I was at the twilight of my career as a player and I had the opportunity to travel with him, if I remember right, only once, to Sharjah for the Australasia Cup.

The thing that stuck me from day one was his fierce commitment. His intent was unmistakable even during the early days, though not in full grasp of his craft then he would make up by his never say die attitude. To me he was the embodiment of a foot soldier, always putting his hands up when the team needed him most. His batting his Test cricket was or rather is fighting proof of his fine qualities.

His heroic show in the West Indies in 2002 will remain a part of Indian cricket folklore. With a jaw heavily strapped, he continued to bowl and that to me was the most defining moment of his long and distinguished career thus far. Anil the human was no different from Anil the bowler. The aggression was the only ingredient that went amiss. He struck to the basics as he does on the field has always been courteous and was always willing to help, be it his friends on the field or off it.

Now that he has wished to hang his boots from the maddening world of one-day cricket, he can spend more time with the goodwill causes he is involved with, his kids and more importantly his new found passion: photography. What this decision of Anil also means is an extended test career and Team India could not have hoped for it better in the longer version.

Then there were other things that dominated the headlines and Ian Chappell's call for Sachin Tendulkar's retirement was the biggest apart from the one that hinged around Kumble. Ian is one of the cricketer's I respect and admire. He has always comes across as a very honest bloke who speaks his mind but retirement to me is always a personal thing and it is the player concerned who will be in the best position to take a call. No one will know Sachin's body and reflex batter than him.

My cricketing acumen might be spoofed when I say Sachin has at least two more seasons of top flight cricket left in him but that is the truth. His boyish enthusiasm and his liking towards being in the thick of things has not diminished a wee bit, the only concern has been the way he has deserted his natural flamboyance. He has taken too much on his shoulders for long, it is time he gives him the freedom to play his natural and attacking game and believe me he has something more to offer Indian cricket.

Sachin with his experience would be the father figure to guide the team out of the mess they are in at the moment. His experience would come in handy. For a player who has achieved so much on the cricket field, it is imperative for him to leave on a high.

Then there was some cricket after all at the World Cup। England won a cricket match but lacked the intensity. If the eternal bridesmaid of World Cup cricket have to take a leap they have to be more assertive like the Aussies। They have a slim outside chance to make the knockouts but for that to happen they have to be more aggressive otherwise the script would not be any different much like the previous eight editions.

all images courtesy

Friday, 30 March 2007

Windies Are Losing The Plot

By the look of things so far in the super eight, New Zealand might emerge the only side that can seriously stretch the World Champions. The Kiwi juggernaut rolled almost flawlessly against the hosts, who are making things extremely hard for themselves by playing some outdated cricket.

In hindsight, it was a good toss to lose for Brian Charles Lara. There was no pressure of a target yet they played like there were bound by some invisible chain. Stroke makers look like horror stories when they don't play their natural game. There was no sense in a player like Chris Gayle prodding around; he is never going to win matches for West Indies by making an obdurate hundred batting out the full quota.

There are batsmen in the side with specific tasks. They must adhere to that. The problem with the West Indian line up is the role for each player is not clearly defined. Lara looked good in the knock against Australia, but there was a sense of 'wicket protection' in his knock against New Zealand. The Caribbean players should resort to their natural and attacking cricket. Then they will have a better chance of surviving in the tournament.

It was not a pleasant sight for me, personally, to actually see the hosts capitulate. Let me admit it: I was brought up admiring the likes of Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge, and to see such a dynasty crumble like this is not good for world cricket.

Stephen Fleming, who is leading a well-tuned unit, is actually doing a fine job as a skipper. The batting order, which has often been wayward, has a semblance of solidity to it now. Fielding has always been their strength, but the biggest bonus for them is the form and rhythm of Shane Bond who with almost a magic touch gets the breakthrough when Fleming throws the ball to him.

The Kiwis really look set for bigger things in this World Cup. It is time they shed their 'also ran' tag and reached the summit. It would be a fitting tribute to a well-knit team.

It is also going to ask a lot of the analysts today to keep listeners engrossed in a match that resembles a minor county tie . It will be one-way traffic, barring a Herculean effort from the Irishhmen. To talk about upsets is OK, and to call this a game of glorious uncertainties is all fine, but if Ireland is going to get past England then the next game featuring Ireland will no more be mismatched.

Even upsets will have their charm only if they are far and few between. Based on cricketing merit, I will back the English to sail through this one comprehensively.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Malinga Lights Up Murky Day

What looked like one way traffic for a good part was suddenly brought alive by a slinger whose hairdo gets more headlines than his ability to deliver unplayable in-swinging Yorkers. To Lasith Malinga should the credit go for producing the most significant spell in recent limited overs history. Pity the effort had to go in vain.

South Africa have always had their fair share of problems when chasing targets. And self doubts would have returned to haunt them after this close encounter, while Sri Lanka's confidence will have received a major boost after this lion-hearted show in the field.

Malinga brings back memories of two fast bowlers who terrorized batsmen all over the world - Jeff Thomson of Australia for his action and Waquar Younis of Pakistan for his ability to swerve the ball in to the toes of the batsman. It was a remarkable fight back by the bowler who was seen as the weak link in the attack.

Sri Lanka have one problem to address at the moment and that is the form of skipper Jayawardene. It is always a problem for the team composition if the captain is not delivering the goods and it would be for the better of his team's fortunes if Jayawardene finds his feet quickly.

Australia proved beyond doubt on what stuff they are made of, even on a wicket that suited their style of play the least. But with this commanding win over the West Indies, they have served a severe warning to all other sides in the competition. Their weakest link is their bowling, but even that department seems to be picking up. Backed by some excellent fielding, they will be as good as any other side in the tournament.

The game today between New Zealand and West Indies is very crucial as games involving these two teams and Sri Lanka is likely to decide the outcome of the super eight and pilot the final four entry. On paper the Kiwis look more organized, but if Chris Gayle can fire, West Indies will look an entirely different team. Promises to be a razor sharp contest.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

The Aussie Approach Refreshing

The bludgeoning effect of Matthew Hayden was almost scary. The ball did not come on to the bat, and the drive on the up would have been suicidal, but his long reach and extended levers ensured he would take most of the bowling on the front foot and his exhibition of batsmanship was art, science and action all rolled in to one. It was more like watching a good Bollywood flick embedded with the art element.

I am never going to get tired of the Australian approach and I hope the readers are going to feel the same. The feeling is much along the lines of 'if you can't avoid it, enjoy it'. There was never a dull moment in the game and even the opponents, I am sure, have taken a liking to their approach. It used to be the same when we played against the West Indies during their pomp. Every opponent, in some corner of his heart, wanted the likes of Sir Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge to do well and it is the same with this Aussie bunch.

The knock by Hayden could not have come at a better venue. The scenic ground named after the legendary Master Blaster was fitting to play host to this daredevil attack। The depth in the Aussie ranks allows the Aussie batsmen the freedom, but to have it is one thing and to make use of it is quite another.

The World Champions might have only one problem and that is the form of Mike Hussey। 20 runs from four innings is not what you expect from one of the better limited overs batsmen in the world. I feel Ricky Ponting missed a trick here by not promoting him in one of the preliminary games where a decent time in the middle could have helped Hussey with his rhythm.

Andrew Symonds is a threat to any attack but he is paying the price for trying to hit the ball hard। Batsmen on a comeback trail always run in to this problem. The timing wont be there and the easier resort is to go at the ball with hard hands and that is the mistake the burly Queenslander is making at the moment.

With someone with the potential of Brad Hodge sitting out, Ponting and his men can get away with murder as at least two in the top seven are going to crack it. This is not good news for the rest of the teams.

The match now gets to the reserve day and the West Indies will have to bat out of their skins to get to the target of 323. Brain Lara and Chris Gayle hold the key, as the Aussies will look for another kill and a potential last four spot.

Lara did the right thing by putting the opponents in, but the way he handled the middle overs left a lot to be desired. There were moments in the game where the batsmen were never under any strain to pick their singles. The target might have just stretched itself to a 'can't reach' zone from a manageable one.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

A Cracker Beckons

The real business starts today. The prelims threw up their share of surprises and threw two sub-continental giants out of the tournament. Conditions in the Caribbean were supposed to suit India and Pakistan more than some of the other teams, but sadly all it took was one tricky opponent and a boatful of self doubts to carry the two former champions to the exit door. It was another example of how the World Cup should be viewed differently and not taken lightly as other tourneys.

It would be extremely difficult for fans in India and Pakistan to digest the fact that their team s will not be competing in the second stage of the event but let us understand the show must go on and the two sides did not deserve a place in the next stage.

Sorry for the cliché, but the opening game in the Super-Eight offers a mouth watering contest. Australia in their current form should start as favourites but with the funny twists the shorter version can throw up, one must be very brave to put one’s money entirely on the World Champions.

I have my reasons to believe that the West Indies will push the Aussies hard. The hosts have not hit the right form with the bat, as the scorecards suggest, but all it needs is one tornado from the broad blade of Chris Gayle or Brian Lara to equate things in the middle. Gayle is long overdue for a big one, and Lara always reserves his best for the Aussies.

image courtesy

If the West Indies were to bat first and post a total in excess of 270, we have a good game on our hands - the wickets slow down considerably, and the West Indian attack has the right ideas on these conditions. The spin of Gayle and Samuels will play a major role and it will all boil down to how the West Indians can keep up with the Australian intensity.

Ricky Ponting on the other hand has some happy problems to deal with. Mike Hussey has not been amongst the runs but can come good the moment he is allowed to bat for a reasonable period of time. (That has not happened thus far). The return of Andrew Symonds has given the required fillip to the batting while all the other batsmen are tonking the ball as if it is their birthright.

There are some chinks in the bowling department, as the Proteas proved, but given the kind of batting depth they possess and the ability to save a fair chunk with their athletic fielding, the minor shortcomings in the bowling department is likely not to pose problems.

It looks a good match on paper; I am putting my money on Australia, but not discounting the Windies, especially if they are to set a target.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Time We Learnt From Our Mistakes

Now even the slender thread by which India's chances rested in this World Cup is gone, and it is time for some serious introspection. The hype that surrounded the event suggested that India has a god-given grant to return with the World Cup but as we all learnt bitterly, the truth was far from it.

Effigies will be burnt, houses will be stoned and players will need an extra cover of security when they land, but this entire thing is not new to Indian cricket or the cricketers. The truth to be learnt is expectations should be proportional to reality. The media has had its part to play in making the common cricket fan believe the World Cup win was a possibility, and that includes yours truly.

Even before the first rays of Caribbean sunshine hit the Indian players, the talking point was the super eight. A preliminary stage that had two tricky opponents was conveniently forgotten. In the Champions Trophy, all the men in blue were able to achieve was a hard-fought win over England. So, on the big stage, the team has achieved one notable win in their last six games (forget Bermuda for a minute) and that is never going to be enough to satisfy a billion fans.

The lessons are yet to be learnt. Speculation is rife on who the next skipper and coach will be. Without mentioning names let all of us who follow the game understand one thing: The best available XI has to be picked, and the best man to lead the side will have to be picked from that lot, otherwise the present selection committee will be repeating some old mistakes.

The money that flows in to the game in this part of the world is phenomenal, but that alone cannot guarantee success in the field of play. The English Premier League or the NBA might have made football and basketball popular and rich in England and the USA respectively, but that has not led to the national teams doing well on the international stage.

In the same way, the game lacks nothing in this country. We have money, infrastructure and more importantly the first class structure (sans the wicket) that can produce good cricketers. But sadly there is something amiss in the links that we have to identify quickly, and rectify.

Indian cricket will have a tough road to travel after this debacle and it will be some time before the advertisers start to regain confidence in the game as a viable medium. But all this should do more good to Indian cricket than bad. The hard lessons will have to be learnt and the right path has to be taken from here. Let us not get too emotional and consider this only a sport, then the two imposters can be treated equally.

All said and done, the players have let the fans down, and the blame cannot be on pressure that is created by the media and fans. When the players bask in glory when they win and enjoy every second of the go- like status bestowed on them they should also be ready to face the flak when they fail. As a professional sportsman, one has to learn to live with the weight of expectations.

It is time the media, and that includes yours truly, presents the game responsibly. And die-hard followers should understand this team is not as good as it looks or made out to be. There is scope for improvement with the given talent, provided they learn from their mistakes.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Aussies Approach Refreshing

The message was clear for South Africa. The Aussies have not liked the No. 1 tag taken away from them. It was cricket at it intense best, and was a refreshing change from some of the low-key affairs this World Cup has dished out. It was over-specific cricket the way it should be played. Good attacking batting and superlative fielding. Australia came out well in the end, but to me if it is these two sides which meet again in the final, the spectators would have got their money's worth and the World Cup would have a match to remember.

What I like most about the World Champions is the positive approach. The plan is the same whether the scoreboard reads 10 for two or 100 for no loss. The depth in batting allows their batsmen to go after the bowling irrespective of the situation. Mike Hussey, one of the better batsmen in world cricket at the moment, does not even get a chance in the middle. And with a rejenuvated Andrew Symonds back in action it is time we save a prayer for bowlers around the planet.

The present Aussie batting can find parallel only with the West Indies team of the late 70's and early 80's for whom attack was the best form of defence. I can vividly remember the halcyon days of Sir Viv Richards, who put the fear of god in bowlers. As a captain, I always searched for answers when the opposing batsmen went after the attack. The natural course when a team is on the rampage is to plug the flow of runs and taking wickets is the last priority. This is what the Australians are so good at: the pressure on the fielding side is always there, and the upper hand is always maintained.

The fielding from both sides was of a different level and a far cry from what other sides have been able to do. It was fascinating for the sheer viewing pleasure it offered. Pity the match took a one-way turn towards the end. I thought if the Proteas had batted first they could have run the defending champs close.

The other match between England and Kenya proved how two teams are playing cricket at the moment and how others are playing catch up. A dull and drab contest that went according to the form book. The only solace was the trio of Collingwood, Flintoff and KP will be in action against better sides and that is a contest worth seeing.

And finally the day India would have dreaded. Hoping for Bermuda to do well on the cricket pitch for them to progress to the next stage of the World Cup does not augur well for the health of our own cricket.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Blog On Cricket, Yourself!

Friends, it’s great to see the all this scrutiny and constructive criticism coming out in the wake of disappointment for the fans of Team India. In the spirit of this personal interaction between me and all of you on my blog, it is my personal interest to hear YOUR point of view. Currently, I’m judging a cricket blogging contest, where I would love to hear all of your views. Simply sign up, so that I can follow your thoughts and views on a daily basis, and have a chance at being heard by all our cricket-loving Internet public! I’ll bookmark and host my personal favourites in the near future. I’m looking forward to hearing from all you enthusiastic commentators, web journalists and true lovers of the game.

Disgrace In Defeat

image courtesy

Team India paid the price for some unimaginative cricket while it was just a reward for Sri Lanka for displaying grit, aggression and, more importantly, possessing a gameplan. The decision to bowl first was the right move without doubt. It gave Dravid and his men the best of the conditions. The ball did enough in the air early on and the wicket offered bounce. And when it was India's turn to bat the strip had eased out considerably and the target of 255 should have been achieved with much to spare.

What the team lacked in totality was confidence. With the writing clearly on the wall, India should have approached the match fearlessly. A no holds barred approach would have at least given the team better sleep. Most of the pressure the team found itself under was self inflicted. Sourav and Sachin looked nervy for no reason. Batting out 50 overs would have ensured India the win but sadly wickets at regular intervals, which ensured that no sizeable partnerships were built, led to the downfall.

The knock by Sehwag clearly indicated there were no demons in the pitch. If a player who is battling poor form can show this assurance, it should not been out of the world for the others to follow suit. Chaminda Vaas was at his usual steady self, while Muralitharan continues to mesmerize. The duo should have been played out. If India had played the two safely without giving them a wicket the pressure would have got to the other bowlers and even a asking rate of six per over could have met without ado. The decision to go after the experienced pair lacked logic.

Murali, after going for a few in his first over, switched to bowling from round the wicket and that to me was a masterstroke. He cut down the angle and with the doosra that would always keep the batsmen guessing he became a handful. Dhoni who presented the last ray of hope paid the penalty for playing on the backfoot to a spinner who can turn a mile. It was a judgmental error, any player at this level would tell to stick your pad out in the beginning of the innings to a spinner unless the ball is pitched in the bowlers half.

The dismissal of Yuvraj summed up the match. With pressure mounting, the confusion got to the youngster, and much like what has happened to the Indian side after their landing in the Caribbean.

The India bowling was good in parts, but allowing the Lankans to claw back through Chamara Silva and Tillakaratne Dilshan cost the match. The body language of the entire side when Russel Arnold and Vaas went berserk in the final five overs was awful.

Heads will definitely, and should, roll, and the senior members in the side should take responsibility for this sad result. The Greg Chappell-Rahul Dravid combine had too many experiments but very little positive result to offer. Lessons were served especially when the team was winning but there was no concrete effort to learn from them. Victories in familiar conditions will continue but good teams would be remembered on how well they did when they were taken out of their comfort zone.

Bermuda might cause a sensational upset by beating Bangladesh and pave the way for the men in blue to enter the super eight, but that was not the way it was meant to be. India does not deserve their place in the next stage after this show. Hard and fair decisions will have to be made when the team returns, but my only hope is that the learning starts at least now. The defeat and the manner of it was a disgrace.

Footage of Kapil Dev on the Lords balcony with the Prudential Trophy is getting grainier by the minute, and it is time the present bunch does something worthwhile in the coming months to restore the confidence in the billons of supporters who are fast losing interest and hope.

Friday, 23 March 2007

Double Or Nothing For Team India

The men in blue will know for sure their homecoming will not be a happy one if they are unable to put it across to Sri Lanka. Time to throw the defeat against Bangladesh to the trash can and get on with the job in hand. The situation for Dravid and his boys is not dissimilar to what we faced in 1983. Luckily for India the net run rate is no more a concern, and all they need is a win and if they can do it they will go to the super eight as one of the strong forces to reckon with.

The psychological edge India have over Sri Lanka should stand them in good stead. The recent victories, even though they were achieved at home, suggest the Indians have a fair measure of the Islanders. The Indian attack, that has looked pedestrian in parts, will be up against a set of batsmen who are oozing with confidence.

Sanath Jayasuriya looks dangerous and it is important for India not to feed him on his strengths. Bowling close to his body and tucking him for space is the key. He is going to be murderous on anything that allows him to free his levers, but if he can be tied down initially with disciplined bowling, he is likely to succumb.

The team that played Bermuda looks like the closest the think tank could get at in terms of balance. But I would like a solitary change – in Irfan Pathan coming in for Ajit Agarkar, who has looked patchy. Pathan stretches the batting, and depth is very important in a crunch game. Pathan has always done well against Lanka, and if he can slip in six to eight overs without being bled for too much and chip in with some useful runs, he will have done his job.

The most important phase of the match is the middle overs. Sri Lanka have the knack of getting through this period quickly with some tight slow bowling backed up by some athletic fielding inside the cordon. India should graft and ensure a minimum of four singles are obtained every over and keep the scoreboard ticking.

The batting order should not be tampered with. Robin Uthappa should open in Sourav's company. Dravid at three and Sachin at four gives an opportunity to the best batsmen in the side to stay until the end. Shewag at five brings in the ammunition to counter the spinners who will be doing the bulk of the bowling at that stage. In Dhoni and Yuvraj, the team is equipped with two fantastic end game players and paper the batting looks a solid bet.

Anil Kumble will be the better option against Lanka, as his pace does not allow the batsmen to use their feet. The likes of Jayawardene and Sangakkara are nimble footed against the flighted delivery, and would be more at home against Harbhajan. Sehwag with his control and Yuvraj with his new found flatter trajectory can make up for Harbhajan.

With Sri Lanka already certain of their spot in the next stage, India also stands to carry points if they win. It is blessing in disguise for India: they stand to gain everything if they win. Team India would have ideally liked their spot in the super eight booked before their last preliminary match, but having got in to this hole, they should show resolve to take this game that means double or nothing.

image courtesy

My XI (in batting order): Robin Uthappa, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, M.S. Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble and Munaf Patel.


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Thursday, 22 March 2007

Lankans Serve A Stern Warning

Sri Lanka not getting enmeshed in the web of saving their reputation was the high point of their massive mandate over Bangladesh. Effortless in his innings, Sanath Jayasuriya proved beyond doubt that his sell-by date is a far distance away. For a man who looked like a spent shell sometime back, he is now back to being the live grenade he once was.

The rest of the batting is chugging along like a well-oiled machine and India for once would have enjoyed the Lankan onslaught for all that the men in blue only have to worry about a win now. The net run rate, which has clung to reporters and analysts like an albatross can now be done away with.

The fearless approach by Sri Lanka was in stark contrast to the manner in which India played their opener. Playing your natural game and not dwelling too much upon other details is the plain and simple recipe for success. India were caught in a web, while Lanka just played normal cricket that helped them canter to a win with consummate ease.

The other factor that had to be taken serious note of is the variety in the Islanders’ attack. Chaminda Vaas brings in the experience and the left-hand mystery while Lasith Malinga has the air speed to confront any batsmen on any surface. Mahroof comes in as the calming influence in the middle overs with his steadiness, and any encomiums I shower on Muralitharan and Jayasuriya would only be stating the obvious. In these genial giants, the bowling has two men who have seen it all and know what it takes to succeed in a big tourney like this.

The manner in which the Bangladesh batting was decimated was a stern pointer to the strength in their attack that is almost a forgotten component, as it has always been their batting that has held centre stage. Add their athletic fielding and conditions in the Caribbean that suit their style of play than any other side… Sri Lanka will be the side to beat in the competition।


Pakistan signed off in style but not reaching the next round will be a bitter pill for the cricket crazy country to swallow. The recent incidents that have surrounded Pakistan cricket could have made even mentally strong characters weak. But the team showed commendable commitment, and the will to win was evident in the strong body language.

Imran Nazir played an innings that was a throwback in to an earlier era. The slightly crouched stance to go with a strong top hand with iron wrists, Nazir has it all to be a clean striker. I have seen him take some better attacks to the cleaners, and what stunned me when I first saw him was the awesome bat speed he could generate even against real quality pacemen like Gillespie and McGrath.

The mammoth win was also a fitting farewell to Inzamam-ul-Haq who has carried the burden for guiding Pakistan's fortune with his big broad blade with aplomb. A cool and calm customer, he always let his chaste Urdu and his bat do the talking. Pakistan will miss his services for sure, and the world of cricket will be denied his silken smooth stroke play। Thanks, Inzi, for all the entertainment.

all images courtesy

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

The Minnows Are Here To Stay

Another day that showed the chasm between the top sides and the associates is colossal. The upsets these lower ranked countries have caused over the years should be treated as exceptions rather than examples as they are far and few. South Africa had a easy day in the office as Scotland were unable to match their intensity while the New Zealand batsmen had some useful time in the middle.

Ireland beating Pakistan and Bangladesh overcoming India will be
spoken about for years to come but I stick to my stance on not more
than two qualifiers for a World Cup. Shattered Records have become as natural as day following night in these games that don’t serve quality stuff.

Ireland, have surprised me by playing some good cricket, hence apart from the ten Test playing nations (Zimbabwe included) Kenya and Ireland should have been the other two teams that should have made it to the event. There should never be any easy games and that can be ensured only if the also-rans don’t play the tournament.

But I have never been against the minnows getting exposure, I remember Bangladesh playing against India and Pakistan in 1988 in the Asia Cup and also playing in the Australasia Cup a few years later, they will have to wait and play in tournaments such as these or compete in triangular events or a few bilateral series before getting to the World Cup.

Sri Lanka had to wait for a long time before getting into the Test fold but they never felt out of place because they had gone through the hard grind before getting there. Likewise associates must compete well and play some hard cricket for a certain duration before getting to top flight competition.

Upsets will always happen, especially in team sports where there is the option of passing the buck. One can always expect the other to get the job done; the intensity against a lesser opponent goes down. One will try and exceed his own self rather than playing within himself. All these can lead to disasters as some previous matches have proved but these sporadic events should not make us believe they are here to stay.

The 1983 World Cup was thrown open when Zimbabwe upset Australia. In spite of the Aussies thumping us in the next game, all we needed was one win against either West Indies or Australia to qualify. As we beat the champs in the opening game our job became easier but we were thankful to Zimbabwe for causing the upset that made our job easier.

Likewise Kenya beating West Indies in 1996 or Zimbabwe beating England in 1992 were great for the game but let us not read too much in to them. The biggest foray from a minnow in the World Cup to me was Kenya making the last four in 2003 but even that was achieved by a few teams not traveling to Nairobi in the league stage that helped them accumulate vital points to reach the last four.

What this World Cup as proved as we get to the end of the preliminary
stage is the minnows are going to be cannon fodder but they have to be approached the same was as one would do a top side. The margin would be huge if you treat the game seriously but take it casually and you could well end up being the casualty as Pakistan and India learnt bitterly.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Team India’s Confidence Makes A Come Back

The margin made it special. A few grey areas might persist but if the batsmen who put the reserve against Bangladesh behind them and played with gay abandon continue in the same vein, well India can squeak through to the next round. The contest against Sri Lanka might pose bigger questions but a commodity called confidence that was in short supply after the opener is back to propel the men in blue.

The batting that ran up the highest world Cup score was never going to be challenged by this pedestrian Bermudan attack. But the no-holds barred attack was refreshing. Virender Sehwag played a knock that was long overdue but the striking aspect of his innings was not the final tally but the pace at which he made them. With his place under serious question Viru was selfless in going after the attack. He could have taken the easier option of grinding out a good score but the commendable aspect of his knock was he continued to play his shots, giving top priority to the teams' requirement.

The tongues will continue to wag as the runs came against a bunch of amateurs that had a painter, a plumber, and a policeman whose bodyweight had made more news than his ability to bowl left arm spin in its entourage. But spare a thought, cricket is a game that is mostly played within your own self and the opponent is a mere convenience. It was not India's fault they were playing Bermuda.

Viru for his part did flash a few times outside the off-stump but those are habits that would follow him to his grave. A few things cannot be changed but for a major portion of his innings he played close to his body and left deliveries that seamed away from him and this was an indication of the effort he was putting in to spend more time at the crease.

Yuvraj played a blinder and I was not surprised. There were enough indications against Bangladesh that he was hitting the straps well. He continues to improve with every game and with Sachin giving the freedom to his batting that was also long overdue, turned a good total in to a massive one.

Barring Robin Uthappa every batsmen in the side has runs under his belt and they can approach the all-important game against Sri Lanka with assurance. The bowling could have been tighter. Agarkar and Zaheer Khan continue to feed the batsmen in the 'scoring zone' and against a better set of players, they will be bled for more.

The only mistake, if one can call that, was the exclusion of Harbhajan Singh. I strongly feel our strength is spin and there is nothing wrong in fielding both the spinners. Sehwag and Yuvraj give Dravid the slow bowling options and with Sachin who can fill in with bowling with the seam up might have gone against Harbhajan but the specialist will also perform better in tight situations. The only change I would wish to make against Sri Lanka is bringing Harbajan back in place of Agarkar.

Everything the team think tank would have aspired for in this game were met and it is now a question of taking the good work to the next game were a sterner test awaits. India should be in the next stage without which the games premier event would be robbed of much of its charm and more importantly some of its biggest entertainers.

What is called for is a fearless approach and I am sure with normal service from the batsmen resuming team India is well on their course after that minor skirmish, that could well be put of as a bad dream as Dravid said.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Task Cut Out For Team India

Team India have only themselves to blame for the perplexing situation they are in. The timid approach against Bangladesh has cost them dear and the danger of constantly trying to exceed expectations against Bermuda could well lead to them not playing their natural game.

The calculators will be out from today. The net run rate (NRR) will be utmost on the minds during the last two games and in order to take some pressure off in the last game, India must get healthy on the NRR front against Bermuda and not leave too much to be done against Lanka.

The best route to a healthy run rate would be to bowl first today pack the minnows to a lowly total and finish the match quickly. Batting first and rattling up a big score would do a lot to the confidence of the team but if the wicket was to seam in the first hour and India trying to go berserk, could lead to chaos all over.

As far as the team composition goes, Anil Kumble should come in place of Agarkar. Robin Uthappa should go back to open with Sourav and Sehwag (If he is in the XI) should bat only at five. Rahul at three and Sachin at four gives the side a solid look at least on paper and with all experiments failing there is nothing wrong in having batsmen in position they feel at home.

India have nothing to lose from here. Let the so called stars not play to save their reputation, it can only lead to more punctured egos. The match between Australia and Netherlands was another example on top sides not trying different things just because the opponents happen to be a weaker outfit. Has Ponting ever batted in a different number if the or has McGrath tried anything out of the ordinary just because he is bowling to a set of unknown batsmen?

The trick lies in playing your natural game and sticking to your strengths. India should resort to a settled batting order hence the player knows and understands his role. Let all polices on flexibility be thrown to the backburner. Batting and spin will be India's strength and let them stick to that.

The demise of Bob Woolmer was a tragic event and another stark reminder on how stressful this game has got. It is no more a sport it used to be. The media explosion has everybody (player and coach alike) minutely dissected and they are always under the microscope and that pressure can get too much at times.

The pressure and high expectations can affect a player’s performance. Sachin Tendulkar was a clear case of nerves in the opening match. The fear of failure has got him. And if it can adversely affect someone mentally as strong as Sachin, spare a thought for mere mortals.

I have not interacted personally with Woolmer but I have heard him as a very warm human and a great cricketing brain. Sad, pressure took a toll on his health. It is indeed a very sad day for World cricket.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Indian Cricket Hits A Nadir

Rahul Dravid with most of his fingernails gone and standing transfixed and clueless at first slip was not a pleasant sight. Take your pick, followers of Team India can be plain disappointed, get angry or keep crying all day. Well Dravid has given us flexibility here too.

There is no point in talking 'pedigree' in the line up unless thy deliver. Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly had no business in going in to a shell after the loss of early wickets. The conditions might have not been ideal for stroke play but their inability to graft and keep the scoreboard moving cost the team dear. Nearly 25,000 ODI runs between them but tied in knots by a bunch that believed that this great game revels in the moment and past records count for nothing.

Too many tactical errors cost India dear. The decision to bat was the mother of all mistakes; mind you I am not talking in hindsight. The wicket had some offer for the new ball and trying to get the batting campaign off in these conditions was not the brightest of ideas. I was sent in to eerie spin when Viru walked out to open with Sourav. What has Robin Uthappa done wrong as an opener to face this demotion?

Viru would have been better of against the slow men in the middle overs with his skill to hit inside out. With the frame of mind he is in, making him face the new ball was throwing him in the deep end. India might have suffered through the efforts of Sachin and Sourav but Yuvraj with his clean hitting gave them a ray of hope. But to lose five wickets for two runs at the death and expect to win a cricket match is like expecting five days of uninterrupted cricket in Guyana.

The target of 192 did not give enough for the bowlers on a wicket that eased considerably when Bangladesh came out to bat. Given the fact, we have one medium pacer who, after ten years of international cricket, does not have an idea to bowl six balls without offering a 'boundary ball' or slip-in a wide or a no-ball – and another, who trains his thoughts on how to glare at batsman rather than plot their down fall.

Munaf Patel was the only saving grace in an otherwise forgettable day. Keeping a tight length, he seems to have understood the science of one-day bowling. His height offers him bounce in spite of cutting down on pace. The catch Dhoni dropped proved costly in the final analysis, if India had one chance it was at that point with three batsmen already gone, India could have gone for the kill but that was destined not to be.

The knock by Tamim Iqbal was a tutor. He remained positive even though wickets tumbled around him. He was always on the lookout for runs and to me that proved seminal. Not bowling Sehwag early was another of Dravid's innumerable and unexplainable blunders. If Bangladesh can bowl 30 overs of spin against the best of that trade and come out smiling, Dravid should have learnt his lessons.

The team think tank will have some hard explaining to do. All is not lost. Rather there is nothing more to lose it can only be all or nothing from here. The team has to come out positive and learn from this failure. But there was a crumb of comfort as Ireland got past Pakistan in another shocker. The cricketing Gods might have scripted these days for the minnows - hence there was no escape route.

Friday, 16 March 2007

No Contest Whatsoever

It was not easy on the eye - Bermuda and Scotland standing clueless while getting pasted all over the park was not good advertisement for the world's premier event. The minnows should not be denied exposure against the top sides but the World Cup is not the stage for that.

It has greatly devalued the tournament. The top sides use it to boost their averages and it does not really mean anything in the larger perspective. To me, apart from the ten playing countries (I have included Zimbabwe) only the finalists in the qualifying tournament should play the Cup. The format used in the 1999 event in England was close to perfect. For a team to win the event, it should have competed at least against six or seven of the top sides and it would reflect well on the team that finally manages to win.

From the super-eight stage, the present edition has got it correct but the lead up to that stage is a big yawn. Take for example Bermuda. I am sure they would have found it difficult to survive in the senior division league in Chennai. The quality of cricket was disappointing and the fitness of some players left a lot to be desired.

If the ICC is serious about improving cricket in these countries, the stress should be on developing the grass roots rather than making them play the World Cup and cut a sorry figure. It is not their fault if they can't compete against the superior sides. Imagine India against Brazil in the soccer World Cup. It would be a mockery of the system. Cricket much like hockey can never become a global sport. The games' governing body should understand and work within that limitation rather than try and challenge it.

It was a good start for Sri Lanka, who has a good chance in this tournament, the weight of the opponents notwithstanding, it was a clinical performance.

The Zimbabwe-Ireland game was a good contest none the less. Frankly, I did not watch the proceedings fully but the interest the game created in closeness would compare favourably with some of the seat-edge thrillers I have been a part of in the world Cup.

Zimbabwe, once a formidable side in their own right, challenged most sides in the World, is pale shadow of itself now, finding itself at the lowest ebb. The match might have not produced cricket of the highest quality, but as the game is known - for every level it has its own charm - and the Irish opener J. Bray consumed his fair share of fifteen minutes.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

About the Aussies

What strikes me most about this Australian side is their intensity even in a game where the result is a forgone conclusion. Pitted against a bunch of players who would prefer a stroll in the cooler climes of their country with their favourite Scotch whiskey in hand rather face a stern test on the cricket pitch against the World Champions who prefer to take every match as seriously as a summit clash
File Photo of Aussie Team. Image courtesy:

The depth in the Australian batting is awesome to say the least and add Andrew Symonds to this list and it is certain to send a shiver down every bowler's spine. Ricky Ponting in the news for all the wrong reasons of late played an innings that justified his billing as one of the top batsmen at the moment.

Mind you it is never easy to concentrate against a lower ranked side. One tends to exceed himself in situations like these but Ponting struck to what he knows best as he equaled his countryman Mark Waugh and a pair of Indians as the top century maker in world Cup history.

The recent defeats Australia had suffered will do more good than harm in the longer run. I am sure it would have steeled their resolve more than ever before. I strongly feel in spite of conditions in West Indies not being conducive for their brand of cricket they would still be the team to beat in this event.

A player of the caliber of Mike Hussey walking in at number six tells enough about their balance. They have enough cricketers who can turn the match single handedly- an area other teams lack in abundance. Adam Gilchrist who has been the lynchpin for long, gives the side lot more options by opening the innings and when Symonds comes back, the Aussie juggernaut should well be on its way.

Glen McGrath bowled a line that suggested the old warhorse has lost none of the sting. The other bowlers would do well to revolve around him, they might miss the pace of Brett Lee but Shaun Tait is not far behind. Hogg is another vital member and with wickets that provide turn he would have a vital role to play. The opening match might have not tested the Aussies but there was enough gun powder in their show. If other contenders are going to be led by the World champs recent record, it would be at their own peril.

I was never going to miss my breakfast to catch Kenya and Canada on the cricket field but it was nice to see Kenya post a win. The victory could not have come at a better time for a country plagued by problems. The early rounds might not really interest the connoisseur but what I can tell is this event holds a lot of promise as surfaces on which the games are being played are not partial towards one particular craft.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Lara’s Lads Come out Smiling

It needs a great cricketing brain to predict a West Indies-Pakistan match right. Both sides unnecessarily complicating things in the middle dished out a low key lung opener but the West Indian perseverance paid off in the end. The match served an important notice to all contenders - The focus in the first half of the innings has to be on preserving the wickets rather than trying to go berserk.

Pakistan missed one trick too many. 57 runs in the last five overs undid all their good work. The target extended beyond 'reachable' on a wicket that flattered to deceive. If this is the way the strip across the Caribbean is going to play, the slow men will have a huge part to play.

Inzamam should have persisted with Kaneria after the leggie went for only three runs in the final over he bowled. The medium pacers who came back at the end provided the right air speed for the batmen to free their levers. Spin might have been far more potent against a set of batsmen who don't posses the foot work to counter them on a wicket that aids their craft.

Both the fact that far too many runs were scored in the closing stages and the players body language suggested Pakistan were coming out second best. Pakistan cannot be counted out based on this show but a only if they are to come out with a game-plan in accordance to the conditions, will they be able to match performance with potential.

Cutting to the chase, Pakistan faltered at every stage. Imran Nazir did what Afridi does often. Matches are never going to be won in the power play, only a platform can be laid. The sooner Pakistan and other teams learn this, it is better for their campaign.

As I had said earlier Younis Khan would be the vital cog in the Pakistan line up. The teams chances is more likely to rise and fall with him. He is the calming influence in the top-order. Inzamam and Mohd. Yousuf carry too much pressure on them to play their natural game. The middle order that looked good a few months ago, looks distraught now and it is up to the three most experienced batsmen at the top to guide the team through.

The approach was over cautious that led to the downfall while Lara riding on a emotional wave in front of a vociferous home crowd rung in some brilliant changes with the ball and was innovative with his placing of fielders. Round one to Lara as he outwitted Inzi in all departments. Pakistan has it in them to bounce back but what remains to be seen is how much they have learnt from this defeat।


On the commentors: Joseph, I agree. That was questionable captaincy. After Kanheria got a wicket the pressure just wasn’t kept up. If Inzamam had continued with the spinners for even about two or three overs after that we might have seen a different result. IssacMJ, all-rounders will always make or break games in international cricket, and, as you say, especially in these conditions. Look at the India-Bangladesh match: Sehwag would have made the difference in that game if he’d been brought in earlier.

Once again, thank you, everyone, for your comments and feedback!

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Who I'll Be Watching This Season

Is there a more enthralling sight in the game than a good clean strike that sends the ball over the ropes? Perhaps, a fast bowler sending the stump on a cartwheel, or a batsman unexpectedly beaten by the looping flight of a spinner come close.

I will be watching the players I have discussed below purely based on their entertainment quotient and nothing else.

There are many in World cricket at the moment who can hit a ball out of the park. More hours at the gym have made players stronger, better willows and boundary lines that are pushed in all the time to accommodate the sixers are all seen as factors but the men mentioned below bring about a polish to their big hits that make them more exciting to watch than the others.

It would only be fair I start with India. Given his recent form Sourav Ganguly could be one of the players who could provide high quality entertainment with his clean hits. Dhoni and Yuvraj cannot be left behind. Their buccaneering ways needs no second mention and they could well be doing the big hits in the business end.

Dhoni Image Courtesy:

The two veterans from the sub-continent, Inzamam and Jayasuriya make batting look as easy as a stroll in the park and that adds to the allure. Once they find their rhythm they will be deadly in the smaller grounds. Afridi is another swashbuckler who will be hard pressed to contain.

The recent ODI series between New Zealand and Australia saw a lot of big hits and I reckon Fulton will be one player to watch out for the sheer excitement he brings to the crease. And across the Tasman we find Adam Gilchrist who conducts the easiest way to 100 classes. Such is the range of strokes he has in his armoury it needs a Steve Waugh to intervene and advise Gilly to take it a little easy ahead of the World Cup.

Gilchrist can go berserk right from the word go, his philosophy is pretty simple. A ball will be hit if it offers the scope, first or last of the innings does not matter. Not caring for the situation and continuing with his natural flow makes the Aussie veteran a rare treat. Another Aussie who can provide the sparkle could well be their skipper Ricky Ponting, who is savage on the short ball. Hayden too can muscle a few to different pin codes.

And my last pick is the one who feels the manual’s permanent place is the fireplace. Chris Gayle, one leg standing, bring down the blade in one big swoosh can be the biggest draw. The strapping Jamaican is easily the most flamboyant of all openers in the world Cup and four or five good knocks from him and the crowd would have got their money’s worth.

Gayle Image Courtesy:


Thank you for your comments, all. It was good to see that this list stirred up some debate and discussion of your own, as lists must always do. I see that the English trio has received some mention here, but we can only wait and see. Flintoff is an absolutely dangerous cricket, Anonymous, and with Pietersen and Collingwood, who Aurindam named, forms one of the more challenging middle-orders in cricket. The English bowling remains their problem, however. Aswin, absolutely spot-on – the tournament so far is proving you right, of course. Experience does count in these conditions. It’s difficult for a bastman to go out and slam-bang the opposition – shots need to be picked and chosen with care on slow wickets, and playing shots becomes tough. Experience will count even more in the super eights, where there are no easy games.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

World Cup 2007: Hopes And Expectations

I have lost count on the number of times I have been asked to predict the winner of the 2007 World Cup. Frankly, it looks like the most open event after the 1992 edition held in the Antipodes. Even then, Australia were tipped to retain their crown on current form and home advantage, but the hosts’ curse did not let go of its grip and the champions suffered.

On paper it looks like any of the top eight teams have a decent chance of laying hands on that exotic piece of silverware. But among the teams tipped to take the crown I would vouch for India to come up trumps. Patriotism might only be a part of the reason.

Frankly speaking, the expectations on India are not high if one goes by logical reasoning. So, what gives India a good chance in the ninth edition?

The wickets the teams are going to encounter in the Caribbean and the conditions to prevail is something Team India would feel more at home than any other country barring of course the host.

Anil and Harbhajan give the attack much-required balance. The biggest fallout could be the way the new ball is handled. Runs could leak when the ball is hard, and that could prove seminal in the final analysis. But if the seamers can strike a decent rhythm, India could well push every side to the wall.

Hardly do bowlers win over-specific cricket. India can be rest assured they have one of the strongest batting line-ups and, more importantly, one that is falling in place at the right moment to get the job done for them. A famous cricket writer-friend of mine called the WC squad the Desi version of dad’s army. He is right, without a trace of doubt, but the truth is the reserve tank did not promise enough runs and wickets at the grandest stage for the team to leave shores with fresher and fitter legs.

For the first time after 1999, Australia are not starting as outright favourites. The chinks were there for everyone to see, but to expose them, it needed a resurgent England and then New Zealand. Many have even put their money on the Proteas, but much like the Kiwis, they will find the going tough once the wickets start getting slower with more cricket played on them.

Given the team balance, conditions in the West Indies and the law of averages, I am afraid the most ‘open’ of all World Cups could well find its way to India. Well, the team that is going to represent you, me and the entire country is likely to hold aloft the trophy that has found only a singular owner till date. Mind you, it is not only my heart but also my head that says INDIA


Many thanks to all those who’ve commented! Abhijit, I agree it’s a pity that Powar was excluded. Let’s not forget that Harbhajan’s call-up was a certainty, and that Powar’s exclusion is due to Kumble, and not Bhajji. He’s a good bowler who has unfortunately lost out to Kumble’s seniority and vast experience in international cricket. Bhupesh, the Aussies do have some fine qualities that make them the most threatening team. I see the Aussies as a team that can adapt the circumstances to suit their game: they don’t change their game and are always aggressive in all aspects of it. Their excellent system of nurturing young talent will always give Australia the upper hand in any tournament.

And frankly speaking, Srikar, I think VVS Laxman’s fielding capabilities were a big reason for his exclusion from this squad, as well as the particular conditions of this tournament. If the World Cup was being held in South Africa or Australia he would have been a surefire entrant.