Archive for the ‘india’ Category
Friday, November 16th, 2012
At the end of the second day of England’s warm-up match against Mumbai A, in which India’s new number 3, Cheteshwar Pujara, scored a composed 87, the 24-year-old from Rajkot was keen to underplay his achievement, but his remarks were to prove eerily prescient.
“This match gave me a chance to get used to the actions of the England bowlers, have a look at their strengths,” he said. When asked what they might have learned of him, he concluded, with a smile: “I guess since I’ve scored runs it’s fair to say I’ve learned more.”
He certainly took England’s bowlers to school on Days 1 and 2 of the first Test at Ahmedabad, and reminded those who pay attention to domestic form that when he scores he has a tendency to score big. In first-class cricket, 9 of his 16 hundreds have been scores of over 150; one of those was a triple hundred. When he lifted his bat to the Indian dressing room today to celebrate his 200 – his second Test century after 159 against New Zealand at Hyderabad back in August – you could sense the relief and satisfaction that came with the cementing of the belief that India have found their replacement to the man they called the Wall, Rahul Dravid.
While it’s a little premature to be drawing lofty comparisons so early, there were times during Pujara’s innings when one could have been watching the great man himself in action. Before this Test, I wrote that it’d be interesting to see how he’d go because I hadn’t seen much of him. Then I remembered, glancing back through some of the older entries on this blog, that I’d seen him on debut at Bangalore in 2010. That match was memorable for Shane Warne taking to Twitter to criticise Ricky Ponting’s field placings for Nathan Hauritz, but it also marked the day Pujara scored a calm and assured 72; it seemed his maturity and self composure was evident even then. Then, as today, he showed himself solid in defence, strong off the back foot, with a tidy, unruffled approach to finding the gaps in the field and scoring on both sides of the wicket. It was an auspicious beginning to a career that was then forced onto the back burner for 18 months due to a chronic knee injury that required two operations.
Perhaps at this stage it might be more accurate to call Pujara a buttress, given his predecessor’s monumental achievements built over a long and illustrious career, but when Dhoni called his men in today on 521-8 with Pujara not out on 206, it was clear that the latter was the bulwark that England’s bowling attack had dashed itself against to no avail.
England proved similarly clueless when it came to the 18 overs they batted before the close; retreating into their shells against the spin of Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ohja and finishing up 3 wickets down for only 41 runs and still 480 runs behind.
In the interview afterwards, Pujara said the plan for India for tomorrow was to take the seven remaining England wickets and then take ten more. Nothing is set in stone, but the task facing the visitors – to somehow salvage a draw – seems insurmountable, and he has been instrumental in making this happen.
Before the start of this series, all the talk when it came to India’s new batting talent was of Virat Kohli. Now, the man they call “Che” has joined him in setting a foundation for a new legacy in Indian cricket. Viva la Revolución.
Wednesday, November 14th, 2012
I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to the Test series starting in India tomorrow.
It’s that time of year again: England’s winter tour to somewhere a damn sight warmer than the Midlands, while you shiver on your couch in the early hours tanked up on Red Bull and espresso, eyes misted over with sleep and hands shaking with an excess of caffeine and excitement – or despair, depending on how bad England’s batting collapse is.
There’s been the hype, the trash-talk and the warning shots across the bow from both sides; sensibilities have already been ruffled and contretemps between fans have carried a tinge of the tetchy. Sabers have been rattled and the warfare – up till now – has been psychological. Predictions have been ping-ponged back and forth. England will be hammered; India are at that transition period where they’re ripe for the picking. Ravichandran Ashwin has a mystery ball; Ravichandran Ashwin is no Saeed Ajmal. England will miss injured fast bowler Steven Finn as he is the only man who can bang the ball in, making full use of his height; the bounce will be so low so he’d be useless anyway.
Even the BCCI’s nonsense over broadcasting and image rights has a comforting inevitability about it – though maybe not for the Sky team, who will have to make do with commentating along to the BCCI feed on a television in a studio in Isleworth. It’s not ideal, but then a stream of commentary delivered through the medium of rap over a diorama of plasticene men with matchsticks for bats would still be preferable to the witterings of Ravi Shastri.
The overall consensus seems to be that India have this series in the bag, but, to be honest, after the recent barrage of T20, I just want to see some good, hard-fought Test cricket. Yes, the pitches will be deader than roadkill and twice as flat – at least until days 4 and 5, when cracks that would put the Marianas Trench to shame should start appearing – so batting first and piling up a massive first innings score will be on the minds of both captains.
There’s been so much talk of “the team” recently, that it’s easy to forget that it’s individuals who light up a stage.
Kevin Pietersen has been successfully “reintegrated” into the team, with the likes of Anderson and Broad mouthing the expected “we need to all move on and let bygones be bygones” platitudes, perhaps (hopefully) having come to the realization that for disparate personalities to rub along together requires some compromise; in which case, welcome to the real world. It’s good that that particular farrago is over and done with, and if some electronics boffin could rig me up to an alarm system that wakes me up when KP comes in to bat I’d be mighty grateful. England’s triumvirate of doughty plodders, Cook, Compton and Trott, will hopefully by then have laid a solid platform on which Pietersen can strut his stuff.
There was a great mention on Twitter the other day that Pietersen’s walk out to the middle in England’s final warm-up match was greeted with the cheering of children massed round the boundary. Ask them what they think of “team unity” and what should happen when “an individual transgresses” in terms of the “fabric of our society” and you’d no doubt get a blank look in response. Like me – like many of us, I suspect – their love of cricket is in large part based on watching players like him get runs.
If there is any player in the Indian team who can lay claim to being the opposition’s version of Pietersen, it is Virat Kohli. Young, outrageously talented and with fine Test centuries against Australia and New Zealand under his belt, he is every inch the modern batsman. Like Pietersen he can be a handful off the field; like Pietersen he can dominate a bowling attack and is exhilarating to watch when his dander is up. With this likely to be Sachin Tendulkar’s last series, Kohli could very well turn out to be the designated keeper of India’s flame.
Speaking of entertainers, it will be good to see Yuvraj Singh back. The man Kevin Pietersen refers to affectionately as “Pie-chucker” will return for his first Test since recovering from a rare form of lung cancer, and the fact he has already taken Pietersen’s wicket in the first warm-up game with his innocuous left-arm spin almost guarantees the fact he will be brought on to bowl at Ahmedabad as soon as KP comes to the crease. Cricket may be India’s religion, but Yuvraj’s illness was a timely reminder that it is, after all, still just a game. That he is now back in the game, as it were, is a wonderful story.
Aside from these headline grabbers there’ll be no doubt much to watch and mull over over the next few weeks. Alastair Cook’s captaincy will be tested. It may be premature to say he does not have the charisma or tactical nous of more illustrious international counterparts such as Graeme Smith, Michael Clarke, Mahela Jayawardene or even Darren Sammy, but then I didn’t see him becoming a success as ODI captain either. But this will be a trial by fire in the Indian crucible.
England entrusting Samit Patel with the number 6 spot is also good to see, as he was one of the few players who emerged from England’s woeful WT20 campaign with any credit; his ability to get runs against spin as well as provide back-up to Graeme Swann with the ball are the reasons he has been picked ahead of Jonny Bairstow, who will no doubt get his chance when Ian Bell flies home before the second Test to be at the birth of his first child.
On the Indian side, I’ll be interested to see how Cheteshwar Pujara goes when he bats at 3, not having seen very much of him. I’ve seen slightly more of their young quick, Umesh Yadav, and while he is yet inexperienced, there’s undoubted potential as well as pace there.
If I were forced to predict the result of this first Test I’d have to say the likeliest outcome will be a draw. But we will certainly have a better idea of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the teams by the end of it – as well as being, through a succession of early mornings (or late nights), a damn sight more tired. But when there’s the prospect of a feast in store, you don’t need sleep to sustain you.
Wednesday, June 27th, 2012
In terms of eloquence, it was never going to match Kumar Sangakkara’s wonderful tour de force last year, but Tony Greig’s Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture certainly pulled no punches when it came to India and its influence on the world game.
In a room filled with cricket’s great and good and redolent with the smell of smoke from burning bridges by the end of it, Greig’s forty-minute speech used the word “India” fifty-two times in total as he took the BCCI to task for its self-interest and greed and for pursuing a policy bent purely on the maintenance of power and of getting one over on its erstwhile colonial oppressors.
“India is preoccupied with money and Twenty-20 cricket, and sees its IPL and Champions League as more important than a proper international calendar,” he said. “To compound the problems, India has not only sold part of the game to private interests but some of her administrators are seen to have a conflict of interest, which makes it more difficult for it to act in the spirit of the game… The net result of this is Test cricket is suffering… We can huff and puff as much as we like and have all sorts of external reports but this situation can only be resolved by India accepting that the spirit of cricket is more important than generating billions of dollars.”
Strong stuff, but after the initial collective thud of jaws dropping you got the feeling there may have been one or two heads in the room nodding in agreement.
He also took aim at the BCCI’s resistance to umpiring technology, its “indifference” towards anti-doping and corruption and problems which “could be resolved if India invoked the spirit of cricket and didn’t try and influence its allies in how to vote”.
Greig, of course, isn’t the first to criticise the Indian board for its selfish lack of interest in the wellbeing of the sport – Lawrence Booth issued a reminder to the BCCI not to abuse its “special gift: the clout to shape an entire sport” in his notes to this year’s Wisden Almanack – but no-one does “damn the torpedoes” quite like Tony Greig, and whether he will ever be invited back to India for a commentary stint in the future is anyone’s guess. You might think it, but Tony will damn well say it, and let’s be honest, many of us agree with him that India’s control of the sport at the highest level is deleteriously disproportionate.
Having said that, there is something slightly incongruous about a man taking a cricket board to task for its blatant commercialism, and the damage caused by government interference in the sport, when, as “tourism ambassador” for Sri Lanka, he managed to shoehorn a thinly-disguised advert for a hotel into his commentary during England’s recent Test series there. He also, unfortunately, joins the ranks of those bamboozled by bullshit and bad science in dragging up that long-discredited old chestnut of lie-detector tests to root out corruption. That and the fact that Greig – the man who was involved in the notorious 1974 runout of Alvin Kallicharran – was the man delivering the speech, and Stuart Broad – a man who thinks every lbw he goes up for is out, and when he is batting he never is – was involved in the panel discussion afterwards, might have made you do a double-take on seeing their names attached to a “spirit of cricket” lecture.
Anyway, whether or not you agree with what Tony Greig had to say, his speech was certainly not dull, and you can read the full transcript at the Lord’s site.
And so we come to that part of the year when students the length and breadth of the country are goggle-eyed through too much revision and Red Bull, and the “mid term report” metaphor gets trundled out and applied to England’s performance halfway through the international summer. The consensus seems to be Team England haven’t just performed with flying colours so far, but are on course for an A+ grade by season’s end.
Let’s not get carried away. The West Indies series was less a prelim than an open-book exam; for all our fervent hopes that the Windies would present England with some semblance of a challenge – and that’s not being patronizing though it’s easy of course to be magnanimous when you’re winning – a competition never really materialized. Comprehensive victories by England were expected in the Tests, but less so in the ODIs and certainly the T20 match last Sunday was expected to provide a more level playing field, but only served to highlight the Windies’ frailties. Last time the West Indies visited England it was Shiv Chanderpaul who was the side’s star; this time around Marlon Samuels won cult hero status – that doughty, crease-occupying 76* at Trent Bridge showed how much he has matured as a Test batsman. Tino Best provided some entertainment as well, and you’d have needed a heart of stone not to feel for him when at Edgbaston he fell just 5 runs short of the first century by a no. 11 batsman. But the team never really clicked as a unit, and in the case of offspinner Sunil Narine, preceded by a large amount of hype on the back of 24 wickets in the IPL, there was only disappointment and a distinct lack of the “mystery spin” we were promised, though conditions weren’t exactly beneficial for him.
It’s infuriating when there’s a missing ingredient that stops true potential from coming to fruition and producing success, but from a Leicestershire fan’s point of view it was nice to get a glimpse of that potential when the Windies played a tour match at Grace Road and Darren Bravo, who never really fired in the Tests but made 66 against Leicestershire, gave all of us watching a reminder of the beautiful strokeplay that brings out those Brian Lara comparisons.
Darren Bravo at Grace Road
England now face Australia in a series of five ODIs, starting on Friday, and while Bill Lawry might be taking things a bit far in trumpeting Australia’s seam bowling attack as the best in the world, they’re sure to provide a far stiffer examination, and better preparation for facing a South African squad that looks, quite frankly, intimidating in its strength and depth.
I’m aware that this post is starting to resemble a smorgasbord, or a salmagundi if you will (hodgepodge if you want to be less charitable) but it’s a been a mixed fortnight in terms of cricket news, from the tragic (the passing of Tom Maynard) to the ridiculous (Andrew Flintoff’s reference to Mike Atherton as a “fucking prick”) and the downright predictable (yet another kiboshing by the BCCI of a move at ICC Board level to make the decision review system mandatory across the board).
Tom Maynard’s sad death deserves more than just a footnote, but as yet it’s hard to make sense of the sequence of catastrophic events that led to a talented young cricketer being hit by an underground train in the early hours of Monday, June 18th. What made the news harder to take in was the fact he’d only been on television a couple of days before, talking about a future which he was hoping would involve playing for England.
Last week I wrote my own tribute to another bright light that was snuffed out too soon for World Cricket Watch on my favourite cricketer, Victor Trumper. Trumper accomplished much in his short life before he was taken by illness at the age of 37. With Tom Maynard, only 23, we will never know what he could have gone on to achieve. We like to believe that life, most of the time, and discounting the odd random variable, is something we can more or less control. But when events like this happen, everything we think we know about the natural order of things is thrown into chaos; death becomes, in the words of writer Edward St. Aubyn, “a scandal, a catastrophic design flaw; it ruins everything”.
Rest in peace, Tom.
Thursday, January 5th, 2012
There is no sport in which sentimentality coexists with commercialism so closely, and at times so uneasily, as cricket. A Test match can play to near empty stands, and still have a large contingent of purists fretting over its continued existence; T20 is seen as its uncultured, uncouth offspring, the kid who threw away a university scholarship to go on the X Factor and is knee-deep in money, cheerleaders and rock and roll.
Success in sport means moving with the times. It is why Test cricket now uncomfortably straddles the line between traditionalism and an uncertain future, not knowing whether it wants to go forward or back, and why in building a successful cricket team pragmatism must take precedence when it comes to retiring the old guard and making way for new blood.
It is mission accomplished as far as England and Andy Flower are concerned: England sit at the top of the Test tree through the fortuitous butterfly effect of KP’s bust-up with Peter Moores, and a perfect synergy between Flower and captain Andrew Strauss. Both Australia and India are fighting their way through a period of transition, with both facing accusations of sentimentality for not putting their old warhorses out to pasture.
One warhorse who, in the view of many, should have had his passage booked to the knacker’s yard months ago is Ricky Ponting. The first suspicion of reverent sentimentality on the part of Cricket Australia came when he did not retire immediately after losing the captaincy, but was pushed down to number four in hopes he would rediscover his form. Two schools of thought can be ascribed to this: the first being that any possibility at all of a return to his imperious best was worth persevering for, and the second, and most likely, that no one wanted to be the one to swing the axe on a great career, and that if the failures persisted for long enough, Ponting would do the decent thing and retire himself.
You make a rod for your own back when you have achieved as much as Ricky Ponting has. Anything less than excellence means failure. The fact you scored your last hundred back in January 2010 – never mind that you have scored ten half-centuries since then – is failure. Your 78 against New Zealand at Brisbane this year still won’t be enough to silence the critics. The skill in being a success at parties is knowing when to leave. People are saying you are finished. You need to bow out gracefully, to make way.
Or, you could say screw all that, smile and nod and grit your teeth and keep your head down and do it the hard way, throwing yourself through the dirt in one of the most desperate singles you’ve ever taken, and, spitting out bits of the SCG wicket and with mud on your shirt, raise your bat to the pavilion in cricket’s version of the one-fingered salute to celebrate your 40th Test hundred.
This was more than just a fuck-you hundred to the critics calling for Ponting to be dropped. Comebacks like this are the culmination of the moment you realise that, when you get to this stage in your career, your biggest opponent is yourself. The engine of your talent is still what drives you; but the workings need a bit more TLC than they used to. Like a vintage Patek chronograph, the hallmark and craftsmanship remain unmistakable, but the timekeeping might no longer be as precise; the inner workings will need cleaning, dismantling and, in some cases, replacing.
Ponting, interviewed after a roll-back-the-years 134 – in which the swivel-pull made a triumphant return with all the fanfare of a conqueror marching into a city – acknowledged that he has had to return to basics: “There were a few technical aspects of my game which I have been doing and which have now paid dividends. It’s all starting to come back. There’s rhythm about my batting again.”
Presumably – hopefully – now that the mechanism has been given a good old winding in that Sydney innings, he can continue keeping good time now for another year, another eighteen months, even. He will wind down eventually, to the extent where nothing will restart him, but that day is not yet.
Today, all the talk was of captain Michael Clarke’s historic triple-century. Tomorrow, all the talk will be about Sachin Tendulkar’s success or failure in chasing down that still-elusive hundredth hundred.
That all of this should, to a certain extent, overshadow the achievement of Australia’s ex-captain is understandable.
But that new shirt Ponting changed into after raising his bat was probably more symbolic than the dive through the dirt: clean shirt, clean sheet, renewed confidence, clean start.
Thank god for sentimentality.
Friday, December 9th, 2011
Yesterday was a very off-kilter day; a weird day, not a great day. 80mph winds; another shooting at Virginia Tech; the world economy continuing to circle the drain in ever-decreasing circles; a murder-suicide involving a family of five in a small town near where I live.
If seven years in the funeral business has taught me anything, it is that life is mostly random and bad stuff can and will happen – often repeatedly, sometimes all at the same time. Misfortune is rarely a lone traveller and we like to think we control our own destines, when we are really just monkeys masquerading as organ grinders.
So watching Virender Sehwag imposing his will on everything around him at Indore on his way to becoming only the second man to score an ODI double ton felt, ironically, like a haven in a storm.
Sure, Sachin was the first, and one could argue at length whose was the greater innings, although being the first to break that psychological barrier when few dared contemplate the possibility will always remain an astonishing achievement.
Sehwag may have joined the Little Master by way of a flat deck against West Indian bowling on a ground with small boundaries. He may have had a bit of luck when he was dropped on 170 by Darren Sammy. And if you want to be statistically picky about it, Belinda Clark holds the record in a limited overs international with 229* for Australia against Denmark in the 1997 World Cup.
But when Virender Sehwag is in form there is no sight quite like it.
He may be an old dog, in terms of an international career that’s been going for 12 years, but one with no need of new tricks: see ball, hit ball, repeat again – further, faster, longer, harder. His 15th ODI hundred may have come from 69 balls, but as far as the West Indies were concerned the pleasure was all one way. By the time he was caught in the deep by substitute fielder Anthony Martin for 219 – ending a knock that included 25 fours and 7 sixes – he was seeing it like Sputnik.
It’s been a quiet series for Viru up until now. But when record books are rewritten, previous failures cease to matter quite as much. The wonderful thing about history-making knocks like this is that they are elevated to a level where extraneous factors such as the quality of the bowling, or the wicket, or whether or not you even give a fuck about ODIs anyway, become, for that moment, irrelevant. Only their greatness matters. It is the perfect distillation of excellence; the purity of achievement. When Virender Sehwag hits the ball as cleanly as he did yesterday, the planets realign, Armageddon is put on hold, the pale horse of the Apocalypse pulls up lame and the Pequod makes it back to port. And, more importantly, it gives us all something to smile about in these fractious times.
Monday, November 28th, 2011
Bradman Fails Again. Hobbs Fails Again. The 2011 version: Sachin Fails Again.
The Little Master failed – again – to reach that hundredth-hundred milestone, falling just 6 short in India’s first innings at Mumbai. Upon his dismissal, more mundane matters came to the fore, such as India avoiding the follow-on. In the event, the match transformed into a last-day thriller that saw a draw with scores level. But when India’s series against Australia starts at the MCG on Boxing Day, the hype will pick up where it left off, all over again.
Of course the hype is deserved. But at the moment it is a false reality, and it is obscuring everything else.
In the iconic mind-bender The Matrix, Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, sees a black cat walk past a doorway. A second later he sees another – exactly the same animal. It is not a case of deja vu as he (erroneously) supposes; it is the machines that control the world making a subtle change to the artificial reality they impose on mankind.
The only machine at work behind Sachin’s glitch of getting out 28 times in the nineties is a fear of failure precipitated by the pressure of expectation and the importance we give to statistics in a number-obsessed sport. But the reality is that while the hype around Sachin’s next century continues, the Indian team are Tendulkar plus 10 men. The spectacle of people leaving the grounds when Sachin gets out, or the next man in walking to the middle in complete silence – even when this man is the captain – cannot long continue. Indian cricket grounds are where spectators go to watch Sachin, not necessarily the Indian team, or even Test cricket.
I am sure Tendulkar realises this, and it’s probably not making his quest for that elusive ton any easier. In a sport where only 6 runs short of a hundred is regarded as a failure, it would be churlish to call this a slump, or the beginning of the end of an extraordinary career.
But at some point the handover to the new galacticos will have to occur, and while Indian cricket is stuck in the never-ending loop of waiting for that hundred, it’s unfairly obscuring the achievement of the side’s young talent and relegating the team’s future to that of secondary importance, a mere side-show to the all-singing, all-dancing main event.
Ravichandran Ashwin has been blamed for not securing victory for India in Mumbai in his failure to attempt a second run, but 103 and 9 wickets have ensured Harbhajan Singh isn’t going to be recalled in a hurry.
Varun Aaron, whose feet probably haven’t touched the ground since receiving his Test cap, could turn out to be India’s Glenn McGrath. Already he has shown refreshing maturity in recognising that speed isn’t everything.
Virat Kohli, under pressure to protect his place from Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, showed toughness to go along with that undoubted talent with his second-innings 63. Kohli, unlike Neo, might not know kung-fu – and he might not be The One – but he is starting to believe.
It would be wonderful if Sachin raises his bat at the MCG. That hundredth hundred we are all waiting for will be worth celebrating when it comes, but in and of itself the figure is an artificial construct and the waiting has imposed on us an artificial reality. We are in limbo, and cannot move forward. Kohli, Aaron, Ashwin: these guys are the future.
Rahul Dravid accepts he has always laboured in Sachin’s shadow. Once Tendulkar gets past his glitch – and fans come to an acceptance that he won’t be around forever – the next generation of Indian stars will hopefully be free to begin constructing their own reality.
Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011
It’s cool that you get an actual trophy for being the world’s number one Test side.
That the ICC, in its wisdom, found it suitable to bestow on the reigning table-topper a mace which looks more like a tent peg, majorette’s baton, turkey baster, or artificial inseminator used on a cattle farm, does admittedly tend towards a more “what the heck is this?” reaction, rather than, “wow, this’ll look great on the ECB mantelpiece”.
This is of course not helped by an image of Kevin Pietersen, in the England dressing room at yesterday’s close of play, brandishing it whilst clothed only in a towel and not looking at all camp in the slightest.
Anyhoo, England are number one. Day 5 at the Oval, the last day of the English Test summer, proved to be a slightly tense affair, at least during the morning session. For the first time this series India, following on, managed to last an entire session without losing a wicket, but when Amit Mishra finally fell after lunch for a valiant 84, the end was swift in coming.
Graeme Swann, who has already had the death knell sounded prematurely on his career by at least one journalist alert to his relative paucity of wickets lately, roared back into the spotlight he so adores with a six wicket haul. England’s batting had again been rock solid as the batsmen made the most of a flat deck prior to its last day disintegration and Swann’s rampage.
Sachin Tendulkar, more likely unsettled by Mishra’s wicket rather than the prospect of being out in the 90s for the ninth time in his Test career, fell on 91 to a brave lbw decision given by umpire Rod Tucker, who even now is probably fleeing the country having changed his name to “Todd Rucker” and wearing comedy beard and glasses to avoid recognition. It was a marginal decision, but the correct one – even had lbw referrals been allowed in this series, Hawk Eye would have shown the ball clipping the top of leg stump.
While not quite as invested in the cult of Tendulkar as so many are, I have to admit to mixed feelings on the Little Master failing in his bid to bag that hundredth hundred in these Tests.
Had he reached that ton, the talk would have been on nothing else. It is, fundamentally, a contrived statistic – “52nd Test century” would not have sounded as significantly monumental – and scored in the context of a series lost 4-0, especially when placed against Rahul Dravid’s epic, battling first-innings 146*, it would have meant very little.
Coming at the end of a Test series in which India managed to score 300 only once – exactly that and no further – as one player after another fell by the wayside due to injury and unfitness, as the world’s erstwhile number one collapsed like a bloated behemoth under the weight of its own hubris against a side hungry, honed and ready for the kill… a Tendulkar milestone under these circumstances would have provided only bathos in a series that’s been nothing from India’s point of view but a long extended failure.
Worse, it would have overshadowed the bright light of Rahul Dravid’s star which has shone undimmed through this series, along with flashes of spark from Praveen Kumar (what a lion-hearted character he is). No doubt it would also have been used to go some way towards papering over the cracks of India’s many failings.
Good umpiring, as Rod Tucker demonstrated, is no respecter of reputations. And neither is this England team.
I can’t help, though, but wonder whether this is simply a blip on India’s part, or the outward manifestation of a more insidious decay. While the team is on the verge of straddling that uncomfortable territory known as “transition”, with its galacticos looking towards retirement sooner rather than later, and its young hopefuls still inexperienced and making their way, I doubt anyone could ever have foreseen them being on the receiving end of such a thorough hammering. Kris Srikkanth, India’s chief selector, has been quoted as saying of his selection committee, “I can proudly say that we have done a good job” – uncomfortably reminiscent, not only of the band playing blithely on while the ship is busily humping an iceberg, but of Andrew Hilditch’s similarly self-deluded sentiment in the wake of Australia’s last Ashes drubbing.
While the England lads are no doubt nursing well-deserved hangovers, there remains a salutary lesson in all of this. Ian Botham thinks England can be number one for at least the next 8 years. The fall from the number one spot may come sooner than one would like, due to reasons entirely outwith England’s control: South Africa have Test series coming up against Australia, Sri Lanka and New Zealand, the first two of which will be at home. England do not play another Test till January.
There is also the small matter of ODIs, a format England have hardly excelled at of late. Prior to a five-match series against India, England play Ireland on Thursday, with many senior players being rested, including the captain, Alastair Cook. It’s understandable that the bowlers, especially, should be given a break, and I’m excited at the fact James Taylor has received a call-up, but the inexperienced nature of the squad (Mike Atherton, in an understandable slip of the tongue, referred to it the other day as the Lions squad, ten of whom have been included) has rather pissed Ireland off.
This is not surprising when not only are England resting Cook and other key players, but Eoin Morgan, an Irishman, will be captaining them. The match also seems to be a glorified fitness test for Jonathan Trott, who appears to have recovered from his shoulder injury. All this on top of the fact England were soundly thrashed the last time these two sides met, and you could forgive the Shamrocks for thinking that the latest England tactic consists of “thinly-veiled insult”.
This match has “banana skin” written all over it. As long as Taylor gets a ton, I’m not too fussed.
But if you are an England fan, you’re already resigned to England being shit at ODIs.
By the grace of Flower’s canny management and the team’s superlative performances, it seems England have ascended to the lofty heights of Test supremacy. Rather than fret over hyperbole, ODIs, talk of “sporting dynasties” and what may happen in the future, I am content, at least for the next couple of days, to savour the fine wine of victory and watch endless repeats of the highlights.
It’s still a daft looking trophy, though.
Saturday, August 13th, 2011
“It’s kicking off in Croydon now,” the hospital porter told me gloomily as he brought me back from the X-ray department.
Monday night, well, early Tuesday 1:15AM to be precise. Guest of the Royal Infirmary since 8AM the previous morning due to an ongoing condition that flares up from time to time. Morphine in my system; 40 hours with no sleep, pain by now dulled to something slightly less excruciating.
There’d been a queue for the x-rays: me, teenage lad with broken wrist, old man on trolley. By this point I had no clue as to the day, or the time, but I knew that London was burning.
“There’s a blaze at a furniture warehouse,” said the porter. “A big one.” I felt I should offer an opinion on it, and sensed he was expecting one, but I didn’t have the energy. I just wanted to sleep.
Back on the ward a quick check of Twitter informed me that the riots might be coming to Leicester. I had visions of waking up like the Cillian Murphy character in 28 Days Later, or like a character out of a John Wyndham novel, to a city burnt out and abandoned.
But the main thing was getting home for the Test. Nothing else mattered as much to me. To take my mind off where I was, I’d tried to focus my disgruntlement less on the online rantings of the String ‘Em Up Society and the Moral Decay Brigade than on Ravi Bopara being picked to replace an injured Jonathan Trott ahead of James Taylor. It was a decision I regarded as profoundly bonkers and still do, with Taylor making 106 for the Lions on the same day Bopara managed only 7 being a case of “figures that speak for themselves”.
But then you’d have to say that’s possibly the only thing England have got wrong recently.
This was the Test billed as the big one, the one that could see England ascend to number one status. The staging of it was very briefly in doubt due to the fact Birmingham too had been hit by the riots, with 3 confirmed deaths to follow.
It truly was a case of cricket down the rabbit hole. You could pick a less surreal time to hold a Test match.
It is now Saturday evening. The Test is over because India capitulated far quicker than we would ever have imagined back in May when the Sri Lanka series proved so disappointing. They still have not scored 300 in an innings, or taken twenty wickets. Sachin still does not have his hundredth hundred. Even Dravid could not save them; one of the few Indian players who’s come out of this series with any credit, he was bizarrely given out “hit shoelace”.
Alastair Cook’s batting was better than morphine. Effective but soporific. Hitting the pain that sometimes comes with being an England fan, and that doubled us over in 2006-07 and made us grind our teeth in a cold sweat at the agony of it. Jimmy Anderson’s lethal deliveries were the scalpel that cut away the last of those dead-flesh memories; Kevin Pietersen’s 63 the adrenaline injection straight to the heart.
It’s good to be home, and good to see England complete the recovery that started with Pietersen’s kill-or-cure revolt against Peter Moores in the early months of 2009.
The patient is not only fully recovered, it is kicking arse.
The riots and the looting are over now. Talking heads are occupying the news channels and the blame game is in full swing.
The cricket bat signed by the Lancashire team for Mal Loye’s benefit year remains propped against the wall next to my bed, just in case.
The country’s in a bit of a mess at the minute, but I am home, England are number one, and that’s pretty good to be going on with.
But Jesus, what a weird week.
Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011
In 2007, on the last day of the England-India Test at Trent Bridge, I made use of my complimentary Day 5 ticket to go and watch India rattle off the 63 more runs they needed for victory.
Granted, Chris Tremlett caused them a few hiccups in the form of three wickets that morning, but India were so obviously the stronger side that very few England fans turned up for the inevitable denouement.
Tendulkar had scored 91; Zaheer Khan had taken 5-75, and while England had had the better of a draw at Lord’s, they were thoroughly outplayed by the visitors in Nottingham. Tremlett aside, individual contributions for England were sporadic. Michael Vaughan, the cartilage in his right knee by this time crumbling quicker than a two-week old digestive biscuit, made a magnificent, into-the-breach 124 on the fourth day, but more was expected of other men who did not deliver. With bat, ball and aggression, India were the laser-guided missile aimed right at England’s soft underbelly.
What a difference four years makes. Since then we have had the IPL, fear for the future of Tests (though that hot potato was already being fiercely debated) and the DRS can has been prised open and worms are wriggling all over the damn place.
India have become the number one ranked Test side. England has won the Ashes twice, home and away.
Of more immediate import to a spectator at Trent Bridge this year, there also seemed to be a heck of a lot more wasps about. Buying an ice-cream could possibly have proved fatal.
We’ve already had a cracker of a first Test in this series, the 2000th, no less, which lived up to all the hype that preceded it, but gave us an India strangely apathetic and “undercooked”.
Duncan Fletcher has said in the past he likes his charges to go into a series a little underdone, which makes him sound like an avant garde chef with some strange Heston-Blumenthalesque ideas when it comes to cooking up the right ingredients for a Test-winning outfit. I’m assuming he may have meant something along the lines of al dente pasta rather than salmonella chicken, but such is Fletcher’s inscrutability, it’s impossible to tell. Like I said, I give him a year.
One other thing that’s changed since 2007 is that Stuart Broad is the new Botham. Which may or may not follow on from being the next Botham. And which I could also curmudgeonly extend to a future which contains the phrase “once touted as”, three words filled with gentle regret over lost potential, or a flame that burned out too soon.
But let’s not go there yet – this is NOW, dammit. And it is glorious. England are leading this four match series 2-0 and are one win or two draws away from being the Big Fromage. The Edam of Excellence. The Gouda of Greatness. The Cottage Cheese of Clinical Conquest. The Dairylea of Dominance.
You can tell I am writing this near tea-time.
Broad was given the Man of the Match Award for not only reminding us he can bat, but also for proving his critics right when they said he’d never be successful if he kept banging it in half-way down the pitch with every delivery and with delusions of grandeur about being England’s “enforcer” rattling around in his blond head.
With a little bit of help from the DRS (no referral for the Harbhajan Singh lbw that turned out to be a deflection from bat onto pad so obvious it only needed the replay to see it) the boy Broad bagged himself a hat-trick and the gratitude of a nation, helping us all to feel a little less irritated at his tendency towards petulance and wilful obstinacy, when all it took was pitching the bloody ball up and bowling straight.
Jimmy Anderson chipped in as well with a thunderbolt of an in-swinging leg-cutter that sent VVS Laxman’s off-stump cartwheeling; one of those Jesus deliveries we see every so often from Anderson and that, if you are a worshipper of fast bowling, make the heart sing.
Broad may have deservedly been dubbed Man of the Match, but Tim Bresnan was Man of the Day with his 90 off 118 balls and his first five-wicket haul in Tests; that Bressie-lad did all this on Yorkshire Day must surely prove which side of the Pennines the Great Almighty is more partial to.
While pace won it for England, one batting feat for England is impossible to talk about without mentioning the controversy that accompanied it. In 2007 there was Jellybeangate; in 2011 it was Runoutgate, or whatever the Twitter “hash tag” is that’s been appended to it. Bell’s 159 came not just with a single slice of luck, but the whole damn pie: the Flan of Fortune, if you will.
Of course there have been two distinct, polarized points of view regarding the run-out. First, that Bell was wandering out of his ground and off for his tea because he assumed the ball Eoin Morgan had flicked off his pads had gone for four and that the over had been called, in which case all he was guilty of was extreme doziness and India’s move in removing the bails was a rather sly one.
On the other hand, never do the umpires’ job for them, and never assume. The run-out was legitimate; the umpires followed the letter of the law in giving him out, and well, hard cheese, Ian… you won’t be doing that again in the future, will you?
Uncomfortable memories of the Murali runout in 2006 and the 2008 Collingwood-Elliott incident at the Oval were dredged up; furious debate erupted over the Laws versus the Spirit of the game; the crowd howled its fury and disappointment and Trent Bridge turned into the Terrordome.
So when a small, ginger-haired batsman re-emerged from the pavilion, eyes cast sheepishly down but defiantly practising his forward defensive on his way back out to the middle, the boos that greeted the umpires and the Indian fielders turned into cheers when it emerged MS Dhoni had withdrawn his appeal, after being requested to do so by Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower, and by bending the rule that says you can only withdraw an appeal while the batsman is still on the field of play.
Everyone agreed that India had done A Good Thing. And I’d like to think Paul Collingwood may have benefited from a 20 minute break so that cooler heads might have prevailed after Ryan Sidebottom barged into Grant Elliot.
But I have a couple of issues with all of this. It is all very well citing the Spirit of Cricket, and it is of course a good thing to aspire to decency and fairness in the sport in which you choose to participate, or indeed of any other aspect that constitutes daily life and your interactions with others.
But if it had been, Kevin Pietersen, say, instead of Ian Bell at the centre of this brief but intense shit-storm, would Dhoni still have withdrawn his appeal?
One man’s spirit of cricket could very well represent a lack of killer instinct to someone else. My problem with the admirable but nebulous “spirit of the game” is that in the end it is all down to who, where, when and what – who is at the crease, the match situation, what it means for the series, the risk of having your house burned down back in India versus having missiles thrown at you on an English cricket ground.
We stopped expecting batsmen to walk when they knew they’d nicked it long ago. If you walk, you are regarded as a charming eccentric whose playing career will no doubt come to a premature end because of it. Who’s to say in ten years we’ll look back at what happened at Trent Bridge and wonder, with the Test top spot up for grabs, at the admirable but charming quaintness of Dhoni’s action?
When “doing the right thing” involves the inevitable conflict between morality and self-interest, there is never any guarantee that the “right” decision will be made.
Andy Flower’s assertion that “We felt that Bell wasn’t attempting to take a run and therefore we wanted to ask the Indian side to reconsider their appeal” does not sit all that easily with his admonition to Andrew Strauss after the England captain’s recall of Sri Lankan batsman Angelo Mathews in a Champions Trophy clash in 2009. Mathews was run out after a collision with Graham Onions that was entirely accidental – Onions was genuinely trying to get out of Mathews’ way – but Flower stated afterwards: “I just wouldn’t have done it. I would have sent the batsman on his way. He ran into the bowler. Simple deal.” Hmm.
Pondering a lucky escape? Bell in the field on Day 4
I think Dhoni made the right decision but Bell, according to the Laws of the game, was completely in the wrong and his on-camera interview after close of play was evasive and defensive; no doubt he had been coached on what to say, as he could barely give a straight answer to any of the questions.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said of all this ruckus is that England did not win by 22 runs – or the 69 more runs Bell put on with Morgan after the former was reinstated.
International incident narrowly averted. Going by the blizzard of gushing, laudatory press releases that began landing on journos’ desks soon after, Dhoni’s act of chivalry seems to have been seized on with some relief by the various governing bodies at being handed a break from having to deal with the rather more pressing concerns of slow over-rates and the non-use of Hawk Eye in lbw decisions.
Shane Warne referred to the “warm, fuzzy” feel-good feeling that enveloped Trent Bridge after the resolution of Bellgate. While cricket is currently dislocating its shoulders slapping its own back, and enjoying an enthusiastic orgy of self-fellatio, a bigger storm could very well be brewing on the horizon.
Monday, July 25th, 2011
If Andrew Strauss sounded a little hoarse in the post-match presentation today, that is understandable. No doubt the result of much appealing, it was probably even more down to celebration, as England made sharp, clinical work of scything down India’s second innings to wrap up a historic 2000th Test match.
It’s been five days of ebbs and flows, ups and downs, and unexpected detours along the way. It’s seen scintillating batting and superb bowling from England and an India weakened by injury and absence and doing the best with what it had only to find England far too strong an opponent.
Above all, it’s shown that rather than the twitching corpse many alarmists would have you believe Test cricket resembles – and that’s not to say there isn’t rightly concern for its future – it is capable of climbing off the canvas, kneeing you in the balls to get your attention, and making you forget every meaningless ODI and T20 you’ve ever been exposed to.
That’s not to say the shorter forms don’t have their place – and it’d be churlish of me to take too much issue with T20 considering Leicestershire are doing rather well in that format right now – but Test cricket remains the very greatest format the sport has to offer. Preferring Test cricket does not make you boring, uncool or an antediluvian dinosaur stuck in an ivory tower (not, of course, that there is anything wrong with this).
It means you want to see the best cricketers in the world being judged on their abilities to perform at the highest level. It means paying attention rather than instant gratification; it means witnessing moments of greatness or disappointment, or even sometimes moments of farce and anticlimax, but all of these are threads in a tapestry you can only truly admire by stepping back and viewing them in the context of the whole.
If this sounds a tad precious, I apologise. Like most cricket lovers I’ve spent hours trying to explain my love for cricket; sometimes, I’ve even managed to succeed. Tests like this sure make my job easier.
That’s not, however, to say it was a classic meeting of equals. India did not look like the number one side. Undercooked through lack of preparation, missing their star opener, their lead bowler hors de combat and the continuation of Sachin’s Lord’s hoodoo (34 in the first innings, 12 in the second) meant England always looked the better side. With a few exceptions, the galacticos could hardly be described as having performed well as a unit, and they will be hoping Zaheer Khan will at least be back for Trent Bridge where he performed so well in the Jellybeangate Test of ‘07, snaffling 9 wickets and a deserved Man of the Match award.
From the hard slog of Day One, to KP’s all-banners-flying double ton on Friday, with Ian Bell and Matt Prior in support; golden boy Stuart Broad regaining his lustre; Matt Prior’s rescue-mission ton after the wobble caused by a resurgent Ishant Sharma; Jimmy Anderson’s five wicket haul, his 11th in Tests and his third at HQ… We had drama, controversy (oh, for a full DRS!), queues since 2AM stretching down the Wellington Road and Tendulkar causing a near-riot as he came back from a net session before the start of play…
I love Test cricket so much right now, I should probably be served with a restraining order.
Tendulkar in the field, Day One
But. India are not the number one team for nothing. They may have the unfortunate habit of losing first Tests in series, but a two-match margin of victory for England is far away still.
India needed only 73 runs in their second innings to win at Trent Bridge the last time these teams met there. Tendulkar scored 91 in the first innings. The year after that, 2008, the new stand went up, with the resultant microclimate helping the ball to hoop round corners. Jimmy Anderson could run riot here, Tremlett has excellent form against India at this ground, and India will be praying Zaheer Khan is fit.
The best is yet to come.
One last thing. If I were told tomorrow that I’d be stricken with total amnesia regarding this match and that I would only be allowed to remember one moment from it, despite England’s superb victory, I’d choose to remember a shot played by a batsman on the losing side. That shot was Rahul Dravid’s airborne punch through extra-cover that took him to 98: daylight between feet and ground, every muscle tensed like a Bernini statue brought to life, a perfection of balance and timing with the added flourish that makes cricket-porn tragics like me take a long, deep and satisfied breath: the hot-spot replay showing the white heat signature bang in the middle of the blade.
The past five days have showcased everything that is great about Test cricket. And sometimes, true greatness comes distilled in a single moment.