Friday, December 30, 2005

Records Galore - but do we care?

It's ostensibly been a quite a year in the cricket world - Ricky Ponting's 1500 runs; Shane Warne's 96 wickets in the year, and 657 in total; Lara's 11204 Test runs; Sachin Tendulkar's 35th Test century; Mike Hussey averaging 85 in Tests and 151 in ODIs England regaining the Ashes, finally, and then being summarily dispatched by Inzamam and Shoaib; Richie Benaud retiring from English television; Saurav Ganguly being unceremoniously dumped, restored to the side, dropped and then picked again; and complete and utter chaos in Zimbabwe.

All of that, and I'm not even sure whether I'll ever look back on 2005 in a nostalgic haze.

For many years I have railed against the rose-tinted glasses syndrome - and yet now I find myself a hesitant member of that brigade. Quite simply, things *were* better! All these records broken, and yet 2005 does not appear to have truly captured my imagination. Which is perhaps sad for me, more than anything else.

The numbers 355, 325, 309, 307 meant something to me. As did 10122 and even later 11174. Not to mention 365*, 29 and the incomparable 6996. I remember being stirred when Lillee surged past Trueman and his Gibbs, incidentally on his way to setting a record of 85 wickets in a calendar year. I was moved when Gavaskar went past Bradman's 29, and then the unthinkable 10,000 Test runs. Somehow, I connected in a way that I don't seem to do any longer.

Don't mistake me - I marvel at the genius of Warne and Murali, not to mention Anil Kumble. But I can't tell you how many wickets they have. I consider myself inordinately lucky to have witnessed the genius of Tendulkar, Lara and others on the field, from the stands and from my favourite reclining armchair. I haven't got a clue how many Test runs each has scored. Wasim, Waqar and Ambrose were bowlers I always strove to emulate - but I don't know how many wickets they ended up with.

What's changed? Is it that I'm a little older and wiser, and derive pleasure from things more nuanced than mere statistics? Is it that there is simply so much cricket these days, that records keep coming and going, and the resultant glory is somewhat diluted? Is it that the mystery is gone, now that I can watch pretty much every game from every corner of the globe? Or is it that as the game has become more professional, the charm and character has left it?

Funnily enough, I think the answer is all of the above, and yet none of the above. All I know is that something is different. And perhaps that's the fundamental that we all have to perpetually accept and embrace. An old article of mine opens with the great de la Rochefoucauld observation that "The only thing constant in life, is change." Time to heed those words, methinks.

P.S. The numbers that are truly imprinted in my mind:
  • 355, 325, 309, 307 - Lillee, Willis, Gibbs, Trueman
  • 11174, 10122 - Border, Gavaskar
  • 365* - Sobers
  • 29, 6996 - Bradman

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Sticky Wickets

I've written articles about it before, and a year ago last week, I blogged briefly about the disturbing notion that a "good pitch" is one on which many runs can be scored, and a "bad pitch" is one on which bowlers are a part of the contest.

In recent weeks, we've had Clive Lloyd, a real believer in the art and craft of spin bowling, criticising the pitches in the India-Sri Lanka Test series, and just yesterday, Cricket Australia condemning the current MCG pitch as "embarrassing."

It continues to amaze me that even the most illustrious of former cricketers can sometimes forget that bowlers are part and parcel of the game we know and love.

Granted, it's always been a batsman's game - so much so that a wiser head than mine believes that "bowling is for idiots," and that machines will ultimately do the grunt work.

That said, it is a truth, albeit not universally acknowledged, that the best cricketing contests have been those in which both bat and ball have had the opportunity to shine. For it is only then that the real skills of the protagonists are put the test, and that is where us armchair fans have the good fortune to catch glimpses of talent and greatness of the sort that we can only aspire to.

Jaysuriya's 340 when Sri Lanka responded to India's 537-8 with 952-6? Or Sunil Gavaskar's 96 at Bangalore? It's pretty clear to me which was in fact the greater innings, all but numerically.

I'm thrilled to see that over at my ex-stomping ground, Dileep Premachandran has picked up on this notion. Despite his misguided penchant for quoting Bill Shankly ahead of Sir Matt Busby, Mr Premachandran is unquestionably one of the better writers at CricInfo. He has a few more readers than I do these days, so perhaps one or two will sit up and take notice.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The rage of Sourav

Looks like I shall have to stand corrected. Sourav Ganguly will in fact not "go gentle into that good night." Instead, he will "rage, rage against the dying of the light." Chances are that he reads more Rabindranath Tagore than Dylan Thomas, but perhaps his half-season with Glamorgan provided the inspiration for this latest comeback. Individualism at it's very finest - his selection for the tour of Pakistan is surely to the detriment of the team and other promising talents.

It's remarkable how every time I think that Indian cricket has turned the corner, it finds yet another way to leave an indelible stain on it's very essence. Even more intriguing that it appears that Ganguly is not solely responsible for the situation he finds himself in. Amazingly enough, Sachin Tendulkar, who once urged the selectors to harness the talents of Paras Mhambrey and Nilesh Kulkarni, amongst other Mumbaikars, had some input into the BCCI decision to require the selectors to take Ganguly to Pakistan.

One can only wonder what the captain, coach and remainder of the team make of this. A player is dropped, Indian cricket marches further down the road to professionalism, but before you can say Saurav Chandidas Ganguly, said player has politicked his way right back into the team.

And what of Mohammad Kaif? Dropped, ostensibly because "he hasn't had much of a chance to play." One can only wonder if his lack of opportunity is related to Ganguly's presence in the squad. Which in turn begs the question - what role is Ganguly going to play in Pakistan? Is he now going to play ahead of Yuvraj, in favour of whom he was jettisoned just a fortnight ago? And if not, then how is it that it is appropriate to take him as drinks waiter now, when it was "not worth it" last week? Given his reputed performance as twelfth man in Australia in 1991-92, one can be pretty sure that little rational thought has gone into this decision.

I don't want to wish ill on Indian cricket, but I hope this move backfires spectacularly. I will be abused for expressing that desire, but how else will we ever learn?

There was a silver lining in the squad announcement - the restoration of Parthiv Patel. The much-maligned youngster is one for the long term future, without a doubt. His doughty spirit and temperament are second to none, and for all the criticism, his glovework is no worse than that of his rivals for a position. Full credit to him too - he got back into the squad without the intervention of parliament, and without grown men in his home state embarrassing themselves on his behalf.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Racism at the WACA

There's a scene in Lethal Weapon 2, in which Danny Glover's character enquires at the South African consulate about the possibility of travelling to the country. "You don't want to go to South Africa.... you're black!" comes the response, in a thick Afrikaaner accent. While I count Perth as one of the nicer places I have spent time in, with it's unique suburban city feel, much more of what we saw at the WACA this past weekend, and people may be forced to rethink.

Perth is said to be home to possibly the largest South African diasporic population in a single city. In South Africa, the process of emigration is colloquially referred to as "Packing for Perth"

This large population is both interested in cricket and well aware of the meaning of the term "Kaffir." My own experience in Perth suggests that most of the locals, particularly the segment of the population that shows up to watch a Test match, are equally aware.

The administrators at the WACA have gone on record as saying that they were unaware that the vitriol heaped on the South African players was racially offensive, but the simple facts above tend to give lie to their claim. Calling Makhaya Ntini a "Kaffir," and Shaun Pollock his "Kaffir Brother," is simply unconscionable.

The real fear here is that this was a lot more than a bunch of drunken yobs mouthing off. You don't usually hear targeted calls of "Kaffir Brother" from that crowd. The possibility exists that the slurs emanated from elements in the crowd who had left their own homeland as the Apartheid regime came to an end. At the time, the majority cited crime and personal safety fears as their reason for leaving. One simply hopes that what we saw at the WACA was not an awakening of long dormant sentiment. If it was, then humanity has even further to go than we might have thought.

At the end of the day, the denizens of Perth have no excuse. Not for the behaviour that was on display, and even more gallingly, for the failure to nip it in the bud. In this most sensitive of socio-political situations, it simply wasn't good enough. I'm certainly heartened by Ricky Ponting's strong condemnation of what happened.

Many years ago, an individual I met asked me if I knew why Melbourne was the greatest city in the world. I must confess to considering it to be my favourite city in Australia (of those that I have visited), but I was not remotely prepared for the explanation. "Because there are no black people there," this person said. That was 15 years ago, and I hope against hope that such attitudes are not permitted to prevail, least of all in and around the gentleman's game.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

No bounce for Agarkar?

What does it say about Ajit Agarkar that he was overlooked for the new ball in favour of an off-spinner, because the pitch had some extra bounce?! How can any self-respecting fast bowler, or even medium pacer, stand for that?

Think through this one - it was, at least according to Greg Chappell, not a move made because India specifically wanted the Sri Lankan openers to face a turning ball. It was because it was felt that Harbhajan could better exploit the bounce than Agarkar. I'm deliberately making mountains out of molehills, of course, but however you slice and dice it, that's a genuine insult.

Inzamam-ul-Haq must be turning cartwheels (picture that, if you can) in the thought that when his groundsmen prepare bouncy green-tops, his batsmen will have to deal with Harbhajan and Kumble while India try to counter Shoaib, Rana Naved ul Hasan and Mohammad Sami.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Gin Gan Gooly!

In 1996, I sat above the sightscreens at Lord's and watched Saurav Ganguly stroke a silken century on debut. He looked a class act with the bat, though even then was obviously never going to be a Dravid. Over the years, he has done a lot of great things for India, with the bat, and with his unique style of leadership. As a captain he was India's equivalent of AB, much as Rahul Dravid is now playing Mark Taylor.

Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, he went past his sell-by date. He could have gone out in a blaze of glory, as was perhaps befitting, but to do so would not have been in keeping with the nature of the man. A stubborn fighter to the core, he banked on his fabled resilience and sheer determination to carry him through. Sadly, his body and technique have proven to no longer be up to the task. Not in the way they were in his prime.

The end result - he now exits quietly stage left, his departure as ignominious as his arrival was specatular. He can only hope that he is remembered for the backbone he brought to the Indian team, rather than for the yawning chasm between his legs through which one final boundary crept against Sri Lanka last night.

Some will say that I have written the epitaph a little too early. For Ganguly's own sake, I hope not.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Gridiron Hooliganism

Smashing little article in the Guardian today talking about the myth of soccer hooliganism that American journalists mindlessly portray whilst conveniently ignoring what goes on in their own backyard. Hats off to the writer for having the guts to come forward and say what a lot of us feel.

Look out, Chelsea!

So we are out of the champions league.

It's not the end of the world. Manchester United have encountered disaster before, and this is decidedly not in that league.

Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs both appeared to my untrained eye to be off the pace yesterday; Ruud and Rooney struggled to get involved, and while Ronaldo produced a couple of great runs and dribbles, he was clearly overwhelmed by the occasion. One positive that I certainly took away was the hurt that Rooney and Ronaldo felt. They wanted this, and while they couldn't make it happen on the night, that's the desire that will fuel the future of Manchester United.

At the end of the day though, when your two wingers, your front two, and your captain aren't having their best days, it's not going to be easy. That aside, the one thing that really frustrates me as a fan, is the quality of our passing. I lost count of the number of balls that were played into empty spaces, or directly to opposition feet - and that's not the first time this has happened of late.

Our performances in Europe were not up to scratch, plain and simple. I'm shattered by the situation, of course, but you have to keep it in perspective. A lot of fans, particularly those who are recent inductees to the faith, live in a fantasy world in which success is apparently an entitlement. It's not. We've had a tremendous run, and now we're rebuilding. It happens - to the best of teams.

I'm not suggesting we should be happy, merely that we should not lose the plot. I've seen people calling for everyone from Ruud to Gary Neville to be sacked after last night - for some reason only van der Sar is exempt from criticism it appears. The truth is, as always, somewhere in between.

The performance was poor, without a doubt - but give some credit to Benfica there as well, painful as it may be to do so. There is in fact a silver lining in this cloud - we'll soon see who the real fans and supporters are, as the bandwagon jumpers start decking themselves out in the blue of Chelsea.

Who knows - perhaps this is the platform we need to have a real go at Chelsea in the league?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Parent or friend?

There was an article in Time Magazine recently, in which it was noted how teachers coming from abroad struggle within our education system, because the children don't show them any respect. The amusing part however, was that the solution to this is apparently for the teachers to undergo training in how to handle 'American kids'. Amazing!

When I was growing up, not so long ago, there were a few home truths that, as kids, we all understood. Because our parents brought us up to understand them. School was an institution that you treated with a certain respect, simply by virtue of what it represented. Your teachers were also individuals to be respected, and you behaved towards them in a certain manner, not least of which included speaking politely, and addressing them as Mr and Ms/Mrs so and so.

As far as I can tell, the problem we have here today is not one of schools, the education system, or the children themselves. It's the parents, and the complete lack of good old parenting. Our individualistic culture means that today's parents are all about themselves. Their kids are an accessory, not a responsibility, and so they care for them only as and when it suits themselves. In this materialistic and narcissistic environment, is it any wonder that our kids go astray?

Parents - you're not there for friendship. When you bring a child into this world, you take on the responsibility of preparing that child to function properly in it. 18 years later, you can start thinking about yourself again. If you're not prepared for that, get a pet.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Young at 30? Or old at 18?

I've been waging a war on home turf recently, around the thorny question of when a youngster is genuinely young, and when he is too old to be considered as such - in the sporting arena, I hasten to add.

I truly hate to quote Arsene Wenger, but he recently said
"At 18 years it is too late to improve players. We decided to go down to 16. Then 14. Now in France they go to 12. Technically, at 13 the basics are done."
I don't think that's far off the truth, but on the other hand, you have Michael Hussey making a Test debut at the age of 30, in an Australian team that has thrived on the contribution of the 30-somethings during it's period of dominance.

That's all very well at the Test level though - where do you go when you're trying to blood a young cricketer into the world of club cricket? I'm operating in a world filled with has-been and never-was adult cricketers who are clinging on to some last vestiges of unrealisable dreams. And so you hear the challenge of promoting youth addressed with comments like "let's make sure that every team has at least one U-23 player in it." Just to clarify, we're talking about regional lower division club cricket in the USA.

I'm firmly of the opinion that we need to be looking at the 13-15 year olds with the talent and hunger, and finding ways to blood them such that by the time they are 17 or 18, they are up at the top of the local game. Indeed, at that age, I would hope that they are knocking on the national senior team door. That is the way forward if we really want to develop any semblance of this game in this country.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Sourav Chandidas McGrath?

It really just gets better and better. I nearly choked on my lunch as I just read that the Indian team management and/or selectors may opt to "give the all-rounder's role to Yuvraj and bring in Ganguly as a bowler."

To think that I was stunned when he was picked as India's answer to Flintoff, Kallis and Bravo. Apparently that just didn't wash, so he's now going to be the next Glenn McGrath?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Congratulations, Kolkata!

Absolutely unbelievable. Not only have the jokers picked Ganguly in the Test squad, they have selected him as an all-rounder. No doubt his 2 Test wickets in the last 5 years clinched the deal. I hope the Kolkatans who put region above country (Damned if you do, and Damned if you don't) are suitably embarrassed.

An average of 35 from 15 matches, with only a century against the mighty Zimbabwe (and a terribly poor century at that) to show? This with Mohammad Kaif, who produced two stirring half-centuries against a rampant Australian attack in his last outings, waiting in the wings for the chance that is rightfully his? It is nothing short of a disgrace, and one can only hope that the next selection committee has more guts than this one.

And none of this considers the ingenious selection of Ajit Agarkar and RP Singh as Irfan Pathan's pace bowling partners - picked purely on the strength of their showings in the one-day arena.

It appears that the line-up for the 1st Test will be something like:

Ganguly (in the Flintoff/Kallis role)

It's a good thing that Bajji and Kumble will be doing the bulk of the bowling is all I can say. Hell, I'd be batting Pathan at 6 rather than Ganguly if that were an option.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

For whom the Bell tolls?

This one's just getting on my nerves. Shahid Afridi is quite deservedly being pilloried for his ridiculous actions in scuffing up the pitch when he believed that nobody was looking. Perhaps the first indication I have seen that he really is only 25 years old.

Yet through all of this, we have great paragons of virtue such as Robert Croft, telling us how Afridi failed to play the game within the Laws or the Spirit, and in the same breath ignoring Ian Bell's blatant bump catch, and the more questionable tactics employed by the current England team, ranging from firing the ball in at the batsman for no reason, to Ricky Ponting's pet peeve - the use of substitute fielders.

I'm thrilled to see an England team doing well, but if the likes of Croft and Nasser Hussain don't get off their high horses soon, they're in for a rather bumpy landing. I hope.

Friday, November 18, 2005

There's only one Keano

I woke up this morning feeling rather stressed, pondering my perilous financial situation. And then I read the news. It's probably an indication of poor prioritization, but "Keane leaves United" immediately consigned the next mortgage payment to back of mind.

Just like that, it's over. From what I've been able to piece together, Roy Keane showed up for a reserves game, was told he wasn't required, had a bust-up with the manager, and has now left the club by "mutual consent."

I've only got a couple of things to say about it, the second of which I'm sure I'll be pilloried for by both my readers.

Firstly, United may never have had as great a servant as Roy Keane. His all round contribution to the club has been beyond immense, and he is one of the few for whom the tag "legend" is perhaps apposite. It's no co-incidence that our best years have come during his time in the middle.

Secondly, no player can ever be greater than the club or the team. My respect for Sir Alex has in fact increased immeasurably, even while I concede that I am far from informed as to the details of what transpired. Based on what I have gleaned from varous sources, Sir Alex made the decision that Keano's actions and statements of late were not in keeping with the principles and mechanisms that were expected and required by the club, and as a result, it was simply time to move on. One of the hardest things in life is to make a professional decision without allowing emotion to enter into it. It's the right thing to do, but few can do it well.

That said, I also wouldn't be surprised to hear that Malcolm Glazer got on the phone last night and said "If you want to buy that Bollock dude, you have to take Roy Keen off the wage bill right now."

Thanks Roy, for 12 stupendous years, the like of which I may never see again.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Damned if you do, and damned if you don't

This may be the first and last time anyone ever says this, but I do feel some sympathy for the Indian selection committee. For many years, they have been damned by all and sundry for playing regional politics and indulging in horse-trading. Imagine my surprise then, to read this morning that the East Zone selector, Pranab Roy, is now taking flak for not acting in a partisan manner and instead thinking about what was best for the Indian team.

You really can't win sometimes, can you? Even the 3-0 drubbing that India has handed out to the World #2 Sri Lankans won't quiet the dissenters. It really brings home a simple truth that applies not just to cricket, or indeed to India, but to any aspect of life around the world in which the people are represented in some fashion by a higher individual or group authority.

We want our representation to be fair, objective, and act in the collective self-interest. Just as long as this happens to serve our individual self-interest optimally. If it doesn't, then we want them to play all the dirty political games they need to to push our agenda through.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Better than Bradman?

"The Australians hold him as the closest thing to Bradman, if not better"
According to a report tucked away on the Rediff Cricket site, Nasser Hussain had that to say about Sachin Tendulkar the other day. Mind-boggling stuff. I have no way to establish the veracity of the quote, but the fact of the matter is that the odds that any Australian has ever even unwittingly implied are about as good as those that you'd find on one of Baldrick's cunning plans. And I'm quite certain that that's not what Hussain said in any case.

It's always amusing to watch the press at work. The Indian press can be particularly amusing - without their effords, I'd never have known that most International cricketers speak fluent Bombay English (which really is at times a language in itself).

I'm sure not many people noticed, but I doubt that Hussain wants to be known as the guy who said that Bradman wasn't up there on his own. These things really can come back to haunt you. I once told a member of the press that there were positives that we had to take out of a hammering we had been subjected to at the hands of far stronger opposition. The next day, I was quoted as having been happy to lose - not the attitude people really look for from their captain!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

4-4-2 my foot!

I spent all morning watching United play some tremendous free-flowing attacking football, and listening to the mindless drones in the commentary box tell me it was because Fergie had reverted to the classic 4-4-2 formation of old. I thought the morning press would provide a different point of view, but I have yet to see one writer or commentator suggest otherwise.

A load of rubbish - all of it. The only thing that changed was the personnel. United have been lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation all season. It is, in my armchair estimation, an excellent way to organise, provided you have the right people in the right places. When you're on the backfoot, it glides into a 4-5-1, and when you get possession and counter-attack, it can be a classic 4-4-2, or even a good old-fashioned 4-2-4.

Up until the Liverpool game a fortnight ago, the it was consistently two of Keane, Smith and Fletcher in front of the back four, with Ruud up front. Scholes in the middle of the trio, with Rooney and just a single one of Giggs, Park and Ronaldo flanking him. And therein lies the key.

The only game prior to today that we started with two of our wingers on the pitch was at Debreceni. And we won that 3-0. But we still didn't play the kind of football that we produced against Fulham.

The difference lies in the fact that for the first time, it was Wayne Rooney playing in the centre of that triumverate. Paul Scholes has been playing in that 'hole' thus far, and he hasn't been able to do it justice. For the whole system to work, it needs a 90-minute marauder in the middle, and that suits Rooney perfectly. Throw in a pacy and tricky winger on either side, and you've got a fluid, total-football style team, that is bound to entertain. Especially with Rio falling asleep at the back every so often. It could have worked with the Paul Scholes of a few years ago - but Wayne's the man for the job today. I'd even consider having Ronaldo there, with Giggs and Park flanking him, ahead of Scholes.

The challenge I think for Sir Alex is going to be figuring out the holding pair in the middle of the park. If this is the plan, then there's only room for two of Keano, Fletcher, Smith and Scholes in there. Tough call to make

Either which way though - I'm glad to see Sir Alex and Carlos sticking to their guns. While I'm sure they're not always right, it seems to me that they know what they're trying to achieve here. And if the pundits think swapping Rooney for Scholes equates to a change of formation, let them. I'll be backing the lads all the way, and I am nothing if not optimistic.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Get a grip, Inzi!

It has emerged, unsurprisingly, that Inzamam-ul-Haq is refusing to play for the ICC World XI in the upcoming Super Series. Apparently the poor lad is miffed that he wasn't part of the initial selection, and is now spitting the dummy as a result. I imagine all his fans and supporters are behind him on this one - but if they considered the facts for a minute, they might realise, as would Inzi himself, that his actions simply smack of petulance and immaturity. Not what you'd expect from a leading cricketer and national captain.

Consider the One Day Squad. Gayle and Sehwag to open, and Kallis, Flintoff, Afridi and Sangakkara as the all rounders. So there's room for three middle order players. Those slots went to Lara, Pietersen and Tendulkar. With Tendulkar's withdrawal, in came Rahul Dravid.

So what is the reality?

In terms of performance and raw statistics over the last year or two in ODIs, Inzamam can claim that after Pietersen and Dravid, he should have been the third selection to the team.

Wait a minute. Dravid wasn't in the team either. Yes - along with Kevin Pietersen, Rahul Dravid has also outperformed Inzamam over this period, and yet he wasn't in the original ODI squad. What gives? Why hasn't Rahul Dravid been whining about this? Why hasn't he refused to play and stomped off like a three year old being denied another scoop of ice-cream (or is it sohan halwa)?

Perhaps it's because that Rahul Dravid recognises just who Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar are. That they are the biggest of the big, and they are the big stage players that the world wants to see. There was simply no way on earth the selectors would leave them out of this event, and sure enough, they didn't. And when one of them had to withdraw, then Dravid rightfully came in as the next choice. A position that he has respectfully accepted. Yes, Lara and Tendulkar have had much lower averages over the last year or two. So what?

But what about the Test Matches, I hear Inzi and his fans demanding?

Amusingly enough, this is where Inzamam's histrionics appear even more pathetic. Of the fab four (Lara, Dravid, Tendulkar, Inzamam), only one averages under 65, in fact under 60, over the last 18 months or so. Which one? Indeed, it's Inzamam. Even if you ignore the fact that Lara and Tendulkar demand inclusion by virtue of who they are, it turns out they fully merit it in this case on recent performance as well. The three middle order spots went to the three people most worthy of them. Unfortunately for Inzamam, he was fourth in line. And sure enough, when Tendulkar pulled out, Inzi got the call.

What a crying shame all around. It is a shame for the spectators and for the contest that Inzamam will not be playing. But it is an even bigger shame for himself. He's entitled to an ego, but to let it obscure rationality like this is borderline humiliating for a national captain. He talks about respect - he may want to start by respecting others.

Friday, July 08, 2005

US Cricket - A New Hope no more

The pronouncements have been quick. US cricket has reached it's nadir, they say. Of course, there never was a corresponding zenith, unless you count the narrow 23 run (and $1000) loss to Canada back in 1844. The funny thing is, I hope it gets worse. It is my considered opinion that the USA should be withdrawn from International competition for the time being.

When the USA qualified for the Champions Trophy last year, their efforts were lauded far and wide. Few paused to acknowledge the fact that it was a freak set of results that even made this possible, preferring instead to ponder the delusionary vision of American Dollars flowing freely into the game.

An aging US squad for the Champions Trophy was the first hint to the outside world that all was not right. But to those on the inside, there was little doubt that the malaise had set in a long time back. Those who think the BCCI is rife with politics and corruption need only investigate the activities of the USACA over the last several years to realise where the fun is really at.

It has been a steady downward spiral, and we've reached the point of multiple factions fighting over control of US cricket. Only one wonders how many of them are really fighting for cricket, as opposed to clamouring for the opportunity to stroke their own egos by being photographed with Clive Lloyd at an ICC meeting, or the like.

There aren't many people active in US cricket circles who have a genuine interest in furthering the game, as opposed to themselves. Self-aggrandization is where it's at. I would hope that the ICC's latest ultimatum goes into effect, and the US is temporarily barred from international competition under the governing body's auspices.

We need to take a step back and sort out our own backyard. An open-top carriage*, no matter how exquisite**, is not the right vehicle to carry us forward today. Regroup, get the right people in charge, and define the system and operating structure under which we can properly progress. Only then should we think about showing our faces on the International stage.

Will some talented U-19 and other players suffer for this? Perhaps. In fact, probably. But this is a time where we need to think about the long-term, and take our decisions with that in mind. Short-term sacrifice for long-term gain. Stop thinking about ourselves, and think about our future. I don't know if we can do it, but I hope against hope that there are a few people out there of that mentality.

* -- any resemblance between my metaphorical "open top carriage" and a Victorian Era "Gladstone" is purely co-incidental.

** -- I bear no responsibility for the fact that the word "exquisite" is a widely acknowledged synonym for the rather more esoteric "dainty"

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Drives Me Crazy

"People [in California] drive like baboons on crack - they've stolen the keys and sort of figured out how to switch the thing on." - Hugh Laurie, June 2005

Rarely can truer words have been spoken. If there's one thing that has constantly frustrated me in my twelve years in this country, it's the driving. And it's at it's worst on the West Coast.

Believe it or not - and I know it's not easy in a culture that often takes individualism to the extreme - you are NOT the only person out there on the road. It does not belong to you and you alone. This appears to be the fundamental misconception floating around. If you wipe the dust off and look in the hitherto unused rear-view mirror in your vehicle, you will see that there are indeed others on the road. Many of them.

With that said, here are my top 6 lessons for drivers. Especially Californian drivers.

  1. There is more than one lane on the freeway, and there is a reason for that. You keep as far to the right as possible, unless you are overtaking another vehicle, or making room for people to merge onto the freeway at an entrance. It's really quite simple. Don't cruise at 50, 60, 70, or even 80 in the fast lane. If everybody on the road followed this one simple rule, congestion would improve ten-fold, and we'd all get where we're going that much faster. Without having to speed, undertake, or weave in and out of traffic. Try it tomorrow - and maybe you'll make a difference.
  2. On the left side of your steering wheel is a lever which controls the indicators. You may also have heard them referred to as flashers, or turn signals. When you are planning to change lanes, or turn - use this lever to turn on your indicator. Once you are done changing lanes or turning, return this lever to it's neutral position to turn OFF your indicator. Do this, and we'll all know what each other is doing, and be able to drive accordingly. If nothing else, I will no longer have to wait until roads are empty for several hundred yards in either direction before turning on to them, just because I never know who might be turning or changing lanes such that I would run right into them.
  3. The speed limit on a freeway on-ramp is not 20mph. You cannot merge into 65mph traffic at 20mph without causing a small traffic jam, or an accident. If you're on the freeway, make room in the merge lane at an entrance. If you're merging - a little bit of bravery won't hurt. And those three mirrors in your car can all help make it a little less painful.
  4. Driving at 100mph in the 'slow' lane on US-101 is not a great idea. But neither is driving at 20mph in the 'fast' lane. It is not your right to go at any speed upto and including 65mph in any lane you choose. See item 1 above for more details.
  5. Stop Signs are not intended to be an opportunity for you to display your good manners. That's not how it works. First come, first served. And the tie-breaker always goes to the guy on the right. There's nothing more to it. Waving others on invariable serves only to confuse the issue.
  6. The lines delineating your parking spot are intended to do exactly that. Park between them. You have big parking spaces in this country. It really should not be a problem. Your vehicle can fit in one parking space, so please position it accordingly.
That's enough of a rant. I'm sure I offended a few people - humour me, this is my pet peeve, and we all have a few of those. Of course, there are those who disagree with me. Apparently Kiwi drivers are even worse. Makes me wonder about visiting New Zealand.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Who'da thunk it?

How the mighty have fallen. Who would have thought, John, Pinky and Shobhan Mehta aside, that Bangladesh would comprehensively humble the Australian juggernaut yesterday?

I do them a disservice actually. When they beat Pakistan in the World Cup, 6 years ago, it was chalked down to match-fixing. When they then defeated India's finest, Joginder Sharma included, in December, the whispers arose again. Every time their Test status is questioned, it was said, their friendly neighbours would throw them a bone. Or a match.

So what say the nay-sayers now? Did Ricky Ponting and his men accept a few bob for this one too? Is that why Andrew Symonds was mysteriously left out of the team? I suppose I should be careful about this. Seven years ago when I wrote, in jest, about potential circumstantial evidence of match-fixing, a local newspaper in Dhaka picked up on my words of wisdom, and ran a back-page story suggesting that I had uncovered a great scandal. If anyone's thinking of running with this one - I'm JOKING.

In any case, it is absolutely fantastic for me to see the guys from Bangladesh perform like this. And that's not even just because we can now point out that Hong Kong performed better than Australia against them, restricting them to 221 in the 2004 Asia Cup.

Ten years ago, I remember playing against them in a U-19 tournament, in which they defeated a star-studded Sri Lankan side, containing the likes of Kumara Sangakkara and Dilhara Fernando, in the final. For all the Sri Lankan talent, the Bangladeshis were far and away the best side in the tournament. The ease with which Javed Omar and Khaled Mashud (the only two still surviving in the Bangladesh side from that tournament) picked off our bowling made it clear that they were destined for far greater things than we were. Not that we were worth anything, of course.

They were a superb bunch of blokes as well - we shared a coach (bus) with them, and they kept us all entertained. Their left arm medium pacer, Morshed Ali Khan was particularly good with the karaoke, and he also dismissed Saurav Ganguly on his ODI debut, so he could bowl a bit too.

I hope nobody gets carried away with this one result against an Australian team that clearly hasn't quite found it's feet on tour. There is a lot of work to be done yet, but what it has shown, is that there is raw talent worth something in Bangladesh. It has to be harnessed, and it will take time - but the worst thing we could do is to give up on them now.

Friday, June 17, 2005

A good old-fashioned whinge

Five years ago Real Madrid won the Champions League. In the same season, they finished fifth in La Primera Liga. Following previously agreed upon UEFA rules (article 1.0.3) to the letter, the Spanish FA petitioned to have Real Madrid admitted to the 2001 Champions League as defending champions, in place of Real Zaragoza, who finished 4th.

Zaragoza were shunted into the UEFA Cup, and their fortunes underwent a dramatic reversal, culminating in relegation a couple of seasons later. They have since recovered to top division mid-table mediocrity, but this alone is evidence enough that the decision was not one to be taken lightly.

What is interesting, and in fact amusing, is that even after all this happened, nobody felt the need to question or challenge the qualification rules for the Champions League. They were clearly established, and even the extreme case of the champions not qualifying was adequately handled. Everyone was content to work within the rules.

Wind the clock forward to 2005. In a quite inexplicable season for English football (witness Arsenal's ridiculous FA Cup victory), Liverpool somehow managed to get their hands on the Champions League trophy. Permanently, no less, with it being their 5th success overall. However, they finished just fifth in the Premiership. Sound familiar?

The English FA was faced with a choice. Either petition for Liverpool to take the 4th Champions League spot, and relegate Everton to the UEFA Cup, or have the Champions of Europe play in the UEFA Cup, and let Everton have the spot that they earned. A tough call, to say the least.

So what happens? The English FA now want to have their cake and eat it. They first rule that the 4th placed team, Everton, will get their due. But then, when Liverpool go and, admittedly much to everyone's surprise, win the Champions League, they decide they want Liverpool to be a 5th English team in the competition next year.

The media circus of course hops straight onto the bandwagon, and starts bleating on and on about how the rules are wrong. The same rules that everyone has repeatedly agreed to, despite the exact same circumstance having played out 5 years earlier.

I thought it was bad enough that the FA were acting so hypocritically, but even worse, at the end of it all, UEFA actually went and backtracked on their own rules. What a wonderful precedent! Agree to the rules, but if they somehow conspire against you, make enough noise, and they will be changed to suit you.

It really is a wonderful world we live in. Things don't go your way, so you make a bit of a fuss, and Bob's your uncle. And if there's one uncle nobody should want to have, it's Bob.

My little whinge aside, I must confess to one thing. Had this same scenario involved Manchester United, I would be supporting it in every way possible. Does that make me a hypocrite? Sure, the shoe fits. Does it make it right? Heck, no.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


In October 2003, the TSA stopped requiring passengers to remove their shoes before going through airport security checkpoint metal detectors.

In June 2005, the TSA security agents at San Jose continue to force passengers to remove their shoes. This, despite the fact that the looped video playing on the TV monitors over the security lines clearly state that this is not required. I've been through countless airports around the US and internationally in the last couple of years, and it's only San Jose whose agents continue to enforce this rule.

I have a special pair of shoes that I use for air travel. Taking them off to satisfy an overly officious agent serves only one purpose - to add another minute to the waiting time of the impatient passengers behind me in the line. Yet with the exception of one single agent, whom of course I rarely encounter, the folks at San Jose insist that I remove my shoes. Their explanations have ranged from the amusing "only people under 18 don't have to remove their shoes" to the downright contrarian "it is a requirement that everyone removes their shoes."

If someone could explain why San Jose is so special, please let me know. Unfortunately, I seriously doubt that the TSA reads this blog (actually, I don't think anybody does).

The sad thing is - if San Jose is actually doing it right (which the TSA's own website clearly indicates is not the case), then every single other airport I have been to is doing it completely wrong. Either way, there's a problem in the system.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Glazed Over

So Malcolm Glazer has taken over Manchester United. The chain of hysterical over-reaction that this has triggered is quite something else altogether. Even Donald Trump's blustery hyperbole can't match some of what I'm reading at the moment.

For the record, I am in passively violent opposition to the takeover. Not because of what it may or may not mean in direct impact, but because of the strike it represents to the heart and soul of the team and club that I have passionately supported for somewhere between 20 and 25 years.

A man who could manage to be so disrespectful as to formally launch a takeover bid on February 6th, of all dates on the calendar, relinquishes all right and opportunity to be respected or liked by fans. Forget for a moment that he is saddling a highly profitable enterprise with debt, or that he has probably never set foot in Manchester, leave alone Old Trafford. Simply having chosen to act on February 6th places him a rung below the airplane-imitating Leeds fans on the evolutionary totem pole.

Contrary to what the American media would have us believe, through op-ed pieces in even the Wall Street Journal, this has nothing to do with Glazer having been an America. The reaction would have been much the same had he been from Italy, Argentina, Australia or Antarctica. Of course, the odds of someone from a football-aware nation acting in this manner are not quite as high.

Save for the amusing rumour about Joel Glazer once having dinner with someone who supported Tottenham Hotspur, the Glazers appear to know even less about football than the ESPN pundit, Tommy Smyth. They certainly have displayed no comprehension of what Manchester United is all about. And yet there is a sad truth we have to face before spouting too much vitriol in their direction. The reality, and simultaneously the fundamental problem, is that none of this is about emotion, about football, or about the rich history and tradition of Manchester United Football Club. It's about dollars and cents, plain and simple.

The Irish sold out to Glazer, because they made a killing in doing so. Much the same way you would be doing now if you had got in on the Google IPO. Glazer is in this because he thinks, or has been advised, that there is a money-making opportunity here. Perhaps he delusionally fantasises about one-upping Roman Abramovich. Whatever the mechanism, he's in it to make a buck. We fans may dread the possibility that he will destroy the fabric of the club, but the gut-wrenching reality is that these are the risks a PLC runs.

I despise what is happening, but as a devoted Red, unless I win the lottery several times over and can afford to buy him out myself, I'm starting to realize that I my best option might be to hope against hope that this can somehow be managed without the club I care so deeply about becoming a casualty of economic war.

Fans are being encouraged to boycott sponsors, not buy merchandise, and even stop attending games. My heart suggests that I follow suit - strike Glazer where it hurts, and don't pause to wonder if I am cutting my nose to spite my face. And then my head weighs in on the debate, telling me that to do so will, in all probablity, only hurt the club. Glazer isn't backing out now - he's pumped his own money into buying 75% of the shares, and he wants it back and then some.
To boycott is to presume that at some point he will choose to cut his losses and walk away. Sadly, he doesn't strike me as that sort of a man. He was nothing if not insanely persistent in his efforts to buy the club, and it stands to reason that he will pursue profit-making with the same zeal.

I don't have the answers. You could justifiably contend that Glazer will take the club downhill all by himself. As with all economic analyses, the presumption of rationality is the point at which it all breaks down.

The only thing I do know is that come Saturday, I will be right behind the boys at Cardiff.

Friday, January 21, 2005

6 losses in an unbeaten season?

It's 9 months after the fact, and I still have to listen to people carping on about Arsenal's "magnificent unbeaten season" in 2003-04. I've finally had enough, so I decided to conduct a quick investigation.

Let's compare a few "magnificent" seasons in recent history, and see which one is really the best. I've ignored the charity shield games, as they're classified as friendlies (yeah, right). PPG stands for Points Per Game, assuming wins are 3, draws 1 and losses 0.

Man Utd 1998-9963401941392.21
Arsenal 2003-0458371561262.17
Man Utd 1999-0058381191252.16

Funny how the raw data tells a different story.

Arsenal's so-called glory season was not a patch on United's treble winning season, and in fact, United followed up the treble with a season that all but matched the single great year that Arsenal had - and that despite having to jet all over the world for the European Super Cup, the World Club Championship and the Intercontinental Cup (or whatever that game in Japan was called).

I don't want to detract from Arsenal's achievement in going unbeaten in the Premiership, but the truth is, their season as a whole wasn't even the best in the last 5 years, leave alone history.

Of course, this entire discussion is likely to be moot by the end of May, given that Chelsea have only lost 2 games so far this season, and look to have a real chance of emulating United's 98-99 performance, statistically at least.

Friday, January 07, 2005


It should have been a goal, no question about it. It was plain to see on Roy Carroll's face, even if you didn't see the ball cross the line. Ironic, of course, that nobody is commenting on the fact that United should have had a penalty, rather than a free kick, immediately afterwards (even Paul Robinson said as much). However, that's to be expected under the circumstances. Call it 1-1 and be done with it. Chelsea have the title wrapped up anyway!

I have to say, it's tough to watch a top-flight sportsman caught red-handed as Carroll was. It's the same with a Vieira belly-flop, a sneaky Bergkamp elbow, or a Carragher handball. The thing is, this isn't golf, and footballers don't call their own penalties. We'd have nothing to emote about if they did. So while it made me cringe at the time, the fact is there were three referees, none of whom saw it as a goal.

As I was always taught as a cricketer, the Umpire is right, even when he is wrong. The beauty of sport stems from it's humanity, and we need to be really careful when we start stripping it bare. Having the ability to do something doesn't make it the right thing to do. The premiership does not have to mimic the NFL.

What really irks me though, is those who claim that it never happened, back in the day. Maybe I just need to get my own pair of rose-tinted spectacles, but I'm quite certain it did happen back in the day. The difference was, you and I had no way of knowing, and we focused instead on enjoying the game. Something to consider.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

It's the cover drive that really matters

Apologies to my one reader for the absence. Plenty of others have talked at length about what's going on in the world at large, so I'll just have my quick say on Ricky Ponting and be done with it.

His double century against Pakistan appears to have convinced a lot of pundits once again that he is the best #3 going today, and back on track to go down as one of the all-time greats. Frankly, Peter Roebuck's assertion that Adam Gilchrist bats like Sir Garfield Sobers is more credible.

Ponting is undoubtedly a quality batsman, but he has a massive blot on his record, one that will be hard to shake, and yet is often glossed over by the critics. He averages an scarcely credible 12.28 in India, after 8 Test matches there. He may not ever have an opportunity to rectify that, and even if he does, he's going to need to score a century every time he bats to get that average up into the 40 region. Not likely.

Eight years ago, I watched a batsman named Rahul Dravid score 3, 4, 3 and 11 in his first four ODI outings. I was ridiculed when I asserted after watching those knocks that this was a world class batsman in the making. Today, it is he, not Ponting, who is the premier #3 batsman in world cricket, and in fact arguably the best batsman going, bar none. I say this mostly to illustrate that much like a stopped clock, I am occasionally proven to be correct. I'm still waiting on Ramnaresh Sarwan to provide an encore.

Back on topic, there is one thing I must concede as regards Ricky Ponting. Sadly for this fan, he has indeed proven himself to be a better batsman than Greg Blewett.

Not a more elegant cover driver, though.