Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"You can go, but be back soon"

Another dose of perspective for me, this time a whole host more pleasant. Our beautiful baby daughter made her grand entrance into this world this weekend which meant that for the first time in living memory, I elected not to play cricket for a reason other than serious injury. And what's more, I discovered that life does indeed still go on.

Of course, my pain was eased by the fact that United did not have a game this weekend, thanks to the Cup semis, which meant I just traded one great love for another, rather than being stuck with a 2-for-1 deal. Not that I would have hesitated for a second.

I'm working feverishly on ensuring that she is a devoted Red -- she's only a few days old, but is already showing a strong affinity for the Park and Rooney (white Pele) songs. That, and good old "Hungry, Hungry" which I discovered just now is actually a Dr. Seuss special!

In any case, to explain the title - a couple of emailers asked why I'd stopped posting, so now you know. I get the feeling I'll be back to it pretty soon, what with being the paranoid dad who sits awake at 3am watching his sleeping daughter!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Sometimes in life, things happen that put it all in perspective. A few days ago, a young cricketer in Northern California was taken from us, the victim of a needless car crash. Fardin Qayyumi was 15, and had just begun to make a mark in local cricketing circles. He was a wonderful young man, and as determined a cricketer as they come. A youngster who had not just the desire to play for his adopted homeland, but the singular intent. He could have achieved his dream, but now we'll never know. His young immigrant family is shattered, in a way that few of us can probably imagine.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Australia on track

Looks like I was close to spot-on. Australia wrapped up the Bangladesh tail, and chasing 307, it's Ponting and Gilchrist at the crease with 95 runs required on the last day. I suppose there's a chance they might finish it before lunch, especially if they don't lose any more wickets, but other than that, I couldn't have called it better. Perhaps I should seek out Pinky and John and place a few wagers.

Bangladesh certainly have an outside chance to pull it off from here - but I think they'll have to get rid of both Ponting and Gilchrist early on for that to become real.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Wisden struggling for original content?

A few times now I've noticed that I'll raise a point in my blog, and in the next couple of days, an article appears on Wisden CricInfo making the precise same point. For some reason, they only seem to get there after I do. I've used that to make myself feel good about former colleagues stealing my ideas (which may or may not be true of course, but keeps me happy nevertheless!).

Now it's gone a step further! The great almanack has gone and put one of my thoughts in print! A few weeks ago, I commented on the way captains are vilified for fielding first and not taking wickets, but not for batting first and not scoring runs. I now read that inside the yellow dust-jacket this year, lies an article by Rahul Bhattacharya, making the same point. What are the odds that he came up with that all by himself?

I will leave it as an exercise for the reader (both of you) to determine just how facetious I am being!

What price Australia?

It was supposed to be a waste of time. Bangladesh barely deserved to be in the inner circle of Test cricket. Australia were going to wipe the floor with them, make a point, and head on home. Sure, Ricky Ponting went back on his derisory comments - but what else was he to do in a press conference in the heart of Dhaka?

Now Bangladesh lead by a little under 300, with 5 second innings wickets in hand. The cricket world ostensibly has something to cheer about, with the underdog about to walk off with the most prized scalp of all.

But are they? The last time I remember things getting to this point, Bangladesh had taken a 100 run first-innings lead against Pakistan, set them 260 to win, and reduced them to 99-5, and 200-8. Inzamam-ul-Haq then resurrected his own career, and the near-win has been long forgotten.

After two days, many pundits had written off Australia's chances, quite foolishly. Adam Gilchrist has brought them right back in the game, and I wouldn't bet a lot of money against Ponting, Gilchrist and co. pulling off the win. They'll be thinking they can keep the lead down to 325, and chase it before tea on the 5th day. The romantic in me doesn't want to see that happen, but you've got to consider the harsh realities.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Schoolyard football

Super performance on Sunday - we played some top class football, and put Arsenal firmly in their place. It's a shocker that they've gone so far in Europe, but perhaps Villareal and Barcelona will know better than to sit back and give them space to play.

The highlight of the day was of course Kolo Toure's incredible two-palmed save to deny Wayne Rooney when Jens Lehmann had been left for dead. It puts Arsene Wenger's pathetic comments about "playing a fair game" in perspective when his centre-back pulls off a manoeuvre out of a schoolyard rulebook, where the player closest to the goal gets to function as the keeper. Still, even playing the 2-3-5-1 formation with two goalies didn't help.

The new German #1 (boy did I laugh at that) was no better either. His hilarious attempt to get Rio Ferdinand booked when he tripped over his own leg (watch the replay if you don't believe me, it's outstanding stuff) was something to behold. Par for the course for Lehmann, of course.

I'm hoping against hope at this point - it's hard to see Chelsea winning only two of their remaining five games, but all we can do is fight to the end. What is very clear is that we're building up a young team of real quality - once again with the right blend of youth and experience throughout. Bring on next season, I say!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Judging Sachin

Even Brian Lara himself, no stranger to troughs of woeful form, has now weighed in on the issue. Three pyjama victories on the trot has dulled the focus somewhat, but the questions around Sachin Tendulkar's future remain. Cricket aficionados far and wide are ruminating over his apparent fall from grace, but while I've asked a lot of questions, there can really never be any doubt as to the impact he has had on India and Indian cricket.

Things came to a head in Mumbai, when the members pavilion at his home ground booed him off the field following yet another low score. Not a pleasant sight at all. As Richard Hobson wrote in the Times, it was as if "Zeus was being heckled from the foot of Mount Olympus, except Tendulkar did not have the bolts of lightning to fire back. And if the god Tendulkar is fallible, ... what hope can there be for mere mortals ... ?" Hobson contends that after two operations in a year, and 17 years on the circuit, Tendulkar's body is "telling him to stop." Lara, undoubtedly speaking from experience, assures us that Tendulkar will be back. We'll ignore for now the fact that he said this while in India doing publicity work on behalf of MRF.

There's little I can say about Tendulkar and his cricket that someone else hasn't already said, and I'm certainly nobody to pass judgement. What's more interesting to me is the shift in attitudes towards cricketers that is going on in India. Hobson alludes to Tendulkars god-like status with his Zeus analogy; Nirmal Shekar and others have suggested that the unprecedented booing is no more than reflective of a continued dumbing-down of the Indian cricket spectator. Whether Mandira Bedi and others bear responsibility for that is again a separate question.

The conjunction of the two comments makes for some interesting thinking. It's hard to disagree with Shekar. Today's cricket watcher has been weaned on slap-bang batsmanship, and is less interested in a pure cricketing contest than in a thrill-a-minute instant gratification spectacle. That is the cultural whim of the dot com era. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the icon for cricketing quality, and that about sums it up. Cricket certainly needs it characters, but there is no substitute for class, alas.

Yet while we purists bemoan this change in attitudes, I think we must concede that there is a bit of a silver lining in all of this. As cricket culture evolves (or perhaps devolves), it may leave in it's wake the demi-god worship that has troubled at least this writer for many years. With a burgeoning middle-class, the needs of the masses in India have changed. Cricket is less and less an inspirational escape from the drudgery of everyday life, and more and more an entertainment channel.

The hope is that this shift leads to less pronounced elevations of human beings to exalted status, and therefore fewer eruptions of mass depression when things don't quite go to plan. Cricket may well be on the path to reclaiming it's status as a game, no more and no less. On the flip side, ignorance could lead to the exact opposite, but I prefer to retain an optimistic outlook in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

Back to Tendulkar himself, and the bottom line is that the boos of a small minority will not in anyway tarnish the man's achievements. Many years ago, The Don was a unifying figure in Australian culture. he transcended the then contemporary socio-political climate, and brought together a nation struggling to assert it's own identity. He lives on today as not just the greatest cricketer in Australia's history, but the most revered Australian ever.

The Caribbean had it's Sobers and Richards, and in a similar vein, India has had it's Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, and now Tendulkar. Whatever cricketing heights others may scale, these men have meant something a whole lot greater to their nation, and there is nothing that will ever detract from that.