Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Four brilliant days at the WACA

What a wonderful Test match. It ebbed and flowed for three great days, and the fourth day provided tremendous entertainment, although with Australia never quite getting back on top despite threatening, it may not qualify as one of the all time great Test matches.

However, it did qualify, in my book, as one of India's greatest ever victories, and it certainly was a historic performance. Perhaps the only Indian victory greater than this one, given the context, the pitch, the expectations and the quality of the opposition, was the Laxman-Dravid Calcutta encounter.

I think the best way to summarise my experience is to go through player by player with my thoughts, seeing as anyone who's reading this already knows what happened.

  • Billy Bowden - He had a pretty good Test actually, keeping the theatrics to a minimum, and getting it mostly right. His one clanger may have been the Symonds lbw on the final day, and there was a close one he didn't give against Dravid in the first knock, but that was about it. However, his inability to count to six was quite ridiculous at times, most notably when he made his partner go back to his post, only to be overruled by the third umpire. Also poor was his remonstrating with bowlers not to appeal too much - perhaps he got a little carried away by the spirit situation.
  • Asad Rauf - he had a shocker in my book. He seemed to be struggling with the conditions, and he got increasingly trigger happy as the Test went on. He sent Dhoni, Tendulkar, Rogers and Hussey all packing with iffy lbw's, and nailed Dravid in the second innings with a poor caught behind decision. Fortunately though, all these were marginal calls, rather than egregiously terrible ones as we saw in Sydney. What he did prove though, was that umpires need warm-up games too. The ball bounces more in Sydney than it does in Rawalpindi or Multan, Mr Rauf.

  • Wasim Jaffer - Continued to show that he possesses quite unflappable temperament, but also little ability to resist the flirtatious drive. He was enthusiastic in the field though, and the opening partnership is likely to remain for Adelaide.
  • Virender Sehwag - Batted like a man who had no form and little class to fall back on, which was sad to see. However, quite simply his attitude and approach - taking the game to the Aussies - made a notable difference at the top of the order, and he'll be back in the side for a while now I think. He was also heavily involved in the field, always having something to say to the captain and bowlers, and by all accounts his contributions were vital.
  • Rahul Dravid - Much happier at number three, and played some great cricket, despite not being at his most fluent. No surprise that he wound up top-scoring in India's best away win ever, is it? Dropped one on day 4 that he didn't see, but otherwise was superb in the slips, and was clearly Kumble's right hand man - the captain was invariably seen going to Dravid for advice. He made me cry when he got out though. That's the third 90-odd I've seen him get live!
  • Sachin Tendulkar - I take back anything I've ever said in question of this man. He can bloody well bat. Getting very slow in the field unfortunately, but do we care? The crowd in the members all wanted to see him score runs, and they got their wish, though not the century both they and he craved, thanks to Asad Rauf.
  • Saurav Ganguly - What a disaster in the field, and in this Test in general. Everyone around me in the crowd wanted to know why on earth he was in the side, and I couldn't provide an answer. His lethargy was mind-numbing, and his efforts in the field often laughable (not that I could do better or anything). I hope the rumour of sickness was in fact true, and we will see better from him in Adelaide. I'm not a fan, but even then I expected a lot more!
  • VVS Laxman - Sometimes it's hard to imagine how he hasn't scored 10 thousand runs and 40 centuries. This was one of those Tests. He just manages to look divine.
  • MS Dhoni - Samson in disguise? The long highlighted hair is gone, and so is the go-for-it batsman. In his place though, we have someone who is looking increasingly competent, both in front of and behind the stumps. I've been calling for Parthiv Patel to come back into the side, but I think I might have to rethink that one.
  • Anil Kumble - What can you say about the man? Looks like he was made skipper about ten years too late, and I don't see how he's ever going to stop bowling. His batting was a disappointment though - his team needed him twice, and he failed them both times. Getting to be a liability in the field too.
  • Irfan Pathan - He bowled beautifully, moved the ball nicely, was a livewire in the field, and batted with considerable aplomb, to the surprise and consternation of many in the crowd. Welcome back - it's going to be hard to drop him now, and RP Singh will be the one looking to see when Zaheer is back.
  • RP Singh - I like his attitude, and what's not to like about a bloke who can swing it at 140kmh? His batting in the second dig was a bit of a revelation, but he may be the most vulnerable of the three pacemen from this Test, despite being the most senior!
  • Ishant Sharma - what do you say about a chap who gets Ricky Ponting twice, does him for pace and bounce half a dozen times, and bowls one of the best extended spells I have ever seen, live or on television. The crowd really took to him, and the general consensus was that if he put some meat on those bones, there's some truly world class potential there - stuff that would put a Srinath to shame.
  • Harbhajan Singh - talk about an enthusiastic twelfth man. He was everywhere, all the time -- except when Andrew Symonds was batting, in which case the 12th man duties were undertaken by others.
  • Yuvraj Singh - the poor attitude that we have read about was quite apparent in the fielding sessions, and it was no great disappointment when he limped off injured on the third morning.
  • VRV Singh & Pankaj Singh - let's just say that they won't be coming on as substitute fielders anytime soon.
  • Dinesh Karthik - like Harbhajan, he was everywhere, and displayed the sort of attitude that suggests that he's a real positive asset in the dressing room.
  • Chris Rogers - back to the drawing board for him, but he knows that he's the next cab off the ranks at least. He was sensational in the field, but one hopes the flashy bmw he drove to the ground in is not an indication of a feeling that he has already found success.
  • Phil Jacques - coming back down to earth after a high-flying start to his Test career. This is where the rubber meets the road, and it'll be interesting if he's able to adapt and stop going after everything. Fortunately for him, there's not a lot of good swing bowling in world cricket, so he won't often be tested this much. Supposedly poor in the field, but Australia's worst is better than India's best I think!
  • Ricky Ponting - reality bites for Ponting. He's really been outdone by India, though I expect a double-ton at Adelaide to compensate. He was roughed up by a 19 year old, and it was interesting that there were a lot of people in the members who felt that his time as captain may be up as soon as the end of this season. One thing worth pointing out - he was a consummate sportsman through the entire match, no two ways about it.
  • Michael Hussey - showed everyone how to bat at the WACA on the fourth day... it's all about knowing how to leave the ball. I wonder though, if he should be batting at five, with Clarke at number four.
  • Michael Clarke - drove into the WACA in an old Ford, with Lara Bingle accompanying him. Perhaps it hasn't all gone to his head after all. Classy batting in the second knock, but as happened after the 6-9 in Mumbai, his bowling is becoming overrated.
  • Andrew Symonds - what an all round cricketer this man is. He's not a great at anything, but he can swing the ball at 125kmh, bowl good offies, hit a ball as hard and cleanly as anyone, and he is stupendous in the field - for the second year running I lost count of the number of certain boundaries he turned into dot balls.
  • Adam Gilchrist - this fairytale is coming to an end. He's still better than most, but certainly not at his best. I imagine we've got another year at most, if that, so enjoy it while it lasts.
  • Brett Lee - Dale Steyn is awesome, but Brett Lee must be the best fast bowler in the world right now bar none. Simply wonderful to watch - the sort of cricketer I will pay good money to see.
  • Mitchell Johnson - as the radio commentators pointed out, tried to bowl fast instead of reverting to type and swinging it. Normally it's the touring bowlers that struggle with that at the WACA!
  • Stuart Clark - As I said last year, nobody's missing Glenn McGrath - he just had a haircut and a name change, simple as that.
  • Shaun Tait - My God, what a disappointment after all the 170kmh hype. A real dud, but I know he can bowl better - we've all seen it. His last over on day 2, when Ponting was trying to squeeze an extra over was hilarious, particularly the stuttering stop-start run that ended in the delivery being abandoned right as the clock ticked over. He'll need a good ODI series to ensure he doesn't drop out of the mix.
  • Brad Hogg - got the biggest cheer of the game.... everytime he ran out on the field. Australia missed him, for his batting more than anything.
So on to Adelaide now. I'll be hoping for an Indian win, but I'm not expecting it.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

More thoughts on Bollyline (ugh)

  • Who'd want to be Asad Rauf or Billy Bowden. Woe betide them should they even miss a marginal no-ball call that turns out to be of no consequence, leave alone give one team or the other a free wicket. Ironically, it will be a no-win situation that India have put themselves into. If the umpires err against India, it will "prove" that replacing Bucknor was silly. If they err against Australia, it will be a perfect opportunity for the Aussies to score points by making a big show of not being bothered by it.
  • Anil Kumble was the first captain to accept Ricky Ponting's deal regarding captains/fielders calling catches. It's probably a safe bet that he will also be the last.
  • Were Brad Hogg and Harbhajan Singh ever going to play in Perth anyway? I suppose Harbhajan might have, if only to bowl two overs (one in each innings to dismiss Ponting). But surely Tait is coming in for Hogg to blast India out?
  • Conventional wisdom has it that Sehwag will come in for Yuvraj if he scores more than about 20 in Canberra this week. However, you have to wonder at this point if it won't be Jaffer who makes way. Perhaps Sehwag and Karthik in for Yuvraj and Jaffer, or maybe Pathan takes one of those spots, plays as an opener and an extra bowling option allowing Harbhajan to play as well. I'm not a fan of 5 bowlers in general, but India have to be aggressive tactically to square the series. Personally though, I'd dump Harbhajan, play Pathan to deepen the batting, and work on the presumption that batting depth will give India a chance on the bouncy track more than extra bowlers.
  • Hopefully, we'll get a real scorcher of a Test next week. I'm going to enjoy my birds eye view, almost as much as I'm going to enjoy the opportunity to meet a certain Liverpool supporter!
  • Finally, while many people are suggesting banning sledging, I'd like to suggest the polar opposite. Let's make cricket a full contact sport. See if Harbhajan still wants to take on Symonds, or if anyone would ever challenge Inzamam (were he to return to the game).

Monday, January 07, 2008

A controversial victory

OK, so absolutely nobody will get the pathetic pun, if you can even call it that. For your consideration, I propose the conspiracy theory of the day, postulated by a man who once was a fan of a fan of Rodney Hogg's, though I'm not sure that's relevant.

Last we heard, a major Bollywood epic, entitled "Victory" was filming at the SCG. They couldn't have scripted better material if they had tried. The rest I leave to your imagination.

In all seriousness though, the controversy is quite ridiculous, as is the "Bolly-line" moniker that I have seen applied to it. I see it pretty simply. Ponting needs some runs, and if Harbhajan plays, he won't be getting them. Here comes RT Ponting, 401* at Perth - and I'll be there to witness it. Wait, I said I was going to be serious:

  1. If Harbhajan used the term "monkey," he's an idiot, because he was fully aware of what happened in the recent ODI series, and would have known full well that it is considered an offensive term. Let's be brutally honest - India can be a very hostile place if you're dark-skinned, so this is not the time for being holier-than-thou and some introspection is in order.
  2. That said, people are called a lot lot worse on a cricket field. As, I think, Greg Baum, observed, the Australians have figured out how to keep it within the letter, if not the spirit, and other teams need to get a little more sophisticated.
  3. Michael Clarke cheated in my book. He joins the sad list of cricketers who have, most likely knowingly, claimed bump catches. My list started with Mark Waugh, 17 years ago, and includes players from several countries and of several skin pigments.
  4. Not walking when you edge to first slip? These guys need to come to California, where a batsman can walk after being caught at second slip, and then come back after the umpire shouts after him "hey, I'm not giving you out!"
  5. At the end of the day, despite the atrocious umpiring which in this instance ended up favouring Australia overall, India should have drawn the Test match. You simply cannot complain about the result when you wind up losing three wickets to someone who never bowls in the penultimate over of the match.

Cricket or Liverpool?

I think I've finally had my fill of Dileep Premachandran's editorials. It's bad enough that the man is a Liverpool supporter, but it's become borderline pathetic the way in which all his cricketing columns have to somehow attempt to make a point about the greatness of Liverpool, and if he can squeeze it in, a, usually baseless, dig at United.

His latest piece, on the monkey-bastard "Bolly-line" controversy, is no exception. In it he manages to point out how Liverpool were cheated of the European Cup in 1965, how a referee had a stinker at a Liverpool game recently, and how he thinks that Cristiano Ronaldo is a villain. Why, if he really wanted to make a point about cheating, perhaps he'd do better to use Steven Gerrard as an example.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Revealed at last - why Indian batsmen don't run singles!

You may not have realised this, but it's because they are... Brahmins! No, that's not my theory - but it's the one described in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald today.

Not a lot that I can say, other than to remain in vein and point out that the Brahmins have scored most of the runs for India in this series. It also stands to reason, I am forced to conclude, that there must be a super secret by-invitation-only subset of Brahmins, who run even less than their 'ordinary' counterparts. No doubt Sourav Ganguly is a member of this sect :-)

Good thing there's some entertaining journalism doing the rounds to take our minds off what is on the way to becoming a bore-draw.