Tuesday, December 19, 2006

One Eyed?

I've often been labelled as being a bit one-eyed in my support of (and faith in) Team India in cricket. A recent episode wherein I questioned my friends' lack of belief/faith in the team (in response to a comment around "I think they let South Africa get away in the first innings (of the 1st test in the ongoing 2006-07 series between South Africa and India). They should have bundled them out for less than 84"!!!!) got me into an argument mode and then led me to a deeper inquiry of why I have so much faith in this team than any other past teams.

Believe me, I have been a believer in Team India only after Mohammed Azharuddin departed as captain. That one event (and the concommitant dragging down of Manoj Prabhakar) turned me from being a non-believer into one that has faith in this team. It marked what was probably, in my view at least, the brightest spark in Indian cricket. The structuring of this current team (I am talking Test team here by the way) commenced at that point in time, in my view. It has then progressed through the captaincy of Sachin and Ganguly before it rests very comfortably in Dravid's shoulders.

Listen to Dravid's interview on Cricinfo and decide for yourself on the clarity of the thought process in this group. He clearly states, even amidst the euphoria surrounding the win, that there are areas where the team can improve. The team knows that the South Africans will be hungry and will come at them hard. They know they have areas to improve. They aren't getting carried away. They want to play a 2-day game prior to the second Test to iron out a few areas where it can improve.

It is such clarity of thought that convinces me that Team India is worth reposing faith in.

It is possible that India may still lose this series. It would be disappointing if that were to happen. But it could happen. The South africans will come back hard at India. But I believe there is a will to fight it out; a strength to guts it out; an ability to back it up with performances...

Ganguly (along with John Wright) taught this team pride and self-belief. Dravid (along with Greg Chappell) is providing them with collective steel and process-hygiene ("focus on the process and not the outcomes").

I have faith in them as a Test group. Yes, they will screw up every now and then. Yes, they won't score 95,965 runs every time they go out to bat. Yes, Saurav Ganguly will play a rash stroke and get out for 25. Yes, they will bowl out the opposition for "only" 84! Yes, they will never have either the fighting spirit or the energy of the Australian team. And every now and then, they will make a complete hash of things, as they did in Pakistan earlier this year in the Tests. But, more often than not, they will play their hearts out and play with pride. And that's enough for me!

Meanwhile, while I still remain a great fan of Ganguly (play with pride and play with spirit... a leader who has inspired his players to give off their best) Dravid is providing inspirational leadership in his own way:

Sunday, December 17, 2006

To sledge or not to sledge

Ian Chappell introduced it. Well no, Percy Sledge introduced it, thanks to his epic "When a man loves a woman". Today, almost everyone does it. The Indians too get in on the act.

Sledging is an artefact of cricket. It is here. I dislike it. But it is here. And it will stay. Steve Waugh called it "mental disintegration". It is when a player (typically from the fielding team -- and more often than not, the bowler or the wicketkeeper) insults the batsman to mentally disturb the latter's concentration. It is a form of gamesmanship that I detest.

However, when the Indians sledge it is often seen as incorrect. Yet, when sledged, if Nel hangs his cheek out, Nel is seen as being fiesty or cheeky! Duh! Where's the logic?

Let me state very clearly that I am not a fan of sledging in any shape or form. I hate it when Nel carries on. I dislike it when Sreesanth carries on. I detest it when McGrath carries on. It is just not a pretty sight and is a blight on cricket.

However, it does happen. One has a choice here. Either you are in it. Or you are not.

If you are in it, you just need to jump in head, feet and all. There are no half measures. And as they say, when you throw a stone in the gutter, expect a splash!

Samir Chopra, in his blog seems to indicate that Indians should not sledge. He asks the Indian team to take Jacques Rudolphs' comments seriously! Ahem! Why? If anything, I'd ask the Indians to get better at it. If Sreesanth wishes to sledge, good luck to him. He needs to ensure that that instrument works effectively for him!

Rudolph talked about Sreesanth's sledging as an act of "stupidity"! Hmmm! I wonder what he makes of Nel's antics?

I'd get the Indian team management to offer lessons in sledging. Those who are interested in adding this arrow to their quiver should take it up and refine this through diligent practice.

The resurrection of Ganguly

At the time of writing this (end of the 2nd day's play), the first test between India and South Africa is excitingly poised. India has an overall lead of 311 with 3 days to play. Laxman and Dhoni are still batting for India. I'd be very surprised if India lose this one. For the first time, India will have won a test match in South Africa.

When/if it happens, this will be an impressive achievement for a team that has traditionally done poorly in South Africa; a team that travels poorly; a team that just suffered a 4-0 whitewash in the recently concluded ODI series against the same opposition (one game in the series was rained off).

Apart from some excellent bowling in the first innings by India, my view is that India is in this position mainly because of the efforts of three people: Saurav Ganguly, Zaheer Khan and V.V.S.Laxman --- the forgotten people in Indian cricket over the last year or so.

Agreed, Ganguly played a rash stroke in the second dig. However, the maturity, tenacity and will that he displayed in India's first dig was nothing short of sensational. He is a strange man with some strange inadequacies. However, he is also a pugnacious fighter. These were the qualities he showed as he shepherded and then commandeered India's first innings. These were the qualities that got India the first innings score that she could bowl at.

Sadly these were the qualities that were absent in the Indian middle order in the previous year or so. The middle order has looked far too brittle. The faith that the new management had placed on the new turks (Yuvraj, Kaif, Raina, et al) wasn't fully repaid. The young turks will come good one day. They will have their day. But for the moment, it appears to me that Ganguly and Laxman have seized the second opportunity that they have got.

Realistically speaking, Laxman was never really out of the Test game. However, his absence from the ODI scheme will now be seriously questioned. It is conceivable that, Ganguly will also make a bid to be in the ODI frame.

All of this is good, in my view.

I have always maintained that Ganguly was never accorded the farewell that a good and honest servant of Indian cricket deserved. This second coming will afford that courtsey to him. He can now chose the time and manner of his going.

My hope is that he choses it well and sagaciously this time.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Pitching double standards in cricket

For as long as I can remember, there has been a strange double-standard in cricket. What is right for the Aussies, New Zealand, South Africans and England (ANSE) seems not quite right for India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan (ISP). The ANSE quartet has viewed every ISP move with suspicion and vice-versa. This needs to be curbed and cured for cricket to prosper, in my view.

Let us focus on pitches as an example where this malaise plays out particularly gallingly.

It is almost impossible for Indian and Sri Lankan curators to curate a WACA or Wanderers or Basin Reserve type pitch in Bangalore or Faisalabad or Kandy, in my view. The best that they can do is to prepare a drop in pitch flown in from Perth or wherever. But after a few seasons the pitch will return to its natural conditions. The local environment, the micro climate there and soil conditions determine the nature of the pitches to a largeextent. And so it should. One does not travel to the Carribean to expect to see Trafalgar Square in the rain over there. One goes there to experience the weather, the people the climate and the dust that prevails in the Carribean. My own view is that pitches are the way they are in places they are in because that is precisely what the local environmental conditions afford.

To expect a fast and pacy pitch in Kandy is as alien a concept as an expectation I'll have for a warm, sunny and sweaty day in Moscow in December! Most of the ANSE teams feign surprise and express disgust when faced with the type of pitches they see in Bangalore and Kandy. Well I think the respective Boards must ask their respective players to grow up and get used to it. I haven't seen Sri Lanka complain when they tour New Zealand. In 2002-03 India toured New Zealand. The pitches were under-prepared, fast and low. So much so that even the El Nino factor was cited as a lame excuse for the pitch conditions. No one complained. The team got on with it. Badly no doubt. But they got on with it.

Almost every ANSE team that tours ISP countries whinge, moan and complain about the nature of the pitches. Unfortunately, there is a terribly silly move by the ISP countries to go the other way and prepare artificially fast pitches in the face of these constant complaints from the ANSE teams. This is plain silly, in my view. These whinges should, in fact urge ISP curators to prepare more pitches that turn squarely on day one! After all, it requires technique to play spin, just as technique is necessary fro playing pace.

For example the pitch that was prepared in Nagpur when Australia visited India in 2004 was more of an Aussie pitch than most Aussie pitches! Why? Why prepare such pitches for ISP teams? ISP countries should prepare more pitches like the one they did in Mumbai for the final test of the series that had Ponting spewing. In that series, Buchanan, the Aussie coach complained and whined about the pitch in Bangalore and called it "terrible" from the moment he saw it. He found something else to whine about the moment he saw Australia score 474 in its first innings!

I am not saying ISP countries shouldn't play on fast pitches. I believe ISP countries should prepare a mix of bouncy pitches, fast pitches, green tops and dust bowls for their local competition. But just as one expects nothing by fast, bouncy green tops on a tour of New Zealand or South Africa, one should expect nothing but huge turners when teams visit India, Sri Lanka or Pakistan. And that is fair enough, in my view!

Now, take the example of "instructing" groundsmen on the preparation of wickets. I do not think it is fair enough for the local coach or the local Board to instruct its ground-staff on the nature of pitches that they will prepare. The theory is that local ground-staff should prepare pitches that the local soil conditions afford them. Almost all ANSE teams that visit the ISP countries whinge and complain and adopt the high moral ground. Yet there is no sense of outrage when we see, for example, Micky Arthur, the South African coach, instuct his ground-staff to prepare fast and bouncy pitches.

What makes that ok?

Why the hue and cry when Ganguly instructed his ground-staff to prepare spinning pitches in India?

Is is ok just because it is fast? Or is it ok just because it is ANSE?

Cricket needs a rethink.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A. R. Rahman's Guru: A review...

Over the weekend, I listened to music from Mani Rathnam's movie "Guru". The movie is slated for release late in 2006. The music was released a few weeks ago.

I don't somehow think there will be too many 'hits' from 'Guru' as most hits these days seem to me to be of the dhol-type or the club-mix-type! This is more kick-back-and-relax-genre. Rahman tunes Gulzar's lyrics in Guru. Guru is a Ratnam-Rahman combination; a collaboration that worked really well in blockbuster movies like Roja, Bombay, Dil Se and Alaipayude (Saathiya).

Guru is Rahman's first (Bollywood) movie music release since Rang De Basanti, which was towards the end of 2005. It was therefore, quite an anticipated release. I have to say that it did not match my expectations completely. This does not mean that the songs are bad in Guru. Not at all! Indeed, some of the songs are actually quite good. However, after many super hits from movies like Earth, Roja, Taal, Dil Se, Pukar, Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities, Rangeela, Saathiya, Lagaan, Kisna, Yuva, Swades, Rang De Basanti, etc, one expected much more. Maybe that's more because of the standard of music we have come to expect from Rahman.

But after listening to Guru, one can't help but admire Rahman's versatility and courage. Gone are the days when he used to just belt out tunes that the Producer or the Director of the film felt the audience would like. He has, one feels, entered a phase where he makes music that defines himself as a musician. One feels that he is not content with just belting out tunes. He wants to leave a stamp; create an impact. In Guru, I feel that he is starting to break free of the Bollywood formula stranglehold. Guru is, one feels, a statement from Rahman although not an indulgence. Good luck to him.

As B Rangan says in his blog review of Guru: "There’s very little in his music that’s instantly catchy and fun anymore, because he’s no longer just making soundtracks; he’s painting soundscapes."

The movie has seven songs.

Two of these are, in my view, not that great ("baazi laga" and "ek lo ek muft"). Three songs are just awesome ("tere bina", "ay hairathe" and "jaage hain") and I feel that one other song ("mayya") will grow on me. And I am undecided on one of them ("barso re").

I did not get the point of a simple song like "baazi laga" (sung by Udit Narayan, Madhushree and Shweta Bargavee). I did not quite get this song and where it came from. It may be a situational song with a lot of prancing around aimlessly. But, w have come to expect such lofty ideals for Rahman's music that this song falls short.

Rahman's tunes are normally extremely melodious and are solidly based on classical or folk idioms. There is a sheer craftsmanship to his music. To him, composed music is a carefully sculpted piece of art. he takes it seriously. Therefore, one tends to find many layers to his music and the more you peel (for those who want to peel) the more you see. Rahman's music, therefore, caters to a wide audience. Those who want to hear a song in order to discover something new, will! And yet, his songs also cater to those that didn't want to tax themselves. The songs are fun enough for them too!

Bappi Lahiri sings "ek lo ek muft". Perhaps Rahman wanted to re-create the "mumbai se aaya mera dost" mood in a tapori-type bhang song? Especially since the movie also has Mithun Chakraborty, the original "mumbai se aya mera dost". All of this is random speculation, of course. However, what is certainly not speculation is that this song doesn't work for me... yet! And I have heard it only 5-6 times now. But then again, maybe this song will grow on me too?

Then we have "barso re", a song by Shreya Ghosal and Uday Mazumdar. While it is certainly not in the "baazi laga" category, it is not a sit-up-and-take-notice type of song, in my view. The beat is simple and effective and there are a few clever loops that run through the song. But the song just doesn't lift. It does have some fascinating layers in it though -- like the nice staccato beats. So perhaps the song will grow on me through these layers. Who knows? I felt a bit frustrated with this song though. The vocals by Shreya Ghosal are terrific and Naveen's flute is magic. The soundscape suggests a folk setting, but one can never be too sure with Rahman. There is always this tension between the imagined soundscape and the actual. But therein lies my frustration with this song. Just as the rustic drums worked in "chinnamma chilakkamma" (from Meenaxi) the strange drums (B. Rangan calls it "fire crackers in a tin can" -- how appropriate!) sometimes drown out the sweet vocals in this song. Maybe this is a layer-thing? I am hoping that a few more listens will move this one from the "undecided" category to "I can't get enough of this"!

The songs in the movie that are worth raving about are "tere bina", "ay hairathe" and "jaage hain". A mild warning though. You can easily get hooked on these songs! They are awfully catchy and they are incredibly melodious. Hariharan's voice in "ay hairathe" is awesome and so is Alka's. Chinmayee is a revelation. A. R. Rahman's singing is also awesome in "tere bina".

Of these three songs, "tere bina" is Rahman's tribute to Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. There is no doubt that Rahman, like a whole generation of sub-continental musicians (and music directors) has been hugely influenced by the great Nusrat. The "tere bina" tune is simple and the song is good in (or maybe because of) its simplicity. Chinmayee adds to the layers of the song. She sings quite mellifluosly and effortlessly. Rahman's rapid-fire solfeggio-singing as part of the first interlude is nice and quite Nusrat-esque. However, although it is quite good and while it is a nice tribute to Nusrat, it falls somewhat short of a total Nusrat impression for me. If you want to hear a take that is a bit truer to Nusrat style of rapid-free-solfeggio, listen to "ali ali" sung by a singer called Krishna in the movie Deewar! Of all the names for a person singing a Sufi Qawaali, the name Krishna seems almost as bizzarre as Imran Khan donning whites to turn up to play for India in a game of cricket! The song "ali ali" is from Deewar with music by Aadesh Shrivastava. I have been quite impressed with Aadesh Shrivastava lately. He has had a few clever songs like "ali ali", "rang deni" (the Kailash Kher offering), etc from movies like K3G, Dev, Deewar, Chalte Chalte, etc.

Anyway, back to "tere bina"... It is a lovely song with a catchy refrain. Chinmayee is quite good in this too. The segment that Chinmayee sings in the lower octaves towards the end of the song is quite haunting. She projects her clear and sweet voice right through the song. It is quite Alisha-Chinoy-ish in some parts too! Perhaps Chinmayee is in her more mature phase and one hopes that she lives up to the immense promise she showed when she burst onto the scene as a teenager! The "dum tara dum tara" refrain is sung by Murtuza Khan and Kadir Khan (who sang the terrific "noor-un-ala" Qawali from the movie Meenaxi). The acoustic guitar chords that play right through the song create a wonderful backdrop for the song. Overall, "tere bina" is quite good and I can see that this will become a favourite soon.

By the way, the "dum tara dum tara" refrain sounds very similar to the "ga ga re ga ga re ga re ga" solfeggio that Shankar Mahadevan and Sadhana Sargam sing in "goonji si hai" from Kyon! Ho Gaya Na. There's nothing patently wrong with that mind you. Just an observation. The refrain is also quite similar to "maangalyam" in Saathiya (Alaipayude)!

The song "ay hairathe" is a wonderful ghazal-type number sung by Hariharan and Alka Yagnik. The song starts of in a wonderfully quirky manner. An accordian plays softly accompanied by only the dayan beats of a tabla, also played in a muted manner. The entry of the bayan of the tabla is, therefore, quite dramatic and creates an immediate impact before the synth and electric guitar join in a melodious fusion. The "dum tara dum tara" refrain is heard in this song too, this time sung by Rahman in quite an impressive high pitch.

Anyway, "ay hairathe" is a good song that shows of the versatility of Hariharan and Alka. The movement from a ghazal arrangement (simplicity of arrangement with tabla, accordian, synth, electric guitar) to a Scottish highland tune in the first interlude shows Rahman's ability to switch genres seamlessly (as he did in Lagaan, Bombay Dreams and many more of his projects). Towards the end of the song, Alka Yagnik launches into singing "dum tara dum tara" and turns what is essentially a Qawali refrain right through the song to create a bhajan-type mood. Quite nice.

The last good song in the album is "jaage hain". Perhaps it is also the last song in the movie? It has a melancholic air to it and suggests a possible death-bed scene to it. I suggest that we be prepared for a few heart-string-tugs when we watch the picturisation of this song. Perhaps Dhirubhai Ambani on his death bed? [Guru is supposedly inspired by Ambani's life]. Chitra and Rahman have combined to make "jaage hain" a really nice song. It presents some really confident and strident vocals by Rahman. However, his entry into the song is a soft whisper. The horn and string arrangements in this are quite excellent. The string arrangement is presumably played by the Madras Qartret -- a group that Rahman uses in almost all of his movies (they travel on his live concerts too). The group includes V. R. Sekar on the Cello -- Kunnakudi Vaidhyanathan's son.

Lastly a song called "mayya" sung by Maryem Hassan Toller and Chinmayee. This is quite a nice song too. It is quite likely that Rahman got exposed to Maryem Toller's singing while he was based in Toronto (in preparation for his compositional magnum opus -- Lord of The Rings: The Musical). Maryem is an Arabic/Tukish singer based in Toronto, Canada. And "mayya" is an Arabic-inspired song supposedly picturised in Turkey with Mallika Sherawat dancing away. Rahman has always had a huge Arabic influence in his music (hear "satrangi re" from Dil Se). And "mayya" is a song that has a distinct "khalbali" (Rang De Basanti) hangover. It also has a "bhanno rani" flavour (the song from Earth:1947 that is said to have launched Sadhana Sargam), especially in its background loops, its rhythmic structure and its cleaver use of a heavy tambourine to accent the flowing rhythm. It is likely that the picturisation of the song, especially with the curvy Mallika Sherawat dancing away, will lift the song!

The lyrics and meanings of the songs are at: http://passionforcinema.com/gulzar-in-guru/

You can watch a clip of "tere bina" at: http://havetoremember.wordpress.com/2006/11/18/tere-bina-from-guru/

Finally Guru is not a funky KANK-type album. You won't be dancing to any of these songs in a tearing hurry! The songs will not play in pubs, bars and nightclubs. It may play in a few cafes. It will hopefully play in living rooms! I think that Guru is a good Rahman album. I wish he hadn't made "baazi laga" or "ek lo ek muft" or made something else in their place. I do want to wait and see what Mani Ratnam and Rajeev Menon do with the songs. If they don't pull it off, some of the songs will probably be forgotten.

But I have a feeling that the three-four good songs in this album will play repeatedly on my iPod...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Why is the Australian team disliked in World Cricket?

The recently concluded Champions Trophy saw Australia claim the Cup after a terrific team performance. Their key players fired at the right times. They had a good balance to their team.

However, their journey was once again marred by the Michael Clarke incident with Chris Gayle. Admittedly Gayle was the one who was fined in that incident, but one could not help noticing that, yet again, the Aussies are not great at receiving the slegdges as they are, giving it. We have seen time and time again, the preciousness of McGrath (with Sarawan, which even the Aussie PM weighed into), Hayden (with Simon Jones and Collingwood) and Ponting (with almost everyone).

The Aussie team's Champions Cup journey was spectacularly marred by the team behaving in a disrespectully unruly manner as they appeared to bundle the Chief Guest off the stage so that they could have their photos taken. Rapproachment was again needed. Given the amount of money Aussie cricketers make in India, cynics would easily understand the urgency of the apology! But this is an embarassing cycle of rudeness-apology-rudeness-apology that begs a deeper and more sincere look at what drives and motivates such behaviour.

I remember Langer once pontificated that he was immensely upset when a young rookie leg-spinner (W. D. Balaji Rao) sledged Steve Waugh in a tour game in India in 2001 (India 'A' Vs Australia). I remember Langer saying he could not stomach the fact that the rookie Rao was sledging Steve Waugh, by then a legend of the game. The same pontificator was standing close in and applauding when Bracken had some choice words to say to Sachin Tendulkar -- and in World cricket, they don't come bigger in the legend-stages than Sachin. Three words come to mind -- pot, kettle, black!

Langer once professed, after he had signed the Australian players' self-motivated "Spirit of Cricket" treaty that he would strive to play the game in the spirit in which it should be played. At the time of the historic signing, I did wonder if it was genuine or whether it was all nothing but gloss, sheen and spin to cope with the dreadful image Australian cricket had in the International arena. At the time, Langer said he would accept umpiring decisions in a sporting manner. Yet, he still continued to shake his head annoyingly almost after each LBW decision that was given against him! Such was the vigorousness of his head-shakes that I was afraid his neck would detach itself from his body one day -- in protest, if not out of repetitive stress weakness!

Indeed, barely a week after Langer had made his pledge, we saw a curious set of incidents in the Brisbane Test. Langer, had received a huge repreive when on almost nothing. Subsequently, after having scored more than a hundred, he was given out LBW. He shook his head all the way in a slow walk to the pavillion that would have made both an Indian Manipuri slow-dance dancer as well as Phil Simmons think about re-training their trades! The ball that got Langer would have hit middle and leg! Even if we ignore the huge repreive Langer had received when he had scored not much, the head-shake-slow-walk made a total nonsense of Langer's "spirit of cricket" proclamations!

Meanwhile, when the Indians were batting, Sachin Tendulkar received yet another shocker from Steve Bucknor. Gillespie bowled and Sachin had left the ball alone as it climbed and thudded into the top of his thigh pad! Gillespie suppressed an appeal. Bucknor thought about it and nodded slowly. Sachin looked up, and had a surprised look on his face. He then turned around quickly and walked fast and straight to the pavillion, head bowed.

The difference was palpable. The difference was that Sachin had not done any pre-match talking (read: spin) about sportsmanship. He didn't need to. He was (and remains) a true sportsman. His actions mean that words are not required. He did the walking. Langer had done the pre-match chest-beat and was looking like a pillock... again!

But I digress!

I do admire the Australian cricket team for their ability to play good, strong, hard, committed cricket. They are the best cricket team in the world today. Of that there is no doubt in my mind. I have played club cricket in Australia to know that they receive solid grounding at the grass-roots level. They are polished and grounded in every aspect of the game right from a young age -- the committment to training, the seriousness with which they take their sport, the winning habit, as well as the sledging!

Lest you think otherwise, let me state that I am not a puritan. I believe that if players want to sledge, they should. However, they should also learn that if they give it, they should be prepared to take it too. It has been reported that Parthiv Patel whispered to Steve Waugh, "Go on mate. Give us one last slog-sweep." in that famous last Test in Sydney that Australia hung on to dear life to save. Steve Waugh is reported to have said, "Give us some respect young lad. You were in your nappies when I started playing cricket"!

Duh! So, there are rules for "appropriate and proper sledging"?

Mind you, I do have a lot of respect for Steve Waugh. He did not suffer fools. He played hard and overcame all sorts of obstacles to become a true legend of the game. But could he really take it as well as he dished out his "mental disintegration"? He was tested by Saurav Ganguly and in my view, he "disintegrated" himself. Saurav Ganguly's toss-tactics and return-sledges during the famous Laxman-281 series made Steve Waugh boil. Perhaps the great Waugh had been beaten at his own game?

My view is that those who throw stones in the gutter should expect a splash or two to soil their own clothes. There are no anti-splash rules once you throw that stone in.

McGrath just can not claim "but there's a line in the sand and comments about my wife are not on", when he himself is reported to have sledged Sarawan with the choice words -- "So what does Lara's **** taste like?"

I don't get it. Where does McGrath get his halo from?

But where was I?

The Aussies... yes! They are a good cricket team. They are hard-nosed and bloody-nosed. I umpired for 4-5 seasons principally to learn more about the Aussies and the way they tick. They play hard and work hard. But they are also willing to (and they do) play the "mental disintegration" card at all levels. They are taught to play hard and train hard. And they are good at it. They are taught to sledge and they are terrific at it.

So it is not surprising that Warne, Martyn, Watson, Hayden, McGrath, Healy, Chappell, Border, Ponting, et al turn out the way they do!

I do admire them as people of immense calibre. I do not admire them as sportsmen.

To be "a sport" is to be fair, even-handed, respectful and level-headed in things that you do in the sporting field -- and these days, out of it too. Impact comes not merely from the number of cups that one has in ones trophy cabinet. History differentiates great sporting teams from good ones on the basis of how the team played and not merely on how many cups the team won. Long lasting success comes only if the 'means' and the 'ends' are balanced. The end rarely justifies the means.

A true champion (and almost everyones' sporting hero), will be a Roger Federer or a Tiger Woods or a Sachin Tendulkar. They enjoy their sport. They play fair. They play hard. They play strong. They dig deep when their backs are to the wall. They query bad calls. But they get on with it. They have fun. They leave an impression. They are modest. They are level-headed. They are geniuses. They are also as good on the field as they are out of it. They are icons. They are role-models.

We like them not just because they win. That is a fact. They just do! We like them because of the way they win.

I will applaud when Federer or Tiger Woods or Tendulkar win (for they are true champions). I will also empathise with them when they lose.

However, I will continue to rejoice (along with the whole world, perhaps?) when Australia loses. The difference is that they are champions of the game (temporary). They are not champions of the sport (permanent).

So it does depend on ones outlook. Do we want temporary success or permanent glory?

May be it is time for the Aussies to ponder why almost the whole cricketing world dislikes them. If they believe the world hates them because they keep winning, they need to look at Federer and Tiger Woods (habitual winners who are loved) of the world and learn a bit.

Monday, February 27, 2006

England in India, 2006: A Preview

The India-England series is going to be an extremely interesting one for world cricket. At the start of the series, England is second in the ICC Test rankings and India is third. Only 2 points separate the two teams. A series win by England will consolidate its hold on the second spot while a series win by India will propel it to the second spot. On paper, the teams appear to be evenly matched, but then Test matches are seldom played on paper!

England have not won a test match in India for 21 years and with the personnel it has and given its rather disastrous start to the Tour, it is unlikely to win one this year! After having won its Tour opener against a weak CCI Team, England slumped to an embarassing defeat against a young Board Presidents' XI team. At the time of writing this, Treskotick is already back in England and that is a body blow for the team as he is England’s best player of spin. Vaughn’s dodgy knee has become dodgier. Pietersen is down with a sore back and is uncertain to play in Nagpur. Paul Collingwood is down with a sore back too. Besides these setbacks, a few players, including Simon Jones, have had a stomach bug.

A few things have gone right for India though. By confirming that they will play two openers and have Dravid come in at #3, they have junked the plan that led them astray in Pakistan. Despite Gambhir’s good showing in the tour game, the choice of Jaffer is a good one. Jaffer is in the form of his life and, provided he plays with a free and unburdened mind, he should do well. It appears as though he is hungry to regain his spot and, after nearly 4 years in the sidelines, a Hayden-like resurrection may well be in the offing.

In Pakistan, the Dravid-as-opener folly was adopted as a strategy aimed at accommodating Ganguly. Now, with Ganguly’s ouster, such bravado is unnecessary and the worlds’ best #3 (or second best, if one has Ponting as the best) can play at #3, where he should! With Ganguly gone, the captain and coach will have the dressing room to themselves. They can put their strategies and plans in place and build to the future. Team India looks fresh and revitalized. The accent is on youth blending with experience. The accent is on energy, commitment, flexibility, strategy and process. “Focus on the basics. Outcomes will follow”, seems to me to be the mantra.

After a long time, India’s pace attack looks solid and good. Even though India has Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and J. Balaji cooling their heels, the current India team has top talent in Irfan Pathan, S. Sreesanth, V. R. V. Singh and R. P. Singh. I believe the selectors missed a trick in not selecting Munaf Patel ahead of V.R.V.Singh, who had a listless outing for the Presidents’ XI against England. Munaf Patel, on the other hand, had the English batsmen ducking and weaving. But I think this is a moot point anyway, for it may well be Irfan Pathan and Sreesanth (and/or R. P. Singh) that play in the final XI. Pathan and Sreesanth are the form bowlers right now. Although Pathan has dropped his pace somewhat, he has made up for it by using the seam, the crease and the variations in his pace rather cleverly. After a lively presence in the one-dayers against Pakistan Sreesanth may be slightly ahead of R. P. Singh to grab the second pacers’ spot.

Even though the recently prolific Yuvraj is absent through injury, given Pathan’s and Dhoni’s recent exploits with the bat, India’s batting looks solid, with Sehwag, Jaffer, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dhoni and Pathan forming the batting nexus. Instead of playing a Kaif or Raina at #6, ahead of Dhoni in the batting order, India should, I believe, bite the bullet, believe in the strengths of Jaffer, Pathan and Dhoni (as bats) and blood young Piyush Chawla. At 17 years and 67 days old, Piyush could well be the second youngest player to make his debut for India (behind Sachin Tendulkar)! And get this! If he plays in the first Test, he will be less than half Anil Kumble’s age! Talk of the master and the apprentice!

Without Treskothick, England are vulnerable against spin. Time and time again, they fell to the wiles of Kaneria on their tour of Pakistan. Together, Chawla and Kumble can make them dance. And for a bit of rest from that, they can be fed a dose of the wily Turbanator!

Piyush Chawla’s repertoire, line-length, his ability to bowl the googly on target from round the wicket (Tendulkar got out in exactly the same manner in the 2005 Challenger Series) as well as his current form (after an excellent showing in the recently concluded Under 19 World Cup) makes this the time for his initiation into the mens’ game!

England will fight and fight hard. The recent Ashes series has given the team resolve and a strong belief in themselves. Despite the bad outing in Pakistan, I think that that tour will have prepared them better for travels in the sub-continent. England probably have the best fast bowling attack in world cricket today. Overall, this team looks better balanced and better prepared to tackle India.

However, given the start that England has had, I’d find it hard to believe that the door which has now been left open, cannot be seized on by a hungry, young and revitalized India.

If India can maintain the pressure, wait for the right opportunity and seize their chances, this could be a 1-0 or a 2-0 outcome in favour of India.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Ganguly Dilemma

As I write this, Ganguly has been selected to play as opener for
the first Test (at the expense of Jaffer and Gambhir)!

Frankly, if Ganguly had to play, opening was the ONLY place he
could have played, especially given Gambhir's indifferent form.
Jaffer could have been a risk. So, if Ganguly had to play, this
was the best position, especially if it is a seaming wicket.
Ganguly could also bowl a few overs as 1st change. Who knows?
He may even pick up a wicket or two. A worse scenario would
have been if he was chosen ahead of Yuvraj!!

The current compromise is one which could backfire though! For
example, how many overs before he runs out a rampaging Sehwag?

So this is possibly the best scenario. He could open and see
some shine off the ball with a few streaky edges -- one of
which will end up in a slippers' hand! If he flops as opener,
he can quietly announce his retirement and fade away with

The nightmare scenario for India is if he scores a lucky 100!