Monday, September 22, 2008

Oh for those days… redux

If  it was the memory of Les Taylor and David Gower yesterday, it’s BC Pires’ turn today to make me yearn for the halcyon days when cricket was a game. Pires wants to pit Shoaib Akhtar and Allan Donald against Sunil Gavaskar and Ian Botham. But it’s not the matchup that interested me. It’s Pires’ reasoning to arrive at the choices.

…my choices are living cricketers whose grace and elegance captivated me. Never mind their averages: these are men I could watch bat for duck or bowl 90 overs without taking a wicket.

Oh well…

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Oh for those days…

Some random surfing on an idle weekend led me to a certain Leslie Brian Taylor, one of an illustrious line of anonymous seamers to have played for England in the 1980s. The Leicester lad played just two test matches, against Australia in that glorious summer of 1985, when England won the Ashes on the back of David Gower’s dream run with the bat. England won both the tests Les played in, but that is not the point of this post.

Les was apparently a genuine No. 11. In a county game against Surrey, Les walks in after the 9th wicket falls, with Leicestershire still needing 20 to avoid the follow-on.  The bowler is that gentle medium pacer, Sylvester Clarke. And what does the Leicester captain David Gower do? He says, “I just can't do it,” and declares.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Who’s next?

The happy season is on us. Ex-cricketers are realising that playing cricket is not a bad idea at all. First was dear old Harmy re-discovering some patriotism (and, to the surprise of every one including I reckon the man himself, form). He’s even gone to the extent of saying that his return is for the long term and not just for this one series. Whispers confirm that this decision has nothing to do with Stanford and other such trivial matters – Steve Harmison is just out to give his best for his nation.

Hardly had the champagne glasses moved off the lips than similar news shook the cricket world in the Southern hemisphere. Harmy’s Aussie alter-ego, Shaun Tait has put his hat into the ring, albeit on a slightly smaller scale, by
agreeing to play in one-day internationals for the Australia A team on their tour of India, thus suggesting that he is ready to stake his claim for the big one – the main Australian team. Brett Lee, your time is up.

A bird apparently saw Marcus Trescothick lug a year’s supply of mint from the local supermarket, but the England team management said they’re not reading too much into it; it is believed that they could not confirm whether the brand name was Murray.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bat tampering

Even as the media occupies itself with Mintgate, a gentle reader, Abdul Haque Mirza, makes an incisive comment on Sambit Bal’s piece on Cricinfo: License to fudge.

What is this all fuss about ball tampering? Has anybody ever taken notice of “bat tampering”. Applying oil to the blade of a bat is the oldest form of bat tampering. Then use of a dozen of grips (remember Clive Lloyd), long handles, thick blades, curvatures, making holes for free flow (remember Gavasker) – is it not bat tampering? Surely, the answer is going to be – no, no it is a ‘right’ of the batsman to use the most ‘convenient’ bat. If that is the argument, then why the same length and breadth of the bat is allowed for a 5 feet player as it is for a 7 feet player. Of course reducing of a few inches in length in former case and an increase of a few inches in later will make the bat much more ‘convenient’ for the user. If that is not allowed then the practices I have mentioned should come under ‘bat tampering’. There is no surprise that no one has ever given a thought to this because batsmen are always the ‘privileged’ class and poor bowlers are always at the receiving end.

Good shot, sir.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Some great videos on the great man to mark his 100th birth anniversary here, on a blog rather brilliantly called 99.94. May be we should’ve celebrated the birthday one day ahead to celebrate that tantalising test batting average of the man. Here's the link again.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cricket horror

(story picked up from Patrick Kidd)

No, this is not a reference to India’s batting form in Sri Lanka. A new horror film releases this week and it’s rather originally titled I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer. Here’s the IMDB on the film’s plot.

A cricket team are dismissed by a moustachioed serial killer with a razor sharp cricket glove and an arsenal of sharpened stumps. One by one the killer exacts revenge for the torment he endured 20 years earlier.

Sounds like a good way for England to handle Australia, except that the film surprisingly is from Australia.

Here’s a YouTube trailer of the film.

I’d rather watch Yuvraj Singh against Ajantha Mendis.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Autobiography of an Unknown Cricketer: Sujit Mukherjee

Eleven reasons why Autobiography of an Unknown Cricketer can lay claim to being one of the best cricket books ever written, probably the best by an Indian.

  1. For not trying to explain India through cricket or to glorify cricket as a unifying force, as the opium for the masses. Sujit Mukherjee sees cricket as, wait for this, cricket.
  2. For keeping the focus on the game, and the references to politics and power plays to the minimum, helped, no doubt by the fact that Bihar was not quite (and doesn’t look likely to ever be) a cricketing hotspot like Mumbai or Chennai.
  3. For not trying to build or defend the author’s cricketing image. This was perhaps easy because while Sujit went on to represent Bihar in the Ranji Trophy, he was not a star cricketer.
  4. For not name dropping. Notwithstanding point 3 above, Sujit has rubbed shoulders with the odd well-known name in Indian cricket. He writes about these in a wonderfully matter-of-fact manner, even the fact that he managed to tonk CS Nayudu for a few in an unofficial game in Kolkata in 1952 gets only a matter-of-fact coverage.
  5. For the kind of insight he offers, almost by the side. Like when he conjectures on why Patna University fails repeatedly.
    One reason I thought was that our cricketers were so used to playing against one another that they got utterly out of depth when facing unknown opposition.
    Is it to overcome this problem that the English County Board allowed overseas cricketers in the county circuit? And then took it to the next level with the Kolpaks?
  6. For faithfully reporting on local cricket from the U.S. – it turns out to be more interesting than the oft-repeated stories of Americans trying to understand the game.
  7. For enabling you to read without having to refer to poetry books or lengthy literary classics. With no disrespect to those who adopt that style of writing, there is a certain sincerity that emerges from simple writing – Unknown Cricketer is a good example of this. This is all the more creditable considering Sujit was an English professor – surely he would have read some classics.
  8. For, despite his fairly successful writing life, referring to it so unselfconsciously.
    An occasional writer of articles (like me) can never get over the fact that he is read. As for the rare writer of books (again like me), he can scarcely believe that he is purchased.
  9. For the illuminating way in which he describes the selection trials for the Bihar state team. In three sparse and succinct pages, he reveals how the game is run in the country. I don’t think things have changed much even now, sixty-three years on.
  10. For this passage, comparing watching a game at the ground and watching a game on television.
    Unavoidably, a sense of loss persists. The telecast shows me only what the cameraman wants to show; the telecommentary tells me only what the commentator is capable of telling, much of it pointless. Large chunks of the match, and not only of play, are left out completely; small chips of play are shown magnified beyond proportion of their significance.
  11. For being only 168 pages long. And yet not sounding hurried.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

… a bad win

(A kind of a sequel to ‘A good loss…’)

As India was serenely marching towards a hopefully progressive loss to Sri Lanka in the test series yesterday, England compounded their worries by winning the dead rubber test match against South Africa. Well as Kevin Pietersen captained and batted, well as Steve Harmison bowled (and batted) and well as England turned in a good all-round performance, the Pyrrhic victory can, if not seen in the proper light, cause more harm than good for England. For England’s selectors might well be tempted to brush some of the niggles in the team composition under the carpet and start seeing visions of yet another glorious victory parade at end of the next season.

Unlike the Indian team, this English team perhaps does not seem to need a large scale transformation. But there are some areas they need to watch out for, if they want a repeat of mirabilis 2005 and not of horribilis 2006-07.

The first act England has to get right is their thinking on the wicket-keeper’s slot. Sure, people like Adam Gilchrist and Kumar Sangakkara have given us the concept of the wicket-keeper-as-specialist- batsman. But let’s not forget that both of them (and Mark Boucher, another more than useful bat) are wonderful glovemen. The first job of the wicket-keeper is behind the wickets, and if he’s not good enough for that, a few runs in front of the wicket doesn’t compensate. Moreover, if the wicket-keeper has a bad day on the field, it is bound to reflect on his batting. Ask Tim Ambrose, Matt Prior and the few dozen others who turned up in English colours in the last few years. The flip side is true as well – a good performance behind the stumps can make the ‘keeper bat better. Look at Prasanna Jayawardene’s brilliance behind the stumps in the test series against India, and his then more than useful batting at a crucial time in the third test.

Now that we have had our fill of his grand appealing and not-so-grand fielding, it’s time to focus on Monty Panesar’s day job. While his performance has not been particularly bad, the fact remains that he does not seem to be a strike bowler, a bowler capable of singlehandedly winning test matches. Good for a few good spells, good for the odd wicket, but not much more than that. A glance at his records suggests that he has a problem bowling well in both innings of a test match. Apart from the one 10-for against the West Indies and the eight wicket haul against Pakistan (interestingly both at Manchester), there has rarely been a game when Monty has shone equally well in both innings. And in most test matches, you have to dismiss the opposition twice to win.

The England top order, in the absence of Michael Vaughan and the return to form of Paul Collingwood looks misleadingly settled. Pietersen is good as they come and Alastair Cook is looking settled, even if unable to convert enough half-centuries into centuries (his fielding inconsistency is a bit jarring as well). But in Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell one senses a soft spot in the top order. Strauss has never been the same after the selectors kept misusing him as a stand-in captain. (Even his success in that role seemed to make things more uncomfortable for all concerned, including himself.) The self-doubt, and the corresponding uncertainty of footwork and shot selection was well capitalised on by South Africa and the Aussies wouldn’t need much invitation to do likewise. Ian Bell needs to be a bit more than just a useful scrapper – apart from those three centuries in the 2006 series against Pakistan, his other five test centuries have been too far apart from each other. And whispers of his being a flat wicket bully are mounting. His coming in at No. 3 can put pressure on Nos. 4 and 5.

The English bowling line-up also presents a deceptively potent face. But James Anderson and Steve Harmison are both loose cannons, so the best England can hope for is that one of them fires in a match. (And don’t bet on Harmy going off kilter again.) The steadiness of a Ryan Sidebottom complements them well, one only hopes he sustains his momentum and keeps himself fit. And then there are the all-rounders.

I can’t remember when England had last had the luxury of two all-rounders (no, Ashley Giles was not an all-rounder, he could barely bowl), but in Stuart Broad and Andrew Flintoff (hopefully fully fit) they have that potential now. Except that the role definitions of these two blokes needs to be clearly charted out. Broad, notwithstanding Geoffrey Boycott’s irrational exuberance in comparing him with Sir Garfield Sobers, is clearly a bowling all-rounder – bowl about 20 overs a day and support the late middle order with some useful runs. If he starts focusing on those 50s and 100s as a batsman, he’ll be heading back to Nottingham sooner than he’d want to. As for Freddie, KP can’t afford to do the Vaughan and overbowl this man. Freddie can be talismanic to the team, and hence needs to be preserved. He’s not quite a Kallis in terms of stamina in both roles, so he needs to be used as a high-class bits and pieces player, oxymoronic as that expression may sound. Except in exceptional cases, get him to bowl about 15 overs a day and score some useful 50s at No. 6.

The good thing for England is that they seem to have cottoned on to a good captain, a captain who deserves his place in the team, who is perhaps the best player in the team, who is aggressive and who can take control of a game. He may not have a history of being a people’s person, but if he manages to get his aggression and performance to rub off on the others, he would’ve done his job. And yes, it will help if the Englishmen don’t train him to become too English in his approach. The South African in him is important if England want to benefit from his captaincy.