Sunday, March 23, 2008

Absolem, Absolem!

A little-known man called Alfred Absolem playing for a little-known team called the Hyderabad Heroes against another little-known team called the Ahmedabad Rockets in a little-known (well. . .) tournament called the Indian Cricket League has picked up a scarcely credible seven wickets in a Twenty20 game. After starting off with two wickets in his first over, Absolem underwent the mortification of a wicketless over, before picking two more in his next, rounding off with three wickets in his last over to finish with 7 for 15 off four overs. Local players aside, Absolem’s wickets included Wavell Hinds, Murray Goodwin, Damien Martyn and Heath Streak. A pity then, that all these worthies are long retired and the matches are part of a rebel tournament, so Absolem is unlikely to be in contention for a slot in the national team. But 7 for 15, he’ll take that I reckon. Here’s the match card.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Vaughan on Dunedin

“I know a lot will be said and written about our defeat to New Zealand at Seddon Park over the weekend. Different opinions are being offered for our defeat, but as the man at the helm, only Michael knows the real reasons.

“Yes, our bowling was one of the reasons for our defeat. But not in the way the media thinks. Yes, Harmy didn’t quite fire. But don’t tell me you expected it. We don’t come into a game thinking Harmy’s going to win it for us. It’s a team game, isn’t it, so we expect the ten others to cover for Harmy. To be honest, Harmy exceeded our (and his own, I think) wildest expectations: he bowled just the one wide in the entire game, didn’t he. Remember his first test in the Southern hemisphere last season? Our bowling disappointment has really been Ryan. The test would have meandered into a draw if Ryan had just followed the script: the hat-trick hastened the game and created a result. Monty’s three wickets didn’t help either. It was a dead wicket otherwise.

“Some insightful statisticians might point out that we played 228.1 overs in the test to score 458 runs, at a rate of just over two runs per over, and that if we had scored just one run more per over, we would have won comfortably. Well, it’s all well for critics to say that, but we have a responsibility to the test game. If we start treating test matches like one-dayers and play our strokes, we’d become responsible for killing the test game. No, Michael can’t take that to his grave. And don’t forget, it was a dead wicket – for batsmen as well. Sure, New Zealand scored at more than three runs per over in both their innings, I think Twenty20 is getting to them.

“I think we need to calibrate the media’s expectation with the English cricket team. Michael won the Ashes for them in 2005, in what is England’s greatest sporting achievement forever. But look at what England has achieved after that in the test arena. Thanks to Darrell and those inconsistent Pakistanis, England has managed to win against them. But they lost to Australia (lost? more like lambasted) away, to India at home, to Sri Lanka away. And I’m sure I’m forgetting some other lost series. With all that background, you expect us to win now? Come on, you might as well ask Harbhajan to keep quiet. Or Harmy to win matches, come to that.

“As with most disasters, there are some positives we can take out of the game. Vaughan scored a fifty in the first innings, so no one can say he’s in the team only because of his captaincy. Colly’s second innings stonewall shows that just because he is England’s one-day captain doesn’t mean he cannot defend. Monty’s heroic effort with the bat in the second innings means we have a spinning all-rounder for the first time after Ashley. And most importantly, considering where England is now, there is only one way ahead.”

(Michael Vaughan didn’t give this interview to the media after the Dunedin disaster as he was busy discussing James Whitaker’s travel plans.)

Monday, March 03, 2008

The pilgrimage

Despite at least half-a-dozen visits to London over the years, the Lord’s Cricket Ground has always proved elusive. Finally, the visit happened over the weekend, on Saturday, 1st March 2008.

You step out of the tube at St. John’s Wood, and a bright sign greets you at the exit gate: Lord’s Cricket Ground 400 yards. Not a long distance, you think and start hitting the road, ignoring the Beatles’ coffee shop peeking at you from the corner. The first entrance you encounter, the North Gate, is, sure enough, just about 400 yards away. Except that this is England and we are dealing with the MCC, aren’t we, so this is not the entrance that lets you in; you’ve got to walk a further 200 yards or so, before you reach the real portal, the Grace Gate.

So I finally arrive at the Grace Gate at 10.25 am, all ready to be buried in history, tradition and the good doctor’s beard. Except that the ground tours start at 10 am and at 12 noon – too early for the first and too late for the next. After wandering around outside the ground for another hour (wondering about the people living in the vicinity and whether it is good or bad to live around the ground), I come back 11.30 am and start off by making my contribution to the running of the game - £12.

There’s still about 30 minutes to go, so you loiter around the museum. Considering Lord’s claims to be the home of cricket (as the signs outside modestly proclaim), it’s interesting that there are very few articles of interest in the museum outside of England (and, of course, the Ashes). Oh yes, there is a Brian Lara exhibition, on temporarily for Lara’s charity. One of the more interesting exhibits is a bat signed by Sachin Tendulkar with the following inscription.

The whole world knows Brian Lara as a cricket but I am fortunate to know you as both friend and cricketer.

Oh well, I suppose it’s a milder comparison than the monkeys and weeds that seem to be in vogue nowadays.

The tour starts with the long room, which is er, rather long at 90 feet. It feels a bit like a chapel – but surely that’s just the guide’s tone that makes it so. On match day, you can imagine members being too busy with their wine and other assorted liquors to be thinking of much else, oh a bit of the game perhaps, dear chap.

Then we move on to the dressing rooms, the home team’s (England, MCC, Middlesex) and the visitors’. It’s a nice feeling to be in the dressing room balcony, where Sourav Ganguly took his shirt off not too long ago (he was apparently chastised for breaking the dress code). And the walk from the dressing room – down the stairs, past the members and their wine glasses and through the wicket gate – no wonder debutants and first-timers at Lord’s tend to be nervous. But apart that, this is a ground, not a stadium, as the guide emphasises. It’s just a game, not a performance. Indeed.

The honours boards in the dressing rooms lend themselves to some genuinely useless trivia questions. As reward for still reading this post, here’s one for you: Who is the only player to figure in the batting (there’s a clue for you) honours boards in both dressing rooms? (Write in if you know the answer, free publicity guaranteed.) It’s also interesting to note the names that don’t figure on the honours boards – Sunil Gavaskar, Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar among the batsmen; Imran Khan, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan among the bowlers, to name just a handful.

The committee room where all the board members meet looks like nothing more than a board room of a corporate organisation. The view from here into the ground seems to be blighted by the sight-screen, except that the sight-screen at Lord’s is a nifty thing – the material is translucent (bordering on the transparent) from the inside and opaque from the outside. Should’ve been canvas or cloth, shouldn’t it, with all the tradition and stuff.

Oh yes, no photography inside the long room or in the dressing rooms. Too sacred or too secret? Just so our cameras don’t go to waste, we go to one of the stands (opposite Father Time, just in case you’re interested), from where we keep going click-click. A sunny day with blue skies affords some splendid scenery – write in for pictures, and I’ll let you have them for a pip.

The Media Centre at Lord’s looks a bit like a mobile phone in a pyramid, but it certainly is swank, well-equipped and roomy. And it affords a fantastic view into the ground. It is from here that one gets a good sense of the famous Lord’s slope – 8 feet 6 inches from one side of the ground to the other. (Considering how well Glenn McGrath exploited it, may be it should now be called the Pigeon’s Beak?)

The Lord’s Shop that rounds off the tour is, not to put too fine a point on it, disappointing, especially the book section. Considering Mike Brearley is the MCC president now, surely The Art of Captaincy should be available? And some of the other classics? The only one I find (and pick up) is A Majestic Innings, a compilation of articles by CLR James.

Membership at about £400 a year does not seem quite too forbidding for Lord’s, except that by the time you get through the waiting list (about 18 years), England may have stopped playing the game.