Sunday 23 December 2007

Doosra Annual Award

Considering the year that has gone by, or going by, Doosra decided to have its own annual award ceremony. And as usual, Doosra is open to suggestions.

The Hate-Pyjama-Uderwear-Etc. Society Man the Year: VVS Laxman

The Peter Pan Scroll: Sachin Tendulkar

The Albert Pinto Memorial Angry Youngman of the Year: S Sreesanth

The Albert Pinto Memorial Angry Not-So-Youngman of the Year: Dilip Vengsarkar:

The Jimmy Amarnath Comeback Kid Award: Sourav Ganguly

The Say-No-To-Haircut Society Man of the Year: MS Dhoni

The Annual Me-Too Award: Joginder Singh

The BLTN (Better Late Than Never) Medallion & special award from NMFF (Nice-Man-Finishes-First) Circle: Anil Kumble

I-Look-Clown-With-A-Crown Citation: Rahul Dravid

Got-Pyjama-Want-Flannel Shield: Yuvraj Singh

Hail-Brinkmanship Fellowship: Sharad Pawar

Discovery-of-the-Year: Gary Kirsten

English-Molestation Community’s Person of the Year & Funny-Bone-On-Legs medal: Niranjan Shah

Annual Gone-With-The-Wind Award & Sunk-Without-Trace Statuette: Greg Chappell

Mint-in-Suit Award: Lalit Modi

Pariah-of-the-Year: Jagmohan Dalmiya

Emperor-Struck Rolling Trophy: Kapil Dev

The David-Whose-Sling-Is-In Goliath’s-Hands Award: Subhash Chandra

God-of-Small-Things Rolling Trophy: Indian cricket team (shorter the format, better they do).

Saturday 22 December 2007

Indian Cricket, The Musical

As Indian cricket survives yet another year of intrigue, high and low, what better way than to celebrate it with music? Let’s see which song was on whose lip…

Greg Chappell: Teri Duniya Se Ho ke Majboor Chala…

Sourav Ganguly: Kyun Aaj Kal Nind Kam Khwab Zyada Hai…

Rahul Dravid: Yeh Daulat Bhi Le Lo, Yeh Shohrat Bhi Le Lo…

Sachin Tendulkar: Abhi To Mein Jawan Hu…

Anil Kumble: Aapka Khat Mila, Shukriya Shukriya…

Gary Kirsten: Mai Tera Dar Pe Aya Hu, Kuch Karke Jaunga…

MS Dhoni: Yeh Chand Sa Roshan Chehra, Zulfo Ke Rang Sunehra…

Virender Sehwag: Hum Se Ka Bhool Hui Jo Ye Saza Hamka Mili…

And finally BCCI. Well, they stuck to their theme song… “Baap Se Bada Rupaiya…

Monday 17 December 2007

Poor Business, Mr Modi

I think I owe an apology to friends, who were, I guess, sick of listening time and again that Lalit Modi was BCCI’s Man with the Midas Touch. He was a bad investment as far as my hopes are concerned.

I thought this suave, bespectacled, though cocky, Mumbai-based Rajasthan Cricket Association supremo was a mastermind, conceiving one after another marketing ploy to fill in the BCCI coffers.

I thought, he was about to prove himself even better than the man he uprooted in a BCCI coup. It was no mean achievement toppling Jagmohan Dalmiya, who had everyone in the pocket of his safari suit as he ran the Board from his suitcase. Though I was apprehensive if anyone in the new regime could match the wily Kolkata-based Marwari’s business acumen, Modi sort of impressed me.

But my trust proved misplaced. So blind in his effort to take the wind out of Subhas Chandra’s ICL sail, Modi shelled out hell lot of money to rope in the Australians, who would make a fortune even though they would NOT play a single match of the Indian Premier League! Naturally, Ricky Ponting & Co can’t laugh enough.

About 10-12 Aussies would NOT be in a position to play in IPL FOR THE NEXT TWO YEARS because of their international commitment and they would still retain 10 per cent of their fee!

In other words, players like Ponting and Clarke would pocket $100,000 each just lending their name to IPL!

Poor investment by Modi and his comrades in the IPL Governing Council. He has looked like a spoilt child of a millionaire (well he actually is!) who’s on an acquiring spree even though he has no clue whether it’s worth it or not. Again, he actually is so, a failure within a family that owns the Modi Entertainment.

But what really upsets me is that Modi is NOT the pennywise mastermind, the dapper-dollar-dude, the money-minting-machine that he pretends to be. On the contrary, he proved a poor businessman, who ventured and invested in an area without any vision. In fact since Modi & Co took over, all the BCCI deals ran into problems and BCCI has spent half the time in troubleshooting.

I’m not sure whether the money BCCI earns can be called public money. Else, it could have been a huge scam, I guess.

Image: AFP

Thursday 13 December 2007

Sorry Colonel But You Erred

Why is it so that logic is often the first casualty whenever you see something happening in Indian cricket? Weird are the ways BCCI function, no question about that. But to give devils -- or devils in this case -- its due, Dilip Vengsarkar & Co had done a reasonably well job when it came to team selection!

Then all of a sudden, why did the Colonel lose his sanity, tore apart the list of probables he himself had prepared a few days earlier and brought back a certain Virender Sehwag out of nowhere and for no obvious reasons? Or is it that his stand-off with the Board on writing columns has robbed him off his common sense?

Maybe Sehwag would come good Down Under, maybe he won’t. To be honest, I have my doubts. Sorry Colonel, but I think gremlins have crept into the machine. At a time when domestic trundlers continue to harass him on the most docile of tracks under the Sun, you have to be outrageously optimistic to expect him to come good in Australia.

But, whether he shines or flops, my primary objection is with the way he has been pitchforked out of nowhere. If you want to fill the Australia-bound plane with whoever you deem good enough, why this farce of announcing a long list of probables beforehand?

Eerily, this utter disregard to a system put in place by themselves seems in vogue in BCCI these days. Remember how they sought applications from all and sundry for the coach’s job only to announce later that Graham Ford and John Emburey have been invited for interview?

Again, hours before Gary Kirsten arrived in Delhi for his interview, BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah told – he told yours truly in a city hotel– that the Board would zero in only on those names who had applied for the job. No prize for guessing that Kirsten was NOT among the applicants and see he’s set to take over the coaching reins!

My heart bleeds for the like of Aakash Chopra. Runs have been flowing from his blade and many still fondly remember how he thwarted the Oz attack at their den. Compare it to Sehwag’s scores in domestic matches since he was dropped -- 16, 0, 9, 32 and 9.

Did Colonel showed the courtesy to reach out for his cell and make a call to Aakash and tell him sorry? My fear, he did not.


Sunday 9 December 2007

Gary Kirsten's Ten Commandments

So Gary Kirsten takes over Team India’s coaching reins. First of all, he deserves a pat for showing the guts and taking over what is arguably the toughest assignment in the world of sport. Remember how it left Graham Ford shaking in his boots and never returning again?

Well, though Kirsten apparently has not coached any team yet, I’m ready to give him a chance and here are his TEN COMMANDMENTS that would stand him in good stead.

1. Handle Stars With Care: This is going to be Gary’s real test. A team teeming with prima donnas, with fragile ego needs careful handling. Accept the fact that Tendulkar-Ganguly-Dravid-Kumble have an aura about themselves and don’t equate them with, say a Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthick. Make Yuvraj Singh believe that his turn would come soon and he should not feel hurt about losing ODI captaincy to Dhoni. Pamper him, for the team needs him.

2. Blood Young Turks: While pampering the stars, make sure you don’t end up making them feel like second class citizen. Motivate them and convince them that the seniors are in the twilight of their career and they should prepare themselves to step into those shoes.

3. Shun Newspapers and News Channels: Read business daily only, keep a tab on the bullish stock market and if you wish, invest part of your package there. Don’t worry, you won’t lose anything. But reading newspapers or watching news channel is a strictly no-no. Else, sanity would be hit for a six.

4. Columns Only Confuse: Don’t heed to what former players write in their columns. Get it right, they get paid for writing nothing, mostly it’s ghost-written. And all of them have an agenda. It would only increase the confusion. Be polite to them but don’t lend your ear.

5. No Day Dreaming Please, We’re Indians: If the BCCI brief says you are just in charge of a squad, t can’t be more misleading. Gary, you have put yourself at the mercy of a volatile cricket-crazy populace that would garland and guillotine you with the same passion. So sound realistic, avoid making tall promises and don’t encourage day dreaming. We have miles to go before we can dream of catching up with Australia. Aspiring to be the second best sounds pragmatic.

6. Don’t Exceed Brief: A crucial survival mantra. Get it right, you are not the pill that would kill all the ills that plague Indian cricket. You are not here to overhaul the system. Your job is to make the best use of it, and at best, suggest changes that would suit us. Any deviation and you have Greg Chappell waiting in Jaipur to tell you how badly it hits you.

. Don’t Impose Things: The players are essentially Indians, not South African players in Indian bodies. Don’t try to force them into becoming Jonty Rhodes overnight. You have a heterogeneous group at your disposal, be patient and seek co-operation before introducing anything new. Accept that you can’t make much difference to Ganguly’s fitness level. Just make sure his bat keeps talking. Don’t impose things, else…well you know Chappell’s number.

8. Retain the Support Staff: Retain Prasad (bowling coach) and Robin Singh (fielding coach). Don’t ape Chappell and make it an excuse for generating employment for your friends. Already you have recruited Paddy Upton. Having Indian support staff also ensures you get the right translations of the abuses hurled at you by the players.

9. Pick Up Bit of Hindi: Well, nothing pleases us more than distorted Hindi words from foreign tongue. For starter, greet people with a NAMASTHAY. If you don’t believe me, ask...not Chappell but fellow Australian Brett Lee, who has made a fortune by now.

10. Keep A Copy of ‘Indian Summers’: This is a must. Read it carefully and you know what it takes to be a successful coach of the Indian team. Call him meek, timid, browbeaten…Wright loved India and India loves him. Chappell was too cocky to understand that and he promptly vanished into wilderness, well almost so.

All the best Gary.

Image: Getty Images

Friday 7 December 2007

Shoaib Akhtar: From Tantrum Thrower To Team Man

Even George W Bush making an air dash to a hideout in Afghanistan (or is it Pakistan!) to bury the hatchet and embrace Osama Bin Laden – provided the latter has survived the carpet bombing – seemed a possibility.

But place your hand on your heart and say, did you ever expect this? Well, bye bye Pakistan’s prankster-in-chief, champion tantrum-thrower and welcome Shoaib Akhtar, the perfect team man.

I remember Sourav Ganguly – his head did not resemble a sub-continent pitch those pre-Chappell days – revealing in a TV show about his interaction with Inzamam. According to Ganguly, Inzi rued that tackling the unruly Shoaib used to sap half his energy.

Considering that, Inzi surely did a great job as a half-captain, isn’t it?

Well those are things of past. Things have changed and see how. I was rubbing my eyes in disbelief ever since Shoaib arrived for the ongoing tour. He looked a completely different man, almost an imposter in his guise.

The only giveaway was snaps of his nocturnal lifestyle across the Indian metros.

The mean, menacing look has paved way for a refreshing smile. He looked a man completely at peace with himself and it just could not have been better for Pakistan cricket.

While much has been talked about his playing in the Kolkata Test despite not being at the peak of his fitness, the “Rawalpindi Express” revealed it was his call to play in the important tie.

And I am glad I took that decision. It was important for me to send out the message — that I was there for Pakistan.
Coming from Shoaib, you had to read it twice before convincing yourself there is no dropped word or wrong attribution.

But to be honest, Shoaib showed a lion’s heart. Consider you being lying in the hospital bed with chest infection and then going through all the pain just to make yourself available for the team’s cause.

He was seen coughing, puffing at inhalers and going through the pain, just to ensure that he can be there to spearhead a depleted attack against a formidable batting line-up on a hopeless Eden track.

It was a stark contrast to the Shoaib of the past. The narcissist speedster, who was so seduced by the speedgun that he did not hesitate to send team interest for a toss on so many occasions.

Driven by the sole object of establishing himself as the fastest leather-flinger, and just that, he stubbornly refused the then coach Bob Woolmer’s -- may his soul rest in peace – repeated requests to cut down his spectacularly prolonged run-up, which often resulted in slow over-rates.

That Shoaib had started to change, and change for good, was evident in the ODI series during which the pacer was seen bowling with a shortened run-up, on his namesake captain’s request.

Well, whatever may have been the vices, I think Pakistan’s favourite whipping boy finally deserves a pat on the back for the metamorphosis.

I doubt, Shoaib probably realizes that at the fag end of his rollercoaster career, he can’t afford to throw tantrums and play pranks to be sent into wilderness. At 32, a comeback after a forced hiatus is just not possible for a pacer. It’s just too late to risk his career, whatever maybe the provocation.

And Pakistan cricket can consider itself fortunate that its erratic profligate son regained sanity just in time.


Tuesday 27 November 2007

Gary Kirsten the next Team India coach?

Going by reports, Gary Kirsten – the South African southpaw who looked older than his age because of his bald look – could well be the next Team India coach.

Apparently, Kirsten, who runs a coaching academy, flew down to India where he was interviewed by Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri – two important members of the BCCI coach Selection Committee.

Kirsten also met Sharad Pawar and Anil Kumble.

And yes, BCCI is also in touch with John Buchanan too.

A final decision will be taken on a December 1 meeting in Kolkata, according to BCCI Vice President Rajeev Shukla.

Since Greg Chappell left, India are without a full-time coach. Chandu Borde (UK), Ravi Shastri (Bangladesh) and Lalchand Rajput (Twenty20 World Cup, Australia and Pakistan series) has been roped in as stop-gap managers at different times.

Among those who have applied for the job are Former stumper and Maharashtra coach Chandrakant Pandit, ex-head of the Queensland Academy of Excellence Richard Done, Leicestershire coach Tim Boon, former Australia and South Africa player Kepler Wessels, Queensland coach Terry Oliver, Canterbury coach Dave Nosworthy and ex-New Zealand captain Martin Crowe.

BCCI had a meeting in New Delhi on Monday and I was there for the briefing. BCCI Secretary Niranjan Shah had the following to say no this issue.

Q. How many people have applied for the coach’s job?

Shah: we’ve received some 20-22 applications.

Q. Would you look beyond the list and invite anyone, in case you are not satisfied with the names you have at your disposal?

Shah: No way. We would not invite anyone. The Board is not going to give undue importance to any individual. (Remember, how BCCI ended up with eggs all over its face when they invited Graham Ford and the Kent guy backed out in the eleventh hour?). We would zero in on the applications we have.

Q. The Coach Selection Committee could not meet twice in the past. When are you people going to meet?

Shah: See, it’s not necessary to meet, we can share views via teleconference too. Anyway, be assured, you would get to see a new coach before the Australia tour.)

(P.S. Plz bear with my being irregular at times. I have been covering part of the India-Pakistan series – the ODIs in Kanpur and Jaipur and the Delhi Test. With no more assignments for me, hope to be more consistent in the coming days.)

Thursday 15 November 2007

Chappell at it again!

Greg Chappell surely has a nuisance value. To be honest, it’s quite tempting to blame him for everything that has been going wrong around -- be it the emergency in Pakistan, bloodbath in Nandigram, crisis in Karnataka, Nuke deal stalemate…

Chappell’s two-year stint with Team India was more about mudslinging and muckraking than managing the side and as the incorrigible rabble-rouser proved again, old habits die hard.

So first came allegations that he was subjected to racial attack with an ugly manifestation in Bhubaneshwar airport where a Biranchi Maharana, member of a fringe political outfit in Orissa, slapped Chappell just over his right ear earlier this year.

Chappell went even further and in an ABC documentary, to be screened next week, he lashed out at the BCCI for allegedly trying to sweep the issue under the carpet.

While we were wondering how similar Chappell sounds to Andrew Symmonds, Chappell did a volte-face, playing down the issue. He did not went that far to disown the statement – it’s caught on camera after all – but played down, saying he spoke all these stuff in an “emotional moment”.

It was a very emotional time when I made these remarks. It's a long way back and I'd like to talk about other things now. I'm looking forward to being involved with the Rajasthan Cricket Academy for the next three years, Chappell said.

Having burnt fingers with his first international assignment and spoiled many a career, Chappell is smart enough to realize that other boards would steer clear of him and he just can’t afford to antagonize India if he has to make both ends meet.

In the April 11, 2007 post, I had talked about neologism and ‘Shit Midas’. Indeed, whatever Chappell laid his fingers on, it turned shit. We can only pray for the boys in the academy.

Image: AFP

Tuesday 13 November 2007

Shah Rukh to buy IPL team, no hope for Tendulkar

Well, Russell “Gladiator” Crowe is not the lone actor, who is bidding to buy a team for next year’s Indian Premier League (IPL). According to reports, Shah Rukh “Chak De” Khan is among 90 people who have made a beeline to buy a franchise in the BCCI-conceived, ICC-backed Twenty20 extravaganza.

And media reports also claimed that Kishore Biyani’s Future Group was in talks with Sachin Tendulkar to convince for a joint bid to buy the Mumbai team. BCCI, however, has scuttled the move, making it clear that it won’t allow any of the current players to have stake in any of the teams.

Meanwhile, England-based industrialist Lord Swaraj Paul is reportedly interested to buy a team, as are liquour baron Vijay Mallya and Anil Ambani. English Premier League, some guys from the American National Basketball Association, couple of foreign banks and handful of investment bankers also harbour the same hope.

Naturally, BCCI Vice President Lalit Modi, mastermind behind the IPL, is sporting an ear-to-ear smile these days. Modi maybe a sworn enemy of Jagmohan Dalmiya but much like the wily Marwari from Kolkata, this firebrand BCCI official surely knows how to mint money.


Thursday 8 November 2007

Kapil, Vengsarkar, Bedi in Lord’s Hall of Fame

As the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), guardian of the game’s law, decides to doff its hat at Indian cricket, which is celebrating its 75th year, the trio of Bishan Singh Bedi, Kapil Dev and Dilip Vengsarkar is set to adorn the gallery at cricket’s spiritual home at the Lord’s.

Vengsarkar, busy these days hunting for India’s next Test captain, managed to take time off to pose for his portrait, while Kapil – at the receiving end of BCCI’s wrath for siding with the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) – too allowed himself to be captured on canvas, as did Bedi, one of the most acerbic tongues around.

Lord’s has proved a happy hunting ground for all of them. Vengsarkar has lorded over at Lord’s, hitting three successive centuries on the ‘Mecca of Cricket’ – first non-English player to do so. Bedi too had a six-wicket haul there while Kapil led his Devils to India’s lone World Cup – well, I mean 50-50 cricket – triumph there in 1983.

Image: Times Now

Wednesday 7 November 2007

Well done Little Master!

Sachin Tendulkar turning down Test captaincy has come as a shock for some, most to be precise. In my case, it was his early willingness to burn his finger again that seemed baffling. But finally, good sense prevailed and Tendulkar has opted out, clearing the decks for MS Dhoni’s anointment as the Test captain as well.

Sachin probably realizes that at 34, he is not getting younger anymore. His almost puerile joy remains intact but it can’t mask the creaky bones, stiff muscles, slowing reflex and failing anticipation. The wears and tears of nearly two decades of rigorous cricket is enough to numb the senses and maim the body and it’s just because of sheer discipline and athleticism that Sachin has managed to minimize the damage – a tennis elbow, a shoulder operation and couple of nips and tucks here and there were inevitable after all.

So at this age and stage, cricket is more played in the mind than the 22-yard. And when the body is no more what it was in the early 1990s, it’s the mind –with the cushion of having a vast reservoir of experience to dig in – that guides him.

Test captaincy would have meant risking the aura, at least part of it, he acquired by dint of his batting. The mind would be pre-occupied with the team’s welfare with a level of accountability that is absent when you are in the squad merely as a player.

Once you are the captain, you volunteer yourself to intense, even inane, media scrutiny and public dissection – be it the toss, bowling changes, field setting, batting order, declaration or imposing or not imposing follow-ons.

Sachin, clearly in the final lap of an illustrious career, can’t afford to court the risk. Come on, he has far outgrown the role of captaincy and why should he put his reputation at stake?

Of course he was game for yet another go at the top job after burning his fingers in the past. But thankfully for him, desire was not allowed to get the better of common sense and Sachin realized what is good for him.

Besides, being the kingmaker has its own charm. Sachin suggested a younger captain – read MS Dhoni – but knows it well that be it Dhoni or anyone else, there would be cases when even the skipper would listen to him.

Being the King would have surely fetched him the crown but along with it comes the thorns. In contrast, Kingmakers enjoy the authority but have none of the accountabilities that come with the job. Your head is not perennially on the chopping block; no need to drag yourself to hostile press conference where questions are virile vitriol; and you are spared of the disappointment of feeling let down by one of your teammates.

The lure of being the Test captain did sway Sachin but he eventually managed to survive the test and turning down the Test captaincy was clearly yet another masterstroke from the Little Master.


Tuesday 6 November 2007

Inzamam and an anecdote

(Well, this is an anecdote you won’t find elsewhere. It’s sort of an exclusive because the mainstream media, including the place I work, had too much on the plate that day and hence ignored it.

When Inzamam-ul-Haq -- looking surprisingly lean and trim in jeans and T-shirt -- came to Delhi to announce his new innings as host of “Junoon 2007” a show on a channel on the Indo-Pak series, Nikhil Chopra – that former offie – shared an incident about the Pakistani “Gentle Giant”).

“We were in Sharjah (1998) and a pair of Pakistani shoes which Inzibhai was wearing caught my eyes and I said “Inzibhai, bahot badiya hai’ (Inzibhai, nice shoes). He surprised me when he asked my shoe size and said, “Tumse (1999) world Cup me milunga aur tab tumhare liye bhi le aunga’ (Will see you in the 1999 World Cup and will bring a pair for you. I was touched by his gesture.

“And to my utter surprise, when we met in the 1999 World Cup, he did present me a pair of shoes he had brought with him all the way from Pakistan. Now that tells you what kind of a person he is,” Chopra said.

Inzamam, meanwhile, looked little embarrassed all along on the dais. Cricket definitely needs players of his ilk.

Image: Reuters

Sunday 4 November 2007

Russell “Gladiator” Crowe to own a team in Indian Premier League!

Oscar award winner Russell Crowe, whose cousins Jeff and Martin have captained Kiwi cricket team, is all set to buy franchise in the Indian Premier League (IPL), which would make them owner of a team in the BCCI-conceived, ICC-backed Twenty20 extravaganza.

According to Sun-Herald, Crowe and fellow South Sydney Rugby League Club owner Peter Holmes a Court are ready to apply for franchise, which they feel would go a long way to popularize the Rabbitohs club.

"If the football club decides this is something they want to get involved with, then the Souths name could be spread," Holmes a Court said.

While Jeff and Martin Crowe went on to make a mark in sports, Russell – despite his busy shooting schedule – maintained his link with sports. The “Gladiator” star has engaged former South Sydney forward Mark Carroll as his body guard, got Tom Cruise and Burt Reynolds to support his club, roots for Leeds United and supports Michigan Wolverines football team.


Tuesday 23 October 2007

Of catcalls, monkey chants, Guy the Gorilla and Incredible India!

Well, finally the ill-tempered Ind-Aus ODI series is over. While the BCCI, Cricket Australia and ICC dwell on the degree of racism, I’ve been taken aback by the discrimination displayed by cricket players and administrators towards the animal kingdom at large!

Reams have been written about monkey chants and reporters/columnists foamed in the mouth explaining how racist it was. But did anyone bother to spare a thought for the hapless monkeys?

For starters, catcalls are not considered compliments, but why is it that monkey chants constitute racial abuse? I mean this is a serious prejudice that has in fact the entire monkey species up in arms, knocking the door of the Simian Primates Rights Organisation, demanding an answer.

Much to the monkeys’ dismay, cricketers walk in hoping to have a WHALE of a time out there, commentators’ hail HAWKeye, tailenders are called RABBITS and FERRETS, fielders are positioned in COW corner and the entire Bangladesh team boasts of being the TIGERS. Scratching furiously their heads, the monkeys simply don’t know why cricket has no problems with other animals but all hell breaks loose when it comes to monkeys!

In fact it has been a long-standing injustice that continues to upset the monkeys. Knighted Ian Botham does not object to his nickname Guy the GORRILLA; Arun Lal does not mind being called PIGGY; Ajit Agarkar remains the Mumbai DUCK: and then you have Joel “Big BIRD” Garner, Darren “RHINO” Gough, Anil “JUMBO” Kumble, Clive “Super CAT” Lloyd, Glenn “PIGEON” McGrath, Dave “TADPOLE” Mohammed, Graeme “Little DOG” Pollock, Peter “Big DOG” Pollock…well the list is endless.

And finally, I must share a doubt of mine. Did part of the Indian crowd really intend to insult Andrew Symonds when they hurled those monkey chants and aped the apes at Wankhede? My doubt is that the Australians simply went bananas in this case and before you bay for my headstrong head, let me explain.

Indian culture is a marriage of tradition and modernity and hence vulnerable to misinterpretation by ill-informed critics. Well, first get our basics right. Man’s evolution from monkey is something taught in schools and I believe therein lies the secret.

Well, those who know Hindi know that “Are, Yeh To Baap Nikla!” is a compliment of highest order by an awestruck speaker, which literally would mean “Gosh! He Proved Our Father” but would actually mean,”He proved who’s the boss.”

Andrew Symonds has been the batting mainstay for Australia in the series against India and when he came to bat in the last ODI at Wankhede, two gentlemen – bona fide ambassadors of Indian culture – aped monkeys to imply “Are Yeh To Baap Se Bhi Aage (which means forefathers= monkeys) Nikla”.

Now if that tribute is misconstrued as racial abuse, one can only hope that next time other teams visit India, they just get versed with the culture here to avoid any misunderstanding about Incredible India.

Image: Getty Images

Saturday 20 October 2007

Bat, ball and Bollywood…Dhoni dating Deepika Padukone, or is it Priyanka Chopra?

Mahendra Singh Dhoni surely has a charm about him that transcends the boundary of cricket. Ask Deepika Padukone. Well, if grapevine is to be believed – well, calling it grapevine and then begging to believe it is too much -- this model-cum-actress and Dhoni share a mutual admiration. While she turned up to cheer for Dhoni’s Daredevils against Ponting’s Pirates (errr, does that sound racist?) in Saturday's Twenty2o tie, Dhoni is expected to reciprocate by watching Deepika’s debut movie ‘Om Shanti Om’.

Deepika, daughter of India’s lone badminton star Prakash Padukone, has become a household face, courtesy innumerable commercials and her soon-to-be-released movie against Shah Rukh Khan “Om Shanti Om”.

Dhoni apparently has a crush on the lanky beauty but there are also reports that link ‘Mahi’with Priyanka Chopra. And there also were reports that the dasher from Jharkhand has an admirer in Koena Mitra as well.

Some say there can’t be smoke without fire but I’m not insisting that these are to be believed. Gossips are gossips after all. Following is a list – I can’t call it comprehensive – of cricketer-actress matches, though I can’t take responsibility of authenticity!

Mohsin Khan – Reena Roy

Garfield Sobers – Anju Mahendra

Viv Richards – Neena Gupta

Sandeep Patil – Debashree Roy

Imran Khan- Zeenat Aman, Moon Moon Sen

MAK Pataudi- Sharmila Tagore

Zaheer Khan- Isha Sharvani

Sourav Ganguly- Nagma

Yuvraj Singh - Kim Sharma

Mohd Azhrauddin- Sangeeta Bijlani

Ravi Shastri-Amrita Singh

Kapil Dev-Sarika

Usman Afzal- Amrita Arora

Manoj Prabhakar-Farheen

Tuesday 16 October 2007

Why Dravid Should Quit ODIs

Once Ricky Ponting and Co. leaves the country with the Futures Cup, someone from the BCCI needs to take Rahul Dravid to the corner, lay a hand around his shoulder, appreciate his contribution and convey to him that the ODI series against Pakistan would be his last. And also tell him that the Board has a grand farewell plan for him at the end of the series.

Tough to put it in words but truth is Dravid has exceeded his shelf-life as a one day cricketer. Our affection for the man and his craft should not be allowed to clutter our common sense. An avid reader, “The Wall” surely has not missed the writing on the wall.

Of India’s Holy Trinity, Sachin Tendulkar is more effort than effervescence and Sourav Ganguly continues to oscillate between sublime and farce. But, at least, they have proved that Team India is yet to find their replacement. Unfortunately, that has not been the case with Dravid.

Dravid’s position in the batting order, especially while chasing, has become an additional woe for his captain. Mahendra Singh Dhoni can’t really toy with his former captain, who till the other day used to pass on the instructions. The Nagpur ODI is a moot case. As if explaining a defeat was not bad enough, Dhoni had to defend the decision to promote Dravid at number four. And then Ponting too made fun of the move, questioning the logic behind it.

It’s unfair to pan Dhoni. He was just trying to accommodate Dravid. I mean once the chase had gone down to the wire, Dravid is not the kind of batsman you expect to guide the side to home with some late charge. Dhoni had no other way but to send him up. And that precisely sums up Dravid’s position in the order.

Dravid was never cut out exclusively for one day cricket and all its thrill and frill and it was because of his sheer grit and industry, give credit where it’s due, that he went on to play 333-plus ODIs, scoring 10,000-plus runs – a feat any cricketer would have been proud of.

But despite his record, the series against Australia left a message, loud and clear, that Dravid does not command a place. Of course he still can play the sheet anchor’s role to perfection but often in chase, the role itself has become redundant. In such scenario, having Dravid in the ranks is a luxury India can ill-afford.

Personally for him, Dravid does not stand to gain anything from ODIs. On the contrary, he might lose his aura, which he acquired largely due to his exploits in the longer version of the game. He’s indispensable in the Test squad and is still the most bankable of Indian batsmen. He has been an intelligent cricketer throughout and he should not find trouble seeing wisdom behind quitting one dayers.


Wednesday 3 October 2007

Warne denies dating Jemima Khan

Shane “Incorrigible” Warne insists he is not dating Jemima Khan. They are “just friends” he asserts and we should not have problem with that. For those blessed with celebrity amnesia, Jemima is the ex-wife of former Pakistan captain Imran Khan who was, and is, twice her age. Lately, she was dating Hugh Grant, or vice versa.

Even if it was true, it would have been quite natural on Warne’s part. The spin star’s marriage has hit the rocks for the second time – no mean feat, thanks to his misfired text that was meant for his lover but eventually landed in wife Simone’s cell!

And according to a magazine, the text was actually meant for Jemima!

"Hey beautiful, I'm just talking to my kids, the back door's open," read Warne’s message.

Simone’s reply was "You loser, you sent the message to the wrong person."

The classic goof-up helped Simone to come out of her illusion that they can still pick up the pieces of the wreckage of a marriage and put them together.

And if it’s true, it’s good to see Warne looking beyond British nurse, while for Jemima, well, old habits die hard.

Image: Getty Images

The curious case of Sreesanth and his aggro

S Sreesanth comes across as a likeable fellow. Hailing from the backwaters of Kerala, where people prefer feet and a bigger ball, Sreesanth is an aberration. His unbridled enthusiasm, and not to forget his nippy pace, makes you sit up, take notice and do some online sports betting. Of late, it’s unfortunately his idiosyncrasies that he’s getting attention for.

Since Sourav Ganguly taught the new tit-for-tat language to his teammates, a Team India player is no more the one who would take his eyes off the opponent, lower his head and digest the abuse hurled from, say, an Australian bigmouth. That’s past. Instead, he would now stare eyeball-to-eyeball and is often the last to blink. He does not mind giving someone double his size a piece of his mind and is ready to meet fire with fire.

Naturally, we hailed Sreesanth when he hit Andre Nel for a six and then ferociously twirled his bat before finally breaking into a war dance of sort in South Africa.

But since the tour of England, Sreesanth’s aggression has been more of a worry, ask his the then embarrassed captain Rahul Dravid. The sign was clear that the demon within had just gotten out of control. You can call Kevin Pietersen names or spurn a dinner invitation from Matt Prior. But Michael Vaughan is not the guy you would barge into. And I’m not buying the theory that it was an inadvertent effort to actually rub shoulders with the English captain.

It should worry Team India that of late, Sreesanth has become a Match Referee’s favourite and his names dominate the meetings on breach of ICC code. Instead of going back to the nets to finetune his craft at the end of a match, Sreesanth is heading for the Match Referee’s room to be harangued on something as dull as code of conduct and he seems to have has made it a habit as well.

For a nation bullied and browbeaten for ages, Sreesanth positively reflects and probably personifies our ambition to settle all those old scores and pay everyone back in their own coin. But in doing so, Sreesanth is probably digressing from what is his primary job, to bowl and take wickets.

For a fast bowler, a minority community in India, it pays to be frugal. It’s a demanding job and hence tiresome. You have to be as miser as Ebenezer Scrooge with your energy to be effective. Some of the greatest bowlers we have seen -- and Andre Nel is not among them – did not need to mouth foul words to get a batsman out. In fact, I wonder, if that ever did the trick.

Had that been the case, Dennis Lillee would not have wasted his energy in the MRF Pace Academy trying to show a youngster how to grip the cherry for the perfect outswinger. Instead, he would have just arrived here with a truckload of sledge-lexicons and asked his wards to cram them.

In Sreesanth’s case, he is spending half of his energy on those verbal duels. It can be a huge distraction and even the most veteran player tends to get carried away. And he’s just 24!

Already he has embarrassed his captains, be it Dravid or Dhoni. Dravid had to issue a note to curb Sreesanth in England and Dhoni, on his arrival from the Twenty20 World Cup, admitted, though jokingly, that Sreesanth can become a captain’s worry.

Now, that’s the last thing you want to hear from your captain. If your skipper has to be more concerned with your volatile temper than team strategy, then you are not worth the place in the side. I mean, it still is not the case with Sreesanth but he should mend his ways.

The kind of aggression he shows actually stems from a petty selfishness. It’s like any street brawl. In such cases, ego takes over and you just go with the flow. It’s against the team’s interest, because you want to win that personal battle, even if that cost your team the war.

For Sreesanth, it’s not a major problem to channelise his energy. He in fact does not need to look beyond the team. Zaheer Khan could be a role model for him. He can learn from his elder pace colleague how to be aggressive and effective at the same time. How to have the batsmen on their toes, not because of your foul moth but because of your guiles. At the end of the day, cricket still remains a game where the bowler has to get the batsman out with the ball as his lone weapon. The sooner Sreesanth realizes it, the better.

Image: BBC

Saturday 29 September 2007

Misbah’s misery and Gatting’s loneliness

Mike Gatting must be a relieved man.

Since he played that outrageously fluffed reverse sweep to hand over the 1987 World Cup to Australia, Gatting spent the subsequent two decades fending the simple questions “Why, Mike, why?”

After a prolonged loneliness, Gatting finally can take heart now that he has a company in Misbah-ul-Haq.

Coming back after a three-year gap, poor Misbah did everything right in the Twenty20 World Cup final until a rush of blood got the better of his sang froid. He went for that scoop shot that ballooned up only to find S Sreesanth at short fine leg. Pakistan were to finish bridesmaid.

In all probability, we won’t see Misbah scoop again. He must have touched the willow and vowed to banish the shot from his repertoire. Despite all his heroics in South Africa, Misbah runs the serious risk of going down to cricket history as the poor chap who came agonizingly close to break Pakistan’s long-standing jinx against India before a moment of madness did him in.

Misbah was not to emulate Miandad, that street-smart, street-fighter who, some 21 summers back, hit Chetan Sharma for a last ball six to leave a dent in the psyche that India took years to overcome.

I have this uncanny feeling that both the World Cup finals – the 1987 Australia-England and the Indo-Pak Twenty20 summit clash -- cricket took its sweet revenge.

Both Gatting’s reverse sweep and Misbah’s scoop shots are common in their deep contempt for custom. It defies tradition and throws the copy book out of the window. Both stand for wickedness that goes in the name of improvisation, a necessary evil arising out of the art, science and commerce of ODI batsmanship.

Both the hideous shots have found ample practitioners in Pietersen to Nixon (reverse sweep) and Misbah to Uthappa (scoop). But in the end, it was poetic justice that the same cheekiness, the same contempt for custom boomeranged! The shots that fetched them loads of runs, brought their peril too. And both came in the summit clash for the Holy Grail of ODIs. Indeed, cricket hit back with vengeance and the timing could not have been better!

Tuesday 25 September 2007

Of sang-froid and India's Captain Cool

Leading Team India can be scary. With a billion-strong population ready to garland and guillotine you with equal fervour, you can always feel the sword of Damocles hanging precariously over your head. Refreshingly, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s leadership is neither blighted by the fear of failure nor is swayed by success.

The best thing about Dhoni is that even in the toughest of times, he does not forget to flash that disarming smile. During the bowl-out against Pakistan, in the do-or-die tie against South Africa or in the high-octane semifinal against Australia, Dhoni has always been a man in control of his emotions. In fact, at times, he seemed incredulously unexcitable by what was happening around. Shoehorned into captaincy, Dhoni makes you optimistic that he is not going to fall victim to the Too-Much-Too-Early syndrome which has claimed many a potential leader.

In contrast, his predecessor continues to baffle me. Despite having a set of sparkling teeth, Dravid hardly flashed them on-field. The only plausible reason maybe that Dravid is not the one to flaunt things. Or he did not find it fashionable. Or maybe he thought flashing a smile would dilute the seriousness of the nature of his job.

But the fact remains that Dravid took his job too seriously. An introvert person, so as a skipper, he would further withdraw to his self-imposed cocoon whenever going got tough. His brooding eyes would further sink into the socket, the shoulders would droop and he would seem as irritable as someone whose girl friend has eloped with his best friend and they took his car along with them.

Sourav Ganguly was another character, who polarized opinion like none else and he too was a spectacle as a skipper. In the gung-ho Ganguly era, latecomers just needed to have a look at the animated skipper, and not the scoreboard, to realize that the match was heading for a nail-biting finish.

Ganguly would ferociously chew his nails and spit them out is if those belonged to Greg Chappell. In adversity, Ganguly often resorted to manicure, whether he’s out there fielding or cooling his heels in the dressing room. It was only when he was batting that he was not biting – his fingers, for a change, safe behind the gloves.

Indeed, hardly any skipper in contemporary cricket symbolized and reflected his team’s tooth-and-nail fight against adversity the way Ganguly did. It would be fascinating to know the average damage caused to Ganguly’s nails per match.

It is often said that success does not come without a price and you have to admit that the Prince of Kolkata sacrificed a lot, in terms of nail growth, before he emerged as India’s most successful captain.

Prior to that, we were used to watching myriad of emotions on a babyface and Sachin Tendulkar was as expressive as a pantomime artiste of the first order. So involved in the game that every setback found an instant, and poignant, manifestation in him. He would fidget, grimace, grit teeth, wink, gawk at, yell at himself, kick up dust, shrug shoulder, tug at jersey and resemble a sulking misanthrope, convinced that the wicked world had hatched a conspiracy to doom him.

For Tendulkar, it was a matter of life and death. So instead of being the leader who would lift the morale when the chips are down, the Little Master would, invariably, be the mourner-in-chief.

In contrast, Dhoni proved he can maintain sanity in adversity. The unnerving, and innervating too, pressure could not hamper his decision-making ability – as evident from asking Robin Uthappa, Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag to take the bowl-out against Pakistan or inviting Joginder Sharma to bowl the last over in the semifinal against Australia.

Dhoni proved that he has the ability to keep his mind insular, isolated from the whirlpool of occurrences around him. Make no mistake, the passion is there but not to the extent that it cripples the mind and clouds the vision. A lot is said about the need of involvement but at the same time, a little detachment probably helps a captain to put things in perspective and thankfully, Dhoni has that rare quality.


Saturday 22 September 2007

RP Singh: The Forgotten Hero

In the phalanx of India’s wobbly dobbers, he is the least visible. But think efficiency and you wonder at RP Singh’s amazing ability to escape attention.

He’s not the pin-up boy that Irfan Pathan is; the simpleton doesn’t break into a jig ala S(howman) Sreesanth. But as evident from India’s UK tour and the ongoing Twenty20 World Cup, RP does not lag when it comes to taking wicket, supposedly the primary responsibility of a bowler. The slogathon called Twenty20 World Cup has seen many a bowlers’ blood on the floor but RP not only escaped unscathed but also came through with flying colours.

Indeed, Rohit Sharma may have stolen the thunder – and the Man of the Match award – with his maiden (unbeaten) fifty in the do-or-die match against South Africa, but it’s actually RP to whom MS Dhoni owes a drink.

Defending a so-so total of 153, few gave India a chance but RP clearly had other ideas. He trapped Herschelle Gibbs and removed Graeme Smith in his first over to trigger a collapse which the hosts could not recover from. The left-arm seamer then crashed one through Shaun Pollock’s gate and then removed Albie Morkel, the joint topscorer, to tilt the match and writing was clear on the wall by then for Smith.

You can’t take anything away from Rohit Sharma’s knock but you don’t need to be a pundit either to realize that it was RP’s 4-0-13-0 figure that won the match. But then, cricket has always been a step mother to the bowlers’ tribe and Rohit bagged the MoM award.

There was enough evidence that RP has mastered the art of creating difficult angles that poses all sort of uncomfortable questions to the batsmen. He has this natural flair for swinging the ball both ways and right-handers often found themselves at sea against the one which he brings into them.

RP benefited from his apprenticeship under Zaheer Khan whose prodigious swing had the English batting order in serious nervous disorder in the Test series. as a result, RP arrived a much improved bowler in South Africa and the results are before us to see.

In the Indian pace attack, RP stands out because of his reticent approach to cricket. It’s not that he is low on adrenalin or tends to cower behind the sandbags. But the soft-spoken UP lad prefers to let his ball do the talking. He prefers swing to swears, yorkers to yelling and slower to sledge, which is just perfect with the spirit of the game.

With Irfan Pathan doing little to warrant a comeback and an erratic Sreesanth hardly looking bankable, RP has emerged as a vital cog in the Indian pace attack. And provided the focus is there, RP is definitely here to stay.

Image: AFP

Monday 17 September 2007

...And Shatters a "Team Man" Myth

As Rahul Dravid abdicates Team India captaincy, despite its frills and thrills, one could not help but sink into a state of depression as petty selfishness gets the better of a quintessential team man, who leaves the job admitting he is weak at heart and incapable of bearing the burden anymore.

Ian Chappell and Co. wants to believe us otherwise, but Dravid’s decision stemmed from uncharacteristic petty selfishness and its horrendous timing exposes a man who is so touchy about his own craft that he does not hesitate to sacrifice collective interest in the altar of perfectionism.

That Dravid wanted to leave head held high with his dignity intact sounds alright. He wants to concentrate on his batting sounds okay too. But it’s, unmistakably, Dravid the batsman, who is at the centre of concern and not the team!

Roll back the years and you have a Dravid who threw weight behind Sourav Ganguly, shed ego and though reluctant, stood behind the stumps on one dayers, moved up and down the batting order just to serve the team’s purpose. And he was still successful, prompting Sunil Gavaskar to say every time Dravid walked out to bat, he could see a tri-colour fluttering.

Dravid’s out-of-the-blue decision has plunged Indian cricket into deep leadership crisis. Indeed, the timing could not have been worse. Ricky Ponting’s men are packing their bag before they barge into the country for a seven-match ODI series. Thirteen days to go and Team India still does not know who’ll walk out with Ponting for the toss.

And it came when selectors just don’t have enough options around. An ageing Sachin Tendulkar, his ODI retirement being the subject of speculation till the other day, has been sounded out to take over, while Ganguly’s name is also doing the rounds.

Dhoni, meanwhile, looks certain to be saddled with the burden of ODI captaincy, whether the poor Jharkhand lad is ready for it or not. In such a case, the stumper with flowing tresses would have more on his platter than he can possibly eat. The Too-Much-Too-Early syndrome has had many a casualty and Dhoni might soon join the list.

But, you can’t actually blame the selectors. Show me the options!

Those were the days when Virender Sehwag was shoehorned into vice captaincy, hoping he would take over the reins one day. But with his form deserting him like a fickle girl friend, the Nawab of Najafgarh fell by the wayside and let alone captaincy, a comeback as a player would be like hitting the jackpot for Sehwag.

Yuvraj Singh’s story has been more or less the same. His off-the-field lifestyle has often blighted his performance with the bat and failing to cement his berth in Test side scuttled his case.

That leaves Dhoni as the last Indian hope and thanks to Dravid’s rather untimely realization, instead of being guided to the pool, Dhoni is about to be thrown into the deepest end. And he can’t be faulted if he sinks, rather than swims.

Image: AFP

Wednesday 12 September 2007

Bloodbath at New Wanderers, what next Mr Speed?

(Gayle sets butcher-the-bowler trend)

It’s not often that you feel sad when your predictions come true. Same must be the case with those who prophesied World Twenty20 would be a bloodbath of the bowlers. ICC’s version of ethnic cleansing kicked off at the New Wanderers, Johannesburg and the results are appalling.

Consider this, 36 fours and 18 sixes—Chris Gayle contributing 10 alone – and this was just the first match of the tournament! In stark contrast, only eight wickets fell. Now if the tribe of bowlers feels like being subjected to something like a state-sponsored terrorism, they can’t be blamed.

The scorecard of the West Indies-South Africa tie was an eye-opener. The strike rate gives you a better idea of the mass slaughter. Of the 12 batsmen who wielded the willow in the match, only one – Dwayne Smith, who scored one run off four balls and is reportedly looking for a counselor to talk him out of depression – had a strike rate below 100. Dwayne Bravo didn’t get a chance to face a ball and remained not out on zero.

Gayle, first centurion in T20 internationals, leads the strike rate chart for his side with 205.26, while Dwayne Smith (102.94), Marlon Samuels (150), Shivnarine Chanderpaul (110), Ramnaresh Sarwan (150) and Denesh Ramdin (150) also went hard after the bowlers.

For South Africa, Justin Kemp (209.09) tops the table, while Graeme Smith (133.33), Herschelle Gibbs (163.63), architect of the win with a 55-ball knock of 90, and AB de Villiers (177.77) used the long handle to deadly effect.

In contrast, the economy rates of the bowlers can melt any heart of stone. South African Makhaya Ntini, number one in ICC rankings till the other day, was not allowed to bowl his full quota of four over after conceding 19 runs in his first two overs. Shaun Pollock (4-0-52-1) got a sound thrashing, even though it was Graeme Smith and Albie Morkel who bore the brunt of the Gayle-storm, going wicketless and conceding 16 runs of their only over.

Among the West Indians, Fidel Edwards managed an economy rate of seven for his three overs which also fetched him a wicket. Daren Powell (8.5) was the other bowler to manage an under-10 economy rate.

But life was miserable for Ravi Rampal (13), Dwayne Smith (18.50), Dwayne Bravo (14.62) and Samuels (10.50) and their nightmares would feature Gibbs and Kemp in lead roles.

ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed’s optimism bordered on insanity when he opined that bowlers would have a crucial role to play in this crash, bang and wallop format. Now if playing the cannon-fodder means crucial in his dictionary, one has no case to go carping about.

Image: Getty Images

Friday 7 September 2007

Dump the rogue: Cricket would be better off without Shoaib Akhtar

Geoff Lawson can’t be faulted if he packs his bag and catches the first available flight to Australia. After all, this was his first assignment with the Pakistani cricket team and what a way to begin!

Shoaib Akhtar, that rogue in flannel, has been sent home from Johannesburg for using the long handle that has left his new ball partner Mohammad Asif with a bruised thigh. Instead of playing in the Twenty20, the erratic ‘Rawalpindi Express’ will now be cooling his heels, admiring his supreme talent to run into trouble.

"I'm human and made a mistake in the heat of the moment. Asif said something to me that made me lose my temper. I apologised to him, but I was very upset," Shoaib told a channel.

And before one could doubt him being sincerely apologetic, Shoaib himself shatters the illusion when he compares his conduct with Zinedine Zidane’s headbutting of Marco Materazzi in the soccer World Cup final.

Now Pakistan Cricket Board might be interested in finding if Asif said something about Shamaila, Shoaib's sister.

PCB has already slapped an indefinite ban on the perennial controversy-courting speedster but it seems already too late. Shoaib has been both the ‘Rog’ and rogue in the Pakistan dressing room. He was more interested in tantrums than performance. Here you had a player who was so engrossed in putting up a show that he never hesitated to sacrifice team’s interest to achieve that.

Bob Woolmer, may he rest in peace in a world devoid of the likes of Shoaib, cried hoarse but could not convince the narcissist in Shoaib to cut down on his spectacular, and nothing else, run up, which often resulted in slow over rate for the side. Seduced by the speed-gun, Shoaib never felt for the colours he donned.

PCB had its share of the blame too. Shoaib would not sweat out with the team in the nets; would have his own physio -- Tauseef Razzaq – with him. Spoilt to the core and shamelessly pampered by a patronizing PCB, Shoaib gradually started believing he was bigger than the team.

Shoaib has proved a dismal disgrace not only for Pakistan, but the game of cricket as well. His very presence in the dressing room has been embarrassing for his captain (ask Inzamam) and depressing for the youngsters. His selfish approach to the game has scuttled many a team strategy and PCB would do well to permanently slam the door on the crook and breathe easy.

Image: AFP

Take a bow, Jhulan!

So it’s official. Blue Billion, eat your heart out. They maybe demigods back home but the naked truth is the Men in Blue simply do not match up to the best in the business. And you have International Cricket Council (ICC) to vouch for that.

The ICC shortlist for its annual award doesn’t include a single player from the bunch led by Rahul Dravid. However, for India, the lone saving grace is Jhulan Goswami, that beanpole from the women’s team who is in the fray for the Women Cricketer of the Year award.

Australian captain Ricky Ponting is gunning for his second Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy as the Cricketer of the Year, even though the field has ‘former’ Pakistan run-glutton Mohammad Yousuf (who has deserted Pakistan Cricket Board and defected to Indian Cricket League), spin-phobe Kevin Pietersen and West Indian Shivnarine Chanderpaul of the anti-glare-strips-beneath-the-eyes fame.

The initial ICC long list had Zaheer Khan and Anil Kumble in the 'Test Player of the Year' category, while Yuvraj Singh figured in the ODI list. But when ICC announced a pruned up list, the Team India troika could not be sighted there.

Instead, Jhulan shines in company of Lisa Sthalekar (Australia) and Claire Taylor (England) and whether she wins the award or not, she has already stolen a march over her spoilt cousins in the Team India ranks. And for those unfamiliar with her, Jhulan bowls at a steady 120 kmph, slightly better than what a certain Irfan Pathan does these days.

For those who have not seen Jhulan in action, imagine Glenn McGrath undergoing a certain operation and turning up with the cherry in his…er…her…I mean, whatever, hand. The same, smooth run-up and the ability to land the ball on its seam delivery after delivery.

Jhulan was India’s vice captain in last year’s tour of England and left serious psychological dent in the opponent camp with her scorching pace. Thanks to her show, her side won the Test series there, and she the Player of the Series award.

So while we gloat and bloat over Dravid’s men’s comeback in the ODI series, spare a thought for Jhulan and take our hats off.

ICC Shortlist:

Cricketer of the Year: Shivnarine Chanderpaul (WI), Kevin Pietersen (Eng) ,Ricky Ponting (Aus) Mohammed Yousuf (Pak)

Test Player: Muttiah Muralitharan (SL), Kevin Pietersen (Eng), Ricky Ponting (Aus) , Mohammad Yousuf (Pak)

ODI Player: Matthew Hayden (Aus), Jacques Kallis (SA), Glenn McGrath (Aus), Ricky Ponting (Aus)

Emerging Player: Ravinder Bopara (Eng), Shakib Al Hasan (Bang), Shaun Tait (Aus), Ross Taylor (NZ)

Captain of the Year: Mahela Jayawardene (SL), Ricky Ponting (Aus)

Associate ODI Player of the Year: Ashish Bagai (Can), Thomas Odoyo (Ken), Ryan ten Doeschate (Neth), Steve Tikolo (Ken)

Umpire of the Year: Mark Benson, Steve Bucknor, Simon Taufel

Women's Cricketer of the Year: Jhulan Goswami (Ind), Lisa Sthalekar (Aus), Claire Taylor (Eng)

Image: Touchline Photo

Thursday 6 September 2007

Of Dhanuka, a Twenty20 massacre and shape of things to come

(Dhanuka Pathirana, the smiling assasin)

For those who still cling on to the hope that bowlers might have a role other than being just the cannon-fodder in Twenty20, it’s time to come out of the illusion.

Sri Lankan all-rounder Dhanuka Pathirana, a veteran of 46 first class matches created a mayhem by smashing 277 off 72 balls, 29 sixes and 18 fours being the highlight of the bowlers’ bloodbath in a the Saddleworth League match. Reports claim he was playing with a borrowed bat.

His side Austerlands amassed 366-3 in 20 overs, re-writing Somerset's county record of 250, and won the match on a better run rate as Droylsden made 37-2 before rain stopped play.

Pathirana later said,

It was like a dream and I think I did some serious damage to some of the vehicles in the car park.

So when the Twenty20, the ICC attempt at an ethnic cleansing, kicks off in South Africa later this month, low-flying South African Airways planes and the hapless bunch of bowlers would have every reason to worry.

Image: Oldham Advertiser

Tuesday 4 September 2007

ICL fallout: Shoaib blackmailed PCB to get charges dropped!

It’s not only BCCI top brass which is squirming in the heat turned on them by the Indian Cricket League. If recent media reports are to go by, ICL has created havoc on the other side of the Line of Control where Pakistani cricketers have resorted to arm-twisting and blackmailing their board, claiming they have multi-million dollar offers from the breakaway Indian league and they can take the plunge any time.

Shoaib Akhtar’s action maybe suspect but his propensity to throw tantrums is not. The “Rawalpindi Express” recently got all disciplinary charges dropped against him, reportedly after he threatened to join ICL. Having already lost four cricketers – including the run-glutton Mohd Yusuf – to ICL, PCB surely couldn’t take chance and hence Shoaib escaped scot-free. The penalty and charges were brought after the pacer had left a training camp in Karachi without informing the manager.

Even those players who have not been approached by the deep pocket ICL organizers are also creating pressure on the board. And those who have been approached, like Shoaib, Mohd Asif and Shahid Afridi, are quoting figures that are really difficult to believe and PCB insiders feel it’s just a ploy to keep the pressure on.

PCB thought they had cut the rogue in Shoaib Akhtar down to size and chairman Nasim Ashraf insisted the erratic pacer would be punished for his indiscipline. But post-ICL, things have gone sea change and PCB is among the first to feel the heat of the breakaway league.

Image: AP

Sunday 2 September 2007

Dravid deals the final blow to Chappell!

Tension is a good thing within a team, but it needs to be creative, not destructive. John Wright had similar problems at the start but unlike Greg he was prepared to adapt. By the end he [Wright] was more Indian than the Indians...Rahul Dravid told Mike Atherton in Sunday Telegraph.

Life comes full cycle for a certain Gregory Stephen Chappell. Sitting in his Adelaide abode, Chappell probably thought the nightmare of his Team India was behind him. How wrong he was. One episode was yet to be enacted, and it was to come from the most unexpected quarter. Chappell, not even wildest of dreams, could have imagined that of all people, it would be Dravid, his protégé, who would deal the final blow.

Dravid’s comment hints Chappell created a tense dressing room and it had a “destructive” influence on the show. Okay, Wright too had teething problems, but “unlike Greg, he was ready to adapt”. And, Dravid points out, Wright was “more Indian than the Indians”. Now that says a lot and makes interpretation redundant.

One shudders with the thought but had George W Bush opted for cricket coaching, he would have been Greg Chappell, the Team India coach. During Chappell’s stint with Team India, the Aussie ring-master echoed Bush with the message that was both hidden and loud -- you are either with us or you are against us in the fight against Sourav Ganguly. And no prize for guessing which camp Rahul Dravid belonged to.

In fact the likes of Kapil Dev and Ravi Shastri in fact went on to pan a sweetheart like Dravid for taking the backseat and allowing Chappell to call the shots on every major issues.

Chappell has been sent packing, along with his “Commitment to Excellence’ mantra, after he burnt his fingers and all five of them -- the one with which he often thumbed his nose at India’s cricket populace; the assertive index, which he often flashed at the likes of Sehwag, Yuvraj, Zaheer and Harbhajan; the middle which he was notoriously attending to in Eden Gardens.

Make no mistake, Chappell was never short on ideas. But the passion and the attachment was simply not there. He always saw it as yet another deal and his pursuit of success was devoid of any emotional bond. Indian cricket was never a paragon of all cricketing virtues but Chappell’s idea of reform was devoid of love for a country, which is unique in every aspect.

If Wright was successful, it was because he sacrificed a lot. He never allowed his ego to come in the way of team’s interest and did not have a hidden agenda or a personal vendetta. Ganguly owes half his success, if note more, to this self-effacing Kiwi. If Wright succeeded, it was basically because he was a good human being and unfortunately one can’t say the same about Chappell. Dravid’s comments are bound to leave a wound somewhere in his heart, but Chappell probably deserves it.

Image: AFP