Saturday 31 March 2007

Why Dada Should Say Ta Ta…

With Team India, in bits and pieces, sneaking home in the dark of nights with security blankets thrown around them, this is clearly not the best of times for the Men with Blues. Their World Cup misadventure is provoking uncomfortable questions and while Anil Kumble decided to quit ODI, Sachin Tendulkar has been advised to take off his shades and read the writing on the wall.

Fortunately for Sourav Ganguly, it offers the best possible opportunity to walk away, head held high and not hanging in shame.

On the wrong side of 30, Ganguly has had a fairly impressive career. He has been country’s most successful captain and boasts of 10k-plus runs in ODIs. Under him, Team India reached World Cup final, beat Pakistan in Pakistan in both ODI and Test series and drew level with the Aussies at their den.

But the most satisfying point, from his personal view, must be his return after being dumped by Greg Chappell. Ganguly decided he had a point to prove. Like all, even I did not give him a chance when he vowed to come back. But he worked harder and aided by Team India’s spate of flop shows, Ganguly returned with what seemed the mother of all comebacks.

And he proved another point too. Notwithstanding his well-documented weakness for short deliveries – have no illusion, he’s not the only one – Ganguly emerged India’s best batsman in the South Africa tour. He managed to lay the demon to rest in the hostile pitches in the Protealand.

And finally his dreams of playing in another World Cup also came true. What else?

The body is not getting younger. The wear and tear of a roller-coaster career – besides fatherhood, as he once said – has mellowed him down. His new-found approach to batting is earning him runs but also eroding the impact he left in his pomp. It does not make a good sight for his fans to see him playing the second Behala (that’s fiddle in Bengali, also the locality in Kolkata he hails from).

Like the highly likeable Inzamam-ul Haq mourned, not everyone is destined to go on his own term. Ganguly’s World Cup record is only second to Kapil Dev and here the Price of Kolkata has a chance to better the “Haryana Hurricane” by quitting with his grace intact. Cricket has been cruel to those who failed to read the writing on the wall and Ganguly, a smart cricketer throughout, needs to determine his own destiny, instead of leaving it to others.

Friday 30 March 2007

Kumble Quits ODI: Well Done Jumbo!

As we had discussed in this blog earlier, Anil Kumble finally quit ODI. The reticent, industrious leggie deserved to go on a high but that was not to be. Inzamam-ul Haq, who broke down after his ODI swansong, lamented he had planned to go head held high but he was simply not destined for the honour. Kumble can’t be blamed for feeling the same.

Jumbo has been the ultimate team man, India’s go-to bowler. He would bowl on and on from one end. As many as 337 wickets from 271 one-dayers at an average of 30.89 would have made any lesser mortal proud but Kumble somehow managed to be a certainty in ODI squad. It would have hit him where it hurts most every time Harbhajan Singh was preferred over him.

What amazes me is the tremendous odds he overcame. In an era when Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan tied the batsmen in tangles, spinning web around them, Kumble was almost a pacer in spinner’s disguise. Unlike Warne and Murali, his bowling was more grits and guts and not guiles. He would change the pace, maintain an unerring line and get that kick from the pitch to trouble every batsman under the Sun. And he never relaxed.

He was more on song in white flannels than the colourful pajama. He would brave a fractured jaw to come out and bowl in a 2005 Antigua Test but his day in the Sun had come an year earlier, when he got that Perfect 10, equaling Jim Laker’s record of taking all 10 wickets in a Test innings.

We mocked his loose-limbed action, laughed at the lack of turn, ridiculed his batting and fielding and yet, day in and day out, the captain would throw the ball to him, expecting him to either earn a breakthrough or stem the run flow. And Kumble invariably succeeded in either of the two. We are unlikely to see another spinner of his kind.

Opt Out Before You Are Thrown Out: Ian Chappell tells Tendulkar

At times, you can’t do away with the clichés. And one goes – your retirement should be timed in such a way that people should ask WHY? And not WHY NOT!

Post-World Cup, Ian Chappell just told the same to Sachin Tendulkar.

Chapelli risks earning a 1.1 billion – that’s India’s population – enemies overnight. The former Aussie captain has told Tendulkar in clear terms that he’s been reduced to a caricature of his former self and it's time to consider hanging up his boots.

“Before anybody else makes a decision on what will happen to Tendulkar the player himself has to have a good long look in the mirror and decide what he’s trying to achieve in the game,” said Chappell, one of the sane voices in the highly volatile cricket world.

So far, some discerning people have been discussing it in the privacy of their drawing room. Even die-hard fans were praying he goes head held high and not hanging his head in shame.

Kapil once incurred the nation’s wrath when he mouthed the bitter truth that Sachin is past his prime and the “Haryana Hurricane” hinted it was time to go. Kapil, who himself hanged on to the scene for too long just for the sake of a record, may not have the moral high ground to preach so, but then he was probably sharing his experience.

Chappell goes on to draw an interesting parallel between Tendulkar and Brian Lara and says why the West Indian batting great, despite being four years senior to our Little Champion, remains a shining star.

Lara has managed to steer clear of major injuries and even after 17 years in the business, has remained more or less in his approach to the game. Sachin, on the other hand, had to mould himself to ensure his approach dovetails with his ageing body. Sachin has been -- to us, at times -- larger than the game itself but Chappelli surely has a point.

"If Tendulkar had found an honest mirror three years ago and asked the question; 'Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the best batsman of all?'
It would’ve answered; 'Brian Charles Lara.'

If he asked that same mirror right now; 'Mirror, mirror on the wall should I retire?'

The answer would be; 'Yes.'

Thursday 29 March 2007

Slinga Malinga: the pacer who has his head on fire

After Muttiah Muralitharan, another maverick from the Sri Lankan stable. Amidst the gloom of Bob Woolmer’s murder, cricket finally hit the headlines for the right reason, as Lasith Malinga scalped four wickets in as many deliveries against South Africa in Guyana.

To be honest, I dislike his action as much as his hairstyle, or the other way round. I happened to see him first in Sri Lanka late last year during a rain-ruined tournament and I still believe he is the game’s second most outrageous hair ever spotted near a cricket ground. For those who came in late, Darrel, the Oz Man in White remains the first in my list.

From a distance, it is seems his head is on fire but somehow the flames are not flickering enough. No wonder, Mahela Jayawardene insists Malinga adds firepower to his pace attack, especially with Chaminda Vaas walking into the sunset of his career.

Malinga’s round-arm action has given sleepless nights to many a batsman. Graeme Smith is not known for his candour but still the Protea southpaw admitted “Malinga was incredible. He made me age a bit."

Back in 2005, Malinga’s low-slung action prompted Stephen Fleming to approach the umpire and request him to change his trousers, for the ball seemed lost in the black backdrop and the Kiwi bat could not spot the ball.

Thankfully, no such requests have been received so far this time. And one thing is sure. This World Cup has seen more distractions and less of cricket and Malinga, despite his weird hairdo, deserves a pat in the back for setting it right.

Now al-Qaeda and D Company in Woolmer’s murder!

Conspiracy theorists had a gala time in the wake of the Bob Woolmer Whodunit and now “The Sun” tops it all, linking Woolmer’s murder to, hold your breath, al-Qaeda and Dawood Ibrahim for those who came in late, Dawood is a guy in oversize goggles and drooping moustache. He took match-fixing even beyond Sharjah and found a match for his daughter who happens to be Javed Miandad's son).

The tabloid claims a Pakistan-based bookie (spare that poor country, plz) was thrown out of Woolmer’s room after a spat with the coach. The same bookie was spotted with Anees Ibrahim, Dawood’s brother and right-hand, in Jamaica, claimed the report. And the bookie has vanished into thin air since Woolmer’s murder.

Hitman, poison, strangulation, gambling, match-fixing, murder, bookie, D-Company and even al-Qaeda. So, what’s next?

Wednesday 28 March 2007

Chappell's likely successors!

So India has already played the last match under Guru Greg, apparently so. If media reports are to be believed, Chappell can forget about an extension and rather pack his bag and board the first Qantas flight home.

So, who should take the hot seat now? I have some names in my mind, BCCI would do well to have a dekko at it. This is an open-end list, feel free to nominate yours.

1. Swami Ramdev: A popular, and hence not necessarily valid, view has been that endorsement has become a huge distraction and the cricketers simply have lost focus. And to right that wrong, you can’t have a better choice than Ramdev. He is no alien to cricket and he in fact had advised the players to practice Yoga before the World Cup. Dravid’s men must have ignored it and paying the price for ignoring his divine formula. At least one Team India member has been spotted visiting him once why don’t Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Yuvraj follow Dhoni? So, bye bye push-ups and welcome pranayam.

2. Lalu Prasad: So what if he messed up Bihar? See how he turned that Great Indian White Elephant, the Indian Railway, into a profit-making juggernaut. These days Mr Prasad is a sought after name even in the IIMs and Harvards. And he apparently believes he can player better than the Men in Blue. He heads Bihar cricket Association and his son, Tejaswi, has represented Delhi in Polly Umrigarh trophy. Enough link with the game, isn’t it? And haven’t you heard of railway coaches? If he can script a turnaround in Railway’s fate, what’s the heck is this cricket team?

3. Sonia Gandhi: Agreed Italy is more known for Pizza, Pasta, Leaning Tower, Don Corleon and a certain Marco Materazzi. Also agreed that so far, no Italian has ever been accused of being sighted in and around any cricket stadium. But just see how she’s running the Great Indian Coalition Show. She picked a compliant, acceptable captain to

lead a team which has its fair share of in-fighting but overall, it’s producing the results. She belongs to the Bennette King genre. King never played first class cricket and yet went on to coach West Indies in the World Cup. Madam fits the bill to the T.

4. Greg Chappell Again: Read it right. Journalists and fans across the country owe him a drink. Spat with Ganguly, middle-fingering Kolkata, showing how e-mail and SMS can be used to deadly effect and devaluing phrases like “means-over-outcome”, “experimentation” etc. Indian cricket won’t be the same once he departs.

Kumble bids adieu to ODI!

Men in Blue's World Cup misadventure claimed another casualty. Anil Kumble, after his yeoman service to Team India, has quit one day cricket. The leggie, however, would continue to play in the longer version of the game.

Though no formal announcement was made, Kumble reportedly took his teammates in confidence in Port of Spain and informed them about his decision.

Karnataka State Cricket Association will arrange for a formal announcement on his retirement in the next few days.

We Are Innocent: 'wanted" Pak fans plead

Two of the three Pakistani fans, who reportedly vanished from the team hotel in Kingston after Bob Woolmer’s murder, have re-appeared to plead innocence.

Both Erfan Chaudhary, a medical technician in New York, and Tariq Malik, a car dealer in Jamaica are shocked after Jamaican Police began searching for them. According to the Police, these two, along with another fan who is still missing, supplied halal meat and transportation to the cricketers.

Chaudhary, however, claimed he was not in Jamaica on that fateful day of March 18 when Woolmer was strangled to death in his hotel room.

"I was really shocked, obviously I had nothing to do with it as I wasn't even there. I went to Jamaica on March 12 for the first match and then I left on the 14th and went back to see the last match against Zimbabwe. On the second trip, I flew to Jamaica on the 20th and left on March 22," he told Mirror.

Malik, on the other hand, said "I didn't kill Bob, far from it. I'm here to help with the investigation, I'm innocent."

Police were still hunting for two other fans named Hamad Malik, thought to be from London, and Jundie Khan, from Florida.

Pakistan’s media manager Pervez Mir admitted he knew Chaudhary and Malik and insisted the two were innocent.

"Jundie Khan and Hamad Malik are not known to myself or any of the players. But Erfan Chaudhary is a close personal friend and I am outraged by the news he is being sought in connection with Bob Woolmer's murder. Tariq is also a very good friend of the team who cooks Halal food for the players," he said.

Meanwhile, the same daily claimed police would conduct a second autopsy on Woolmer's body.

Not the ideal homecoming for the Men in Green

So finally Inzamam and his teammates are flying home back and how!

“Bring a donkey for him and ask him to sit on it and roam him around the city,” one of the irate fans yelled, which evidently left Younis Khan red in the face after he had landed on the Karachi International Airport late Monday.

Mohd Younis, witnesses said, had his face partially covered by a scarf and he didn’t come out of the airport at all. Instead, he boarded a connecting flight to Lahore. Rest of his teammates are in two minds – whether to return now or wait for the seething anger to die down.

A horror movie script could not have been more horrible. The team first lost a match, then its coach and finally it’s regular captain. And what followed was sheer nightmare.

They were interrogated like petty criminals, had inks on their finger after being fingerprinted, had swabs forced into their mouth for DNA samples and then they almost got detained! Now that they have survived every possible humiliation just to return to the warmth of their family and friends, suddenly that very idea seems the most insulting of them all.

Cricket has never been more cruel to any side.

Tuesday 27 March 2007

Breather for Inzy's men, sleuths now search for 3 Pak fans

(Mark Shields, with ICC CEO Malcolm Speed on his right)

The Bob Woolmer Whodunit is more and more looking like a Shane Warne over. You survive the first three balls - a googly, a zooter and a flipper –and you never know what to expect in the other half of the over.

Police now say that they have got nothing to doubt the cricketers. Rather they are looking for three Pakistani supporters who had been frequenting the Pegasus hotel till Woolmer’s murder, supplying Inzamam and his boys halal meat and transport. The trio seems to have vanished into thin air since Woolmer’s murder.

Police won’t confirm their involvement but Mark Shields said, “We're looking for them to eliminate them from inquiries."

Whatever happens to the trio, the Men in Green can now breathe little easy now that the needle of suspicion has moved to some other people.

“I have got no evidence to suggest it was anybody in the squad”, Shields said.

He, however, sticks to his view that “There is still a very strong possibility that [Woolmer] knew the person or persons (who killed him)."

From cricket enthusiast’s point of view, this has unfortunately been a World Cup where we’ve seen more of Shields than Lara.

Monday 26 March 2007

Who Takes the Hot Seat Once Chappell is Gone?

If media reports are to be believed, Greg Chappell can pack his bag and board the first available Qantas flight to home. And if that’s the case with the Australian, it would mark an unceremonious end to his first international assignment.

The million dollar question is, who will take the hot seat once Chappell is gone? The names doings the round are Sandeep Patil, Angshuman Gaekwad and Mohinder Amarnath. After two foreign imports, BCCI, we are told, plans to go swadeshi this time.

Both Patil and Gaekwad had their stints as India coach, while Jimmy, who lost the race to Chappell last year, would hope to be second time lucky.

BCCI Working Committee is meeting in Mumbai on April 6,7. So keep your fingers crossed till then.

Sunday 25 March 2007

St Kitts Extends Honorary Citizenship to Hayden, Gibbs!

Former England captain CB Fry, a polymath, nearly became the King of Albania when the throne was offered to him. Matthew Hayden and Herschelle Gibbs did not have the same fortune but both the swashbucklers were quite amused when they were given honorary citizenship of St Kitts and Nevis for their batting feats.

Hayden had just struck World Cup’s fastest century (66 ball were enough for the towering Matt) against South Africa while Gibbs smashed his way into the record book hitting six sixes in a row, Daan van Bunge being the hapless Dutch bowler.

Prime Minister Denzil Douglas handed over the honour at Warner Park after Australia's 83-run win against the Proteas and Hayden was grinning ear-to-ear.

"It's a tremendous honour. We have had a great couple of weeks here. The preparations have been pretty good at all the venues and we've enjoyed our stay."

Both the batsmen were also made life members of the local golf club.

Pak Team Manager’s Fake Name and Cut On Mushtaq’s Nose

(Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA)

Bob Woolmer’s murder took a new twist. A cut mark on Pakistan’s assistant coach Mushtaq Ahmed’s nose and revelation that team manager Talat Ali used a fake name to change his hotel room had the Jamaican Police springing into action. Both Mushtaq and Talat, along with captain Inzamam-ul Haq, were grilled for the second time before they were finally allowed to fly home via London.

"The Observer" claims Talat was asked why he moved from the 12th floor of the team hotel to another suit on the 17th floor using the name "Newman", to which the team manager said he was scared to stay there. No clarification on why he used a fake name.

Mushtaq was reportedly asked how he got the cut on his nose and if he had visited doctor. Mushtaq said he was hit by a ball during the warm-up session before the Ireland match.

Now Mushtaq, an Abdul Qadir clone in his initial days, has a distinctly dubious past. Implicated in the Qayyum Committee report -- Justice Malik Mohammad Qayyum advised Pakistan cricket Board to monitor the leggie – Mushtaq’s image was tarnished by the match-fixing scandal. But surprisingly, Mushy was picked as Pakistan’s assistant coach in the Champions trophy last year, which irked, among others, Justice Qayyum too.

Incidentally, Mushtaq was attached to the world Cup team at Inzamam’s behest. Pakistani players promised full cooperation to the sleuths even if they are in Pakistan. It surely is a critical juncture in the Woolmer murder mystery.

Saturday 24 March 2007

Team India gets Big B(oost) from Small B

Some pelted poor Zaheer Khan’s restaurant in Pune, some are plotting another attack at Dhoni’s under-construction house in Ranchi (a place known more, in the pre-Dhoni days, for curing insanity and not abetting). Some are busy burning effigies and pasting tarred posters, while a few others have already tonsured head and performed last rites for Indian cricket.

There are a few sugar-coated bitter truth Team India would do well to realise. The mass adulation, the hysteria, the hype and hoopla con them into believing that Team India has a fan base that far outnumbers many African countries. And that’s a mind-blowing myth.

Those who paint their cheeks, carry little national flags, wake up at the wee hours and stay glued to their TV sets, devour every cricket report and argue over the game with friends till they have a sour throat – they can mislead one to believe that they are Team India fans. Reality is, they are Successful Team India supporters.

They hail and hang cricketers with equal fervour and India’s World Cup misadventure once again created such a scenario.

It was, however, a welcome break when Abhishek Bachchan, whose apparently lone cricket connection is starring in a movie called RUN, came out in defence of the beleaguered team, which, given a choice, might prefer to settle in any Caribbean island of their choice.

The Small B said he was upset with the ouster but then the boys gave it their best, so what if they failed?

"I have faced failure. And I know it is difficult to go out there and perform." So now you know where those pearls of wisdom came from!

Chappell's Fate Hangs in Balance

He beat a star-studded field that included names like Mohinder Amarnath, Desmond Haynes and Tom Moody to win the Team India coach’s job in May 2005. BCCI roped him till the World Cup and thanks to the unceremonious exit of Rahul Dravid’s men, Greg Chappell’s career is at a crossroad. Moody – his team in Super Eight, carrying Asian hopes – can’t be blamed for a chuckle. A score is settled between two lanky Australians.

India’s worst World Cup campaign since 1979 has clearly put a question mark to Chappell’s career as coach. The towering Aussie earned less friends and more foes with his headstrong, straight-talking approach and no other cricket coach polarises opinion like him. You either like him or hate him.

Chappell’s first international coaching stint had its fare share of ups and downs and it’s difficult to say whether he failed or succeeded. At times, he seemed more gimmick than substance. Edward Bono’s thinking caps, paramilitary training, constant harping on having multi-dimensional cricketer, “reaching the Next Level” and “means-more-important-than-outcome” -- his coaching never lacked innovations. What was only lacking is the desired results.

It was understandable that Chappell was edgy in the press conference after India’s defeat against Sri Lanka last night.

Asked if he would like to continue as coach, Chappell’s terse reply was “This is not the time to talk about that.”

And he chose the occasion to air his dissent about team selection also.

“The fact of the matter was that we got the team that India wanted and we didn't perform when the time came. That's the long and the short of it. That is my answer. I'm not sure right at this time is the moment to try and dissect it.”

Reminded that over the last 17 matches overseas, India survived full 50 overs on just four occasions and Chappell was naturally not amused by the statistics.

Chappell was angered when a journalist asked if he was shrinking responsibilities.

“No I don't think so. I am not employed by you people, I am employed by the BCCI. Obviously, I will have to face up to them and give them a report and give them some indications of what I think. But I don't think this is the forum for me to say anything. “

And he was not ready to say whether his stress on process, more than outcome, had backfired.

“That's an inflammatory question and I'm not prepared to answer it,’’ he said.

And the only truth emanating from the press conference was when somebody asked what he was taking from this World Cup. “A lot of disappointment”, pat came Chappell’s response.

Friday 23 March 2007

Interrogation, Fingerprint And Now DNA Test For Pak Cricketers!

It surely could not have been worse for the Pakistani cricketers. First they were knocked out of the World Cup and then they lost their coach. And that was far from being the end of their woes.

After Jamaican Police revealed that Bob Woolmer was actually strangled to death, the cricketers were grilled in Kingston and fingerprinted before being allowed to fly out to Montego Bay after promising to cooperate the investigation from wherever they remain. And finally here comes the news that they would have to undergo DNA tests.

Media manager Pervez Mir was livid in Kingston, accusing section of the media of trying to project the cricketers as suspects. Naturally, he was again trying to downplay the DNA test and said, “It's one of those routine things they do, at least here in Jamaica as far as I'm informed.

“It's some sort of a swab that they put in your mouth and then put it in a plastic container. It takes about 25 seconds." There has been no indication from police that any of the team are suspects.”

Inzamam and his boys can’t be blamed for believing they just had the worst experience in any tournament ever.

Donald Says Call Off World Cup, ICC Insists Show Must Go On

With Bob Woolmer’s murder casting a gloomy shadow all over the West Indies, the ongoing World Cup should be called off, said former South Africa spearhead Allan Donald. The ICC, however, is adamant that the show must go on.

Donald, who played under Woolmer for South Africa and at Warwickshire as well, felt the players won’t be in the right frame of mind since the revelation that Woolmer was strangled to death and so the competition should be called off.

"I just don't know how this World Cup can continue under the shadow of what's happened. World Cup 2007 will be forever remembered for this,” he told BBC Radio Five Live.

Donald, however, admitted that Woolmer himself would have wanted the Cup to go ahead but felt everyone would have this tragedy back of their mind.

"My personal opinion would have been to stop, but knowing Bob he would have wanted this to go ahead…I think everyone will continue this World Cup but, at the back of their minds, know that a tragedy took place."

Earlier, ICC Chief Executive Malcolm Speed announced in Kingston that despite the disturbing development, World Cup would go on as scheduled.

Donald said he was “pretty sick” at the news that his friend was murdered.

“I just hope the individuals or individuals are brought to justice because Bob was a great man and would never go to the lengths to put his life in danger. I just can't believe that people can go to these lengths about a game of cricket."

The Woolmer Whodunit

So it was not soaring BP, high blood sugar, depression, suicide or even a heart attack. Jamaican Police finally announced that Bob Woolmer was murdered, strangled to death to be precise.

Death invokes that inevitable grief but murder invites a whole array of emotions and the cricketing world is numbed in shock to know that an evil hand, allegedly of a sub-continent betting mafia, reached right upto Woolmer’s throat to throttle him in his hotel room.

Sarfraz Nawaz, that stormy petrel of Pakistani cricket, must be chuckling on the other side of the Line of Control and why not? When Jamaican Police and its industrious deputy commissioner Mark Shields were trying to convince themselves that it was a ‘suspicious’ case and not a murder one, it was the Pakistani former pacer who saw a betting syndicate behind the murder.

The problem with Sarfraz has been that he sees a potential match-fixer even in the pariah dog that crosses his road in Lahore and it’s hardly a surprise that he is not taken seriously.

Sarfraz claimed Woolmer was about to spill the beans about a betting syndicate in a book which was soon to hit the stand and that cost him his life. And now with Jamaican Police confirming in a statement that the “death was due to asphyxia as a result of manual strangulation”,

But even that theory looks flawed with co-authors and family members saying that the manuscript of 'Discovering Cricket: The Art and Science of the Game' did not even touch on match-fixing.

ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed asserted despite the disturbing developments, the show must go on and the Lord Paul Congdon-led Anti-Corruption Unit would probe if corruption played any role in the murder.

Toxicologist, histologist, Scotland Yard, ICC top brass, Paul Congdon, ACU – and this was supposed to be a cricket World Cup!

Photo Credit:
Garfield Robinson/Jamaican Observer

Thursday 22 March 2007

Blood on the Cup

Laggard economy, unique geography, chequered history, logistic and security apprehensions – we did not give them any chance when West Indies raised their hand and said they are ready to host the World Cup in the land of the rum and drum.

They finally have silenced the naysayer and put up a splendid show in cricket’s natural cradle, the West Indies and had every reason to hope that they are hosting the best World Cup ever.

But despite all their efforts, minnows’ heart-warming show and sublime individual performance, the 2007 World Cup would be remembered more for what they call killer cricket.

By now, we don’t know whether Woolmer succumbed to high blood pressure/heart attack or was poisoned/strangled to death by match-fixing syndicate. Toxicologist and histologist have been pressed into service and they are operating in tandem to unearth the truth.

However, we of course know that Robert Kerr, the former Irish Cricket Union president, died of heart attack during the World Cup and thank God, his body has been spared the disgrace of a second autopsy.

Earlier, we lost Manjural Islam, along with a cricketer (!) friend, and it was a road accident that claimed the life of the left-arm spinner was who was part of Bangladesh’s list of 30 World Cup probables but could not make the cut.

Weak, sceptic minds tend to relate the deaths and try to find out the thread that links the mishaps. Be whatever, beyond the glitz and glamour, a pall of gloom shrouds the event. We probably had the bloodiest of all World Cup this time.

Wednesday 21 March 2007

Spare the Dead, Please

Woody Allen insists he doesn’t dread death, but just doesn’t want to be there when it happens. My stance is more or less the same, fools never differ, after all.

And it’s even more grotesque when you drag the dead. The deceased should be allowed to rest in peace and nobody has any business to disturb that. Not even he’s Sunil Gavaskar.

When they are through with the game, retired cricketers earn their bread talking trash and thankfully, Gavaskar has been a glorious exception to that ever-increasing rule. And so it was even more unwarranted when he cited David Hookes’ death in front of a Melbourne bar to buttress his Ugly Australian Theory.

I don’t disagree with his UAT – again it’s great minds and fools, put me where you want – but to drag Hookes out of his grave left a bitter taste in mouth. Naturally, Ricky Ponting, Allan Border, Darren Lehmann, Glenn McGrath and Brad Hodge retorted with the kind of vengeance seen in them only during the Ashes.

Gavaskar finally came out with an apology and kudos to him for that. This was a complete unwanted mud-slinging and I think he can be forgiven after saying SORRY. Let Hookie rest in peace.

I simply abhor the idea of dragging the dead and the news that Woolmer’s autopsy was inconclusive and hence would require more tests pain me more. Post-mortem, autopsy, dissection, mortuary – these sickly words make me shrink. These are perhaps unavoidable in case of unnatural death but I detest body-tampering almost as much as ball-tampering. Even after the soul has left the world, rigor mortis has set in and stream of tears has started to trickle down on the surrounding cheeks, the body remains at the centre of a gruesome action.

At a time when science (or is it technology in that disguise?) is busy innovating flavoured condoms, Porridge Gun, Springy Boots, Techno Trousers, fruitless seed, I mean, seedless fruit, can’t they do something to save the deceased body from the disgrace? Or is it asking for too much?

Tuesday 20 March 2007

When Team India Became An Airlines Threat!

“Minnows” must be the most dreaded word for Team India players. But once Sehwag and Co. realized that the Bermudians had neither the guile nor the firepower to trouble them, it just rained – and I’m not talking about the drizzle that interrupted play for a few minutes last night – fours and sixes.

Statistics often make boring readings but number has its own charm as well. Apart from 30 boundaries, Indian batsmen heaved as many as 18 sixes yesterday, equalling South Africa's feat against Dutch in the same World Cup on March 16.

Sehwag, Yuvraj and Sachin treated Bermuda bowlers as cannon-fodder and created security threat for low-flying Air Jamaica planes with those sixes.

Meanwhile, Sourav Ganguly continues to intrigue me. I mean his new-found approach to batting, good or bad, makes me wonder is it the same shirt-swirling, combative cricketer who felt left-arm spinners simply had no business in one day cricket?

He insists paternity mellowed him down and he’s more in control of his nerves. Post-comeback, he’s more into playing the sheet anchor and trying to pace his innings. Yesterday, he narrowly missed the opportunity to become the first cricket to post 5 World Cup centuries.

But two more sixes in the match against Bermuda helped the southpaw became the second batsman, after Ricky Ponting (25 in 29 innings), to have recorded 25 sixes in the World Cup.

My Encounter With Woolmer

So Kanpur lost its adopted son of the soil. Born in Kanpur, 19 Test matches in English colours, coaching South Africa and then Pakistan – Woolmer was nothing short of a cricket nomad.

Two years back, I remember being in Kanpur for the penultimate match of the India-Pakistan ODI series.

Away from the on-field circus, Woolmer was scheduled to visit the Georgina McRobert Memorial Hospital — his birthplace — and the hospital authorities had prepared the birth certificate which was to be handed over to Woolmer.

After filing previews and all that stuff, I reached the hospital well in time. Woolmer, completely drenched after a grueling practice session, arrived straight from the nets to inaugurate the maternity ward, which was rechristened the Bob Woolmer Operation Theatre.

Repeated requests not to crowd the room fell on deaf ears and eventually Woolmer had to squeeze in his bulky frame into the choc-a-bloc ward. Coming straight from the net session, he was sweating profusely and trying not to step on anyone’s toe and made a ketchup of it.

In a brief, chaotic and yet warm ceremony, Woolmer was handed over the certificate and I peeped into it to find out that he was born at 2.15 a.m. on May 14, 1948. Despite the obvious discomfort, Woolmer sported that disarming smile and the sparkling eyes from behind the smoky specs hardly suggested here was perhaps the most analytic brain in contemporary cricket.

And it was ruthless professionalism on display again the next day as Woolmer plotted India’s peril in the ODI, where Shahid Afridi butchered the Indian bowlers at Green Park during a brutal 45-ball century.

At Kingston on Saturday, it was end of all journey for the journeyman. Now with Woolmer no more around, other teams can now relax a bit.

Sunday 18 March 2007

World Cup Or No World Cup, Let Sanity Prevail

So here we go again. It takes just one defeat in a mere game of cricket to cover-drive the logic out of our soul and make us do silly things like pick up roadside bricks and aim at innocent windowpanes.

Last time, we vandalised Mohd Kaif’s residence and this time this World Cup had MS Dhoni’s under-construction house almost under similar attack. At least we are proving more consistent than a certain Virender Sehwag. (Dravid bats for Bank of Baroda but no bank dares to rope in Veeru. Reason? He’s a Non-Performing Asset, they insist).

At times I worry, why we heap so much of anger on the players which they don’t deserve? The answer, as I see it, is because we love them to an extent they don’t deserve.

Karl Marx (Or was it Groucho?) described -- he meant no evil -- religion as the opium of the masses and cricket in India has emerged as a powerful religion. Now when cricket assumed religion’s status, it could not avoid the fanatic part and no wonder we behave like fundamentalists and not personal, practitioner of the new religion.

We wanted Dhoni to bail us out from the ignominy of a defeat against Bangladesh, which he could not and that got our goat, cow, buffalo and the entire heard. Spare a thought for Dhoni, what could have been the state of his mind when he got the news? Do we want ourselves to believe that he can still focus solely on his game and give his best to achieve that theoretical Super 8 dream?

Wish we could love them little less, keeping it instead for say, the younger brother, little sister, a dear friend, the roadside tea-stall owner, an aged co-passenger, a lady pedestrian or even the neighbour’s dog.

Our love in this case is clearly blind and nobody knows it better than the shrewd ad-men, who con us into buying craps with our hard-earned, blood-stained money. Spare the Dhonis, watch the matches till they don’t affect your bread-and-butter, clap even the boundary comes off Lara’s bat

Let’s pledge to be practitioner of the religion and not remain a lunatic fanatic. Cricket is indeed a wonderful game, so let sanity prevail.

Saturday 17 March 2007

Spare A Thought For Manjural

All the hype and hoopla, fanfare and foofaraw, glitz and glamour – everything suddenly seemed trivial, lousy and even vulgar as 30 cricketers, of Indian and Bangladeshi origin, stood in silence near the boundary rope of the Queen’s Park Oval, thinking about the fragility of human life.

Instead of any war cry, there was this pall of gloom before the Group B opener in Port of Spain. Team India and the Bangla Tigers observed two minute’s silence to mourn the death of promising 22-year-old spinner Manjural Islam, who, along with his cricketer-friend, died in a road accident in Khulna yesterday.

Manjural was part of the original 30 World Cup probables but the left-arm spinner could not make the cut when the list was pruned to 15. So despite failing to be in the final 15, Manjural did make it to the Caribbean. Physically? No, but definitely in the minds of his former teammates and cricket colleagues.

Friday 16 March 2007

Pak Wants Woolmer Beyond World Cup

Things have really changed for better in Pakistan Cricket Board. The PCB, which once swore by its hire-and-fire motto and dropped coaches and captains like hot potatoes after every alternate tournament, is thinking of extending coach Bob Woolmer’s contract beyond the World Cup.

Woolmer’s list of admirers maybe bereft of names like Imran Khan or Javed Miandad but more importantly, it features PCB Chairman Nasim Ashraf, who is currently with the World Cup team in the Windies (meanwhile, reports claim cricketers are not liking his presence around, finding it’s too close for their comfort). Ashraf has full confidence in Woolmer and he would like to see the journeyman coach continue with the team even after the World Cup.

Born in Kanpur, veteran of 19 Tests in English colours, coaching South Africa and now Pakistan – Woolmer has been nothing short of a cricket nomad. But his Pakistan sojourn seems going to be a bit longer than he had actually thought.

Thursday 15 March 2007

Tabloids Face Mother’s Fury For Ridiculing Heavyweight Bermudian

Enough is enough. Allison Leverock lambasted a hostile press which derived much mirth from his son’s girth. Mother of giant Bermudan spinner Dwayne Leverock doesn’t understand why the press, especially the British tabloids, is after her son, calling her names -- 'Bermuda Pie-angle', 'Lard Before Wicket' and 'Owzfat'.

Allison was livid after someone made a reference to Eddie Murphy’s “Nutty Professor”. After all, her “Sluggo” had claimed the wickets of Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood in the warm-up match to prove he may weigh in at 255 pounds but he is every ounce worth it!

And the press would do well to remember that Dwayne is a Police Constable by profession and drives a prison van when he doesn’t play cricket!

Border, Lehmann Won't Let Sunny Off The 'Hookes'

This is spreading faster than a wild bushfire that Australia is so used to. Sunil Gavaskar’s blunt talk is likely to cost him his long-standing friendship with Allan Border. Gavaskar also apparently lost the admirer in a seething Darren Lehmann.

Sunny first stepped on a few Australian toes when he described the Aussies as the unpopular winners. Ricky “Punter the Huner” Ponting hit back soon at the big little man -- “Mr Perfect” in his words- and accusing him of being “high and mighty”.

Gavaskar stoked the fire again, saying the foul-mouth (he insisted he was not generalising) Aussies might get “whacked” in a bar if they behave like the way they do on-field. Here he cited the death of former cricketer David Hooke, who was punched to death by a bouncer outside a Melbourne bar three years ago.

This was probably least expected from a man of Sunny’s stature and you don’t need to have an Australian passport to admit that dragging the deceased doesn’t sound decent, especially when Hooke’s was a tragic end.

An upset Border says his 20-year friendship with Sunny is strained to a breaking point, while Lehmann says he has lost respect for the Indian legend.

Meanwhile, as it snowballs into a major distraction during World Cup, both Gavaskar and Border would do well to read the following joke:

Gavaskar was specially flew into Australia for premier of a movie called “GAVASKAR”. Sunny was conned into beliving that it was his bio-pic but he felt humiliated as the film ended without any trace of cricket, let alone Sunny. Left red in the face, he asked the authorities why they played the joke. “It was revenge Mr Gavaskar. You people too made a movie called BORDER and did they mention Allan for once?” pat came the reply.

Wednesday 14 March 2007

After Back, It’s Finger: Injury Stalks Anderson in WC

Shane Warne’s dark horse, i.e. England, suffered a jolt well before kicking off their World Cup campaign. No, it’s not arriving in the Windies with their generally non-playing captain Michael Vaughan. This time the bad news is that young pacer James Anderson has been hospitalised in St Lucia with a suspected broken finger.

Anderson, who missed most of the winter tour with a back injury, reportedly injured the little finger on his right hand, which is his bowling hand, during fielding practice ahead of Friday’s opener against New Zealand.

The team think-tank, however, is still optimistic that the pacer would be available for the tie against the Kiwis.

Mumbai Tech Firm Masters Crystal Ball Gazing for World Cup!

By now, Mumbai’s Fractal Analytics Ltd must have been flooded by calls from the bookies, and why not? After all they had rightly predicted that Brian Lara’s men will come on top in the World Cup opener against Pakistan! And hold on, their forecast about Lara and Inzamam-ul Haq’s scores in the match was spot on too!

Bookies, however, can eat their heart out as Mukesh Budhani, a consultant with Fractal made it clear that they are steering clear of any murky business and vehemently denied placing even personal bets.

Fractal, which otherwise earns its bread by predicting customer and employee behavior for its clients in Asia and the US, however, erred in one respect. They had predicted a close match but in the end, West Indies romped home to a facile win.
Budhani, however, is not ruffled by that and said the model cannot predict dropped catches or run-outs.
So here goes the obvious million dollar question - can Rahul Dravid do a Kapil Dev and return with the Cup? Budhani says even he doesn’t have the answer as of now and it would depend on the last match played. So the suspense continues and though knuckles must be aching, fans will have to keep their fingers crossed till April 28.

Tuesday 13 March 2007

Not The Perfect Start As Team India Bus Breaks Down

Most of the cricketers are admittedly superstitious and Rahul Dravid’s men are no exception. So when their team bus broke down on the way from airport to the hotel in Port of Spain, some of them certainly saw it as a bad omen.

The Men in Blue, who landed in Port of Spain last night, was being escorted by a procession of police vehicles to the team hotel from Piarco International Airport when the bus broke down on the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway near El Socorro Junction. Instantly, police personnel blocked the area and helped the cricketers relocate to a back-up bus and took them to the Hilton Hotel in St Ann's.
The cricketers need to go out for the matches in a positive frame of mind and fans can only hope that they don’t read too much into what seems a routine technical hiccup.

India A No-Hoper in Warne's List!

Shane Warne feels Australia is heading for a World Cup hat-trick even though both Sri Lanka and New Zealand can push them hard. South Africa, according to him, is disciplined but regimented while England is the dark-horse of the tournament. What about Rahul Dravid and Co.? Team India can eat their heart out for they simply don't feature in Warne's list of title contenders!

Warne does not read too much into Australia's recent slump in form and says the Aussies have a great chance of completing the Cup hat-trick. In his column for "The Times", Warne dubbed old foe Muttiah Muralitharan and Daniel Vettori the best two spinners in the World Cup and is even impressed by Kiwi rookie Jeetan Patel. Once again, Harbhajan Singh or Anil Kumble did not get a mention here.

The former leggie tipped Paul Collingwood, Murali, Stephen Fleming, Shane Watson and Michael Clarke to be Players of the Tournament and again he didn’t find any Indian good enough to be there. Leading run-scorer? Warne springs a surprise again. It's not Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammad Yousuf, Brian Lara or even Ricky Ponting. Instead, Warne places his money on Kiwi Lou Vincent!

"No English Please, We’re Pakistanis"

Inzamam-ul Haq’s post-match press conferences have often been a stress-buster for sports scribes with the burly Multani struggling with his English. Not known for their fluency in English, the Pakistanis have decided enough of making mockery of themselves and announced that they would conduct all World Cup interviews in Urdu. Grumpy foreign scribes can take a walk.

The recent communication gap took place when Danish Kaneria, lone Hindu player in the Pakistani side, was asked for comments on the gas leak in the team hotel. Kaneria wanted to play down the issue and said "It happens". Eventually in the media report, the spinner was quoted as saying "It happens at home as well".

Desperate to prevent further misunderstanding, the team think-tank decided to go Urdu and Pervez Jamil is a busy man these days, playing the dual role of media manager-cum-translator.

"I think they feel more comfortable speaking Urdu. It's their national language and they're proud of their country. Hopefully they'll be able to express themselves better", said Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer.

The International Cricket Council has given its nod and spokesman Brian Murgatroyd said ICC has no problem with it as long as there is a translator.

A ‘Doosra’ View On Cricket: New Kid Hits Blogosphere

So yet another cricket blog rolls off the block. One may ask WHY? I would say WHY NOT? Being in sports journalism for over seven years doesn’t make me a Peter Roebuck, agreed but it can’t be a handicap either. So love me or hate me, just don’t ignore me.

I want my blog to stand out, and not lost, in a crowd. It will not be just the routine monologue of a cricket buff bitten by the bug. I don’t want it to be as mundane as an Ashley Giles over, all six deliveries threatening to squash leg umpire’s toes. Instead, despite all his off-field vices, it would be like Shane Warne fishing out one after another gem from his magic sac.

Apart from regular stuffs like updates, features, statistics and opinion pieces, this blog will feature EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWS as well. From witty to whacky and class to crass, I hope my brainchild to be liked by purists and plebian alike. And what better time than to kick off with the World Cup? Great if the Indo-Australian joint venture brings the Cup to India but do put your hands together when Brian Lara caresses it past slip or Adam Gilchrist decides to walk. Happy Reading.