Wednesday 30 April 2008

IPL: Cricket Sans Frontiers

In another world, Ricky Ponting revealing Matthew Hayden’s only chink in the armour to Ashok Dinda could have amounted to treason. Likewise, AB de Villiers tipping off Sehwag on what snaps Dale Steyn’s rhythm could have been a perfect ground to make a Quisling out of the Protea bat.

Thanks to IPL, border – those haphazard scratches on Earth’s lovely round face- stands, if at all, blurred.

I had gone for Delhi Daredevils' practice session yesterday where TA Sekar, AB de Villiers, Rajat Bhatia and Manoj Tiwary were available for media interaction.

Sekar spoke in details how McGrath was mentoring the likes of V Yomahesh, Pradeep Sangwan and even Ferveez Maharoof, teaching them tricks of the trade and secrets of the craft which he learned during the course of his illustrious career.

Sekar said

If you saw the last match, you would remember how McGrath was trying to cool Maharoof who was getting some stick.

de Villiers too made it clear that he would not have any qualms sharing secrets about how to blunt Steyn.

He said

I’m more than willing to discuss the strength and weaknesses of the South African players. I would love to do everything that gives us an edge.

Lambasting IPL is a cottage industry among purists. I too had my fair share of potshots at it, even though I’m neither purists, nor the hoi polloi. But the peep into Delhi Daredevils camp came as a complete eye-opener. IPL has not bowled me over yet but I have to admit that it’s a paradigm shift indeed.

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Costliest slap in cricket’s history

The slap must be reverberating in Harbhajan Singh’s ears. When he hit Sreesanth beneath his eyes, Harbhajan could hardly imagine that it would go down to history as the costliest slap ever in the history of Indian cricket.

IPL Mint in Suit Lalit Modi spelled out the arithmetic in yesterday’s Press Conference.

He said a player's fee is divided over 14 matches and Harbhajan will be paid for only the first two matches. The volatile offie forfeits his fees from third match onwards, besides the ban for the rest of the IPL.

Bhajji was bought by Mukesh Ambani's Mumbai Indians for a cool Rs 3.4 crore but the Jalandhar spinner would get only Rs 48 lakh.

So that slap that earned him a ban as well, cost Bhajji neat Rs three crore.

Meanwhile, having been to umpteen BCCI Press Conferences, I did not expect it to be a tidy affair yesterday but what I witnessed was mind-boggling.

PR guys said press conference would take place at the 17th floor of the Maurya Sheraton and that triggered mayhem. Imagine 200-strong crowd, armed with tripods, mikes and paraphernalia, trying to squeeze themselves into two elevators. By the time half of them managed to reach the place, fresh announcement said they don’t have enough space there, so it would take place at porch. That ensued second round of pandemonium. Well, then we were told they have made the arrangements and it would indeed take place at 17th floor. That triggered a mini-stampede, and TV guys mouthed the most exotic choicest of abuses you can hope to come across before making it to the place just before Modi and Farokh Engineer started the press conference.

Next round of drama took place there that included angry shouts at Modi as well. And all along, Engineer screamed “Please be quiet, show some respect for Mr Modi.”

Well, that was really asking for too much.

Anyway, all this while Modi could have simply booked a hall beforehand and told that the Press Conference would start at so-and-so hour.

Saturday 26 April 2008

Here is why Harbhajan slapped Sreesanth

If it intrigued you what prompted Harbhajan to slap Sreesanth, here goes the Doosra exclusive which explains the inexplicable and gives you all six possible reasons:

  1. An ecstatic Sreesanth told Bhajji that Lalit Modi had just added a “Kiss-your-boss-nolens-volens” clause to the players’ IPL contract. Pat came Bhajji’s reply.
  1. Bhajji had actually asked Sree the secret of curbing his temper. Sree said ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’ did the trick and he was in fact practicing Gandhigiri. Bhajji just wanted to check the veracity and asked him to turn his cheek.
  1. The prankster in Sree challenged Bhajji that he was balding beneath the turban and dared him to prove him wrong.
  1. Both were actually discussing how Indians were getting into one after another on-field brawl while touring abroad. It was disgusting, they concurred, and decided India needed to reduce its dependence on foreigners.
  1. Mind-boggling action, edge-of-the-seat thriller, song-and-dance…IPL ring master Lalit Modi sniffed melodrama was missing from the script and he chose India’s most volatile duo to take care of that.
  1. A Kerala producer had approached Sree but was not sure of his versatility in front of camera. Dance, aggression and even comedy is ok but can Sree handle emotional scenes? Sree reportedly invited him to Mohali last night and Doosra learns Sree had the contract in his pocket when he entered the dressing room where Bhajji was waiting for his share of the pie.

Thursday 24 April 2008

Of cheerleaders, Afridi and India's ogling trio

Shahid Afridi’s candour surely deserved better treatment. Instead, the poor richest Pakistani cricketer in IPL was pilloried for saying exactly what others are thinking.

For those who still wonder if cheerleaders are actually a distraction for Afridi and his tribe (I’m not talking about his Pashtun origin but fellow willow-wielders) the photograph should be an eye-opener, if not eyeball-popper.

Just see how Robin Uthappa, Dinesh Karthick and Yuvraj Singh ogle at, well, the gap through covers. A saintly Tendulkar remains above all these things. Guys who want to take broader view of the incident are encouraged to click on the pix.

Image: He Who Took The Snap

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Past masters pass muster

The show was over. The old tricksters counted the coins, put the wares back in the sack, bowed one last time and left for good. Or so we thought.

It took Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, the Kangaroo partners-in-crime for donkey’s years, an IPL to prove that they still have an ace up their sleeves.

On a format that perceives bowlers as cannon-fodders, mere props to massage the ego of the author-backed willowers in an obscenely lop-sided script, the necromancer and the metronome yet conjured up something outrageous, almost a rebellion against the rule of the game.

As if to make public his displeasure over the role assigned to his tribe, McGrath produced a maiden over, with a wicket to boot, in the Delhi Daredevils-Rajasthan Royals match and then Warne came up with a three-wicket haul against Kings XI Punjab that not only set the tone for the team’s first win, but also seemed his note of dissent to the rule-makers’ idea of the game.

It was a delight to see that through with the hustle and bustle of international cricket, the duo still retains the old charm. The tricks they picked, perfected and practised throughout their distinguished career still linger, almost like bad habits. Well, Twenty20 will still remain a batsman-biased business but they at least managed to dilute my cynicism.

Image: Phill Hillyard

Sunday 20 April 2008

Gilly ready to sledge Punter

Those who thought it’s only politics which makes strange bedfellows, time to get their basics right. So does the Indian Premier League (IPL). Here friends turn foe and hatchets are hurriedly buried for six weeks, as if they didn't exist. In fact, Shane Warne and Graeme Smith would soon take their position next to the wicketkeeper to feature in cricket’s own ‘Slipping With the Enemy’.

Thanks to Lalit Modi, here you have a unique world where Bush hugs Osama, Hillary hosts Obama and China hails Dalai Lama. After IPL, United Nations beckons Modi.

There is other side of the coin as well. In fact what provoked the post is Adam Gilchrist’s announcement in Kolkata that says he’s ready to sledge-hammer his former captain Ricky Ponting. Well, Gilly is perfectly entitled to giving vent to his pent-up frustration after being Punter’s deputy for so long. More so because he is through with international cricket and does not care a hoot if that antagonizes Ponting.

But will that be the case with, say an Ishant Sharma and MS Dhoni? I doubt so. Tell me which nitwit would go after his ODI/Test captain and give him a mouthful and still hope for a prolonged international career? Don’t let the foofaraw fox you. At the end of the day -- I would say even at the start of the day too -- IPL is, merely a six-week romp. The bread and butter, fortunately, Test/ ODI cricket.


Saturday 19 April 2008

The Roundhead in oversized Cavalier’s guise

If there was a singularly poignant moment in last night’s Kolkata Knight Riders-Bangalore Royal Challengers encounter, it was the seventh ball of the Bangalore innings when Kolkata’s adopted son Ishant Sharma pegged back base of Rahul Dravid’s middle and off-stumps.

I’m afraid, apart from the money, Dravid probably has nothing to gain from the IPL. On the contrary, he has put his hard-earned reputation on the line. I pray he escapes unscathed six weeks from now, even though only an incurably optimist can actually expect so.

Dravid had the prudence to pull out of the Twenty20 World Cup. Alas, a similar sagacity eluded him this time. Was it money that cluttered his mind and denied him the clarity that Twenty20 is not his cup of tea but it surely can be his potential cup of woes? Or he just did not want to miss out on being part of the razzmatazz? Whatever be the reason, Dravid volunteered to be part of something which is so in contrast with his technique and temperament.

For someone whose personality found magnificent manifestation over the five days of a Test match, Dravid made a colossal mistake by hoping to thrive in the ephemerality of Twenty20.

And it did not take him long to realize what he was in for. He must have shrunk in horror when Brendon McCullum top edged Zaheer Khan and instead of finding any of the slip fielders, the ball went soaring over third man for a six. That shot perfectly captured the essence of Twenty20 and the purist in Dravid must have been shaken in his boot by the outrage.

I’m afraid, Twenty20 brings with it a new set of crowd, who throng the ground expecting to see a bowlers’ bloodbath, completely devoid of sympathy for anyone. Their patience fast wear thin and they can garland and guillotine a player with the same fervour. “Can’t hit the bowler out of the park? Budge off you bungler, let the next guy come in.”

I’m not the one who would like to see him being booed and barracked. He does not deserve that. But if that happens, Dravid would surely concede it was his own making.

Image: AFP

Friday 18 April 2008

Can cricket really match football’s passion?

A Bengali knows his football like his rasgulla. Former India international Surajit Sengupta, whose fan includes Sourav Ganguly, often tells this story.

Then an East Bengal players, Sengupta and his teammates were intrigued by a particularly guy, who would manage a particular seat and attend each and every match. Legendary Liverpool Manager Bill Shankly once said "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much.” This guy clearly did not know Shankly but he belonged to the same school. As it happened, the man in question gradually became familiar with each and every player and was a permanent fixture in all the matches.

It was a derby with arch-rival Mohun Bagan and Sengupta and others were surprised not to see the man in his familiar place. In fact he could not be spotted anywhere. It was only at half time, when the players – then trailing -- could see him. One of the players told him, in a rather complaining tone, “What dada, you are coming so late? We have already conceded a goal”. The man paused for a moment (I still have goose bumps when I recall it) and said, “I couldn’t help it. Actually my only son died and I’m coming straight from the burning ghat. I had to be there for the cremation after all.”

Got little heavy? Well, here is some relief. In my Kolkata days, one of my college mates was a die-hard East Bengal fan who remembered (I hope he still does) each and every match of his favourite team. The goals are etched in his mind and his occasional stammering notwithstanding, he waxes eloquent when he narrates those moves from memory.

A man is known by his company and being my friend, Baaju -- as went his pet name -- too was not a very bright student with the key to open the employment door. Worse, he was god-fearing!

Baaju appeared in a written test for a private company and on his return I asked him how it was. He said it went okay. I asked if they asked any sports questions, to which he said there was one– which team had won the Federation Cup that year. I said “Wow, you know it. Because we two had gone together and Mohun Bagan beat East Bengal in the final, isn’t it?”

He said “Yes, but I wrote East Bengal.” I was livid, “How could you forget that? You remember how Kuldip Singh outjumped a marker to nod home through far post some 10 years back and you forgot this simple stuff?”

Baaju came up with a stunner that would leave anyone speechless. Pointing to his forehead he said, “If it’s written here, none can deny me the job. You are an atheist, so you probably don’t know. It’s all destiny. And if I’m not destined for that, I won’t get it, however I may try. And how on earth you expect me to write the name of Mohun Bagan?”

Call it whatever. My question is can IPL’s city-based concept really match it? Is it so that what we thing as passion for cricket is actually just a hysteria?

(Meanwhile, sorry for the delay. I was one those sun-baked poor souls in the India Gate for yesterday’s Olympic torch relay. It’s not my anti-Tibetan stance but occupational compulsion. No cricketer was part of the relay – Gavaskar had pulled out and so did fellow Mumbaikar Tendulkar. Nearest you had was son of MAK “Tiger” Pataudi, Saif Ali Khan.)

Tuesday 15 April 2008

…and you say this is not match-fixing?

It’s getting really difficult to perceive the Indian Premier League (IPL) as anything but a hundred-headed-hydra that has spread its poisonous tentacles to every nook of the cricketing globe to get the best for its Twenty20 extravaganza, whatever be the cost.

Sample this. IPL had the audacity to offer money to two South African teams to play the semifinals and final of the Standard Bank Pro20 tournament without their key players, who would otherwise miss the first week’s action in IPL!

Subsequently, one of the teams turned down the offer, while the other named a compromised squad even though it’s the business end of the tournament.

The South African players in question were asked to go home back right after the Kanpur Test to play in the Standard Bank Pro20 tournament, the final of which is scheduled on April 25. It meant IPL, which kicks off on April 18, would be without the Proteas for full one week.

Realising it may take some sheen off the event, IPL offered USD 100,000 to Cape Cobras and the Titans, asking them to spare the players for the Indian league, even though that meant playing the semifinals and final without their key players!

Titans (Albie Morkel, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn belong to this franchisee), however, refused to fall for the lure and turned down the offer. But intriguingly, Cobras have excluded Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Ashwell Prince from their team – paving way for their IPL participation right from the start – even though they included Graeme Smith and JP Duminy in the squad for the domestic Twenty20 tourney.

Offering teams money not to field their key players should be reason enough to nab someone on charges of match-fixing and I’m afraid ICC’s connivance with IPL means the governing body itself, rather inadvertently, became the perpetrator of the crime it claims to be fighting against.

Image: Michael Philip Erb

Monday 14 April 2008

Sting in the tail

Exasperated must be a gross understatement when you describe a captain, who watches helplessly as his bowlers, after blowing away the rival top order, are thwarted by a gritty lower order.

Traditionally, each and every Indian captain has often gone through this despair. For a change, it was Graeme Smith who wanted to bang his head against a brick wall when the Ishant-Sreesanth duo cobbled together 46 runs for the last wicket in Kanpur.

It once again underlined the importance of the bowlers’ ability to wield the willow to some effect. For an Ishant, just drawing the first blood with the cherry is not enough. He isn’t expected to champion the copybook but you can’t afford to be dud with the bat either.

While pushing the tally, every run scored by a rabbit and ferret does the other important task of draining the opposition of motivation and creating a sense of despair among their bowlers. A streaky 25 scored by a number nine batsman causes more damage and desperation than a brutal fifty by a frontline willower and Smith will vouch for that.

For long, the Indian bowlers, especially the pacers, have not taken their batting seriously. Few really bothered to hone it in the nets. Even the coaches didn’t see them beyond mere leather-flingers and hardly anyone expected them to contribute with their batting mite.

On the contrary, they are brought up in an environment where bowlers, when they swap the ball for bat, are expected to walk out only to clown about and make a hilarious spectacle. Theirs is supposed to the buffoon’s role in the entire act.

Gary Kirsten has an opportunity to bring about a change in the bowlers’ attitude towards batting. Once they are through with bowling practice, he should ask Ishants and Sreesanths to pad up and finetune their batting. They should be told that they have it in them to survive a few overs and make handy contribution with the bat as well. Give them confidence, place some faith and I reckon India would have more sting in its tail.

Image: Getty Images

Thursday 10 April 2008

Zaheer among Wisden Cricketers of the Year 2008

Cricket’s most overrated and certainly the most insignificant annual award is out again. Zaheer Khan, Ian Bell, Ryan Sidebottom, Ottis Gibson and Shivnarine Chanderpaul are named the Cricketers of the Year 2008 by the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.

Their influence on the past English season is supposed to be the lone criterion for the award but I have a sneaking suspicion that this time the reasons were different altogether. Let’s take it case-by-case.

Zaheer Khan: He actually got the award for his break-up with Isha Sharvani. Sick and tired of footing the bills of the tantrum-throwing WAGs of the English team, the ECB requested Wisden guys to discourage the growing trend among youngsters to date wannabe actresses and fringe models. The message was loud and clear -- dump the girl, get the gong.

Ian Bell: Sharing initials with Ian Botham is reason enough, thought the Wisden eggheads.

Ottis Gibson: For taking up England bowling coach’s role and agreeing to cricket’s own Mission Impossible of mending Steve Harmison.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul: For his dogged endorsement of the beneath-the-eyes-anti-glare patches.

Ryan Sidebottom: Well, the unique juxtaposition of his paradoxical surname was a clincher for the guy.


Monday 7 April 2008

How India could have escaped the Motera mauling

Doosra loathes to believe that despite having a mammoth support staff entourage, India could not plot a ploy to avert the mauling they received in Motera.

More than batting collapse, it was sheer lack of ideas, Doosra would put it like that.

Anyway, here are a few ways that could have saved India the second Test against South Africa. (Reading Doosra posts, I reckon, would henceforth be part of Team India’s strategising process.)

  1. Motera curator Dhiraj Parsanna’s fault lies not in retaining the grass on track but his lack of pragmatism. Keeping in mind that, traditionally, green has made the Indian batsmen see red, Parsanna should have painted the grass grey. It’s all in the mind of our pampered willowers and you don't need to be a Paddy Upton to realise that.

  1. I’m sorry but Anil Kumble has to shoulder some blame as well. After the first innings fiasco, Jumbo and his men should have refused to take to the ground, protesting China’s policy on Tibet; or soaring inflation; or farmers’ suicides in Vidarbhaba despite the BCCI chief doubling up as the Agriculture Minister; or South African cricket board’s transformation policy; or…well activism never runs out of causes, you know.

  1. BCCI’s inertia is also to be blamed too. Headquartered in Mumbai, BCCI could have convinced the Shiv Sainiks – with an impressive track (digging) record– that South Africa is actually part of Pakistan and Graeme Smith’s team has no business playing cricket in India. Or you could simply tell them that Kallis & Co are die-hard Amitabh Bachchan fans, who are here to attend the ‘Bhootnath’ premier.

  1. In case Shiv Sena was not at hand, Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena – I admit they lack the pitch-digging skill of the Shiv Sainiks -- could be convinced that the South Africans are actually North Indian taxi-drivers and Ahmedabad actually falls under the Brihanmumbai or greater Mumbai.

Image: AFP

Inzy, Moin plan to sue Shoaib

Once they are done with the game, cricketers head for the commentary box, open academy, take up coaching, write memoirs. Shoaib Akhtar, however, seems destined to spend the rest of his life in court rooms.

As if the five-year ban was not bad enough, Shoaib has now invited further trouble with his former captains Inzamam-ul Haq and Moin Khan planning to sue him for dragging their name in the match-fixing scandal.

Shoaib apparently told host of a TV show in Pakistan that he was offered money by both Inzy and Moin to under-perform and the accusation has Inzamam livid.

An irate Inzamam told the TV channel We are waiting to see what happens. But myself and Moin are consulting and we will then decide to maybe sue him.

With Shoaib, you get the impression that he is a lonely man, with not a single fatherly soul around to guide him. Someone needs to lay an arm around his shoulder and tell him in clear words that he should keep his mouth shut till he weathers the crisis.

Already Shoaib has set his foot on a minefield with claims that he had been approached by match-fixers, an allegation that jolted ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit which would land in Pakistan anytime to seek an explanation from the speedster why he didn’t report it immediately. Now dragging Inzamam and Moin in match-fixing scandal only compounded his crisis.


Saturday 5 April 2008

Get married, get over the blues: Meera tells Shoaib

Shoaib Akhtar has never been accused of listening to his friends and well-wishers. In all probability, he would ignore this one as well. But Pakistani actor Meera, a Shoaib pal, offers a panacea to all the ills that plague the pacer.

According to her, beneath the hulk lies a child with an unusually low tolerance level. Remember how he compounded his crisis by claiming he had been approached in India and South Africa to under-perform? ICC took note of that and its Anti-Corruption Unit officials are on their way to Pakistan to grill Shoaib why he did not reveal it earlier.

Meera, however, has full sympathy for her friend and says

people need to understand that he is very childlike. That’s why he is always very demanding…Just like a child, Shoaib too has a very low tolerance level. He should first think before saying or doing stuff.

And like every good friend, Meera too has a suggestion for Shoaib to overcome the blues.

Shoaib needs to be mature and get married too.


Wednesday 2 April 2008

End of Shoaib, the enigma

This was probably inevitable. For a guy who toyed with career as if it was his enemy’s, this was bound to happen. And as the Pakistan Cricket Board handed out a five-year ban on the Rawalpindi Express, effective ending his career, you don’t know whether to sympathise with Shoaib Akhtar or hail the ban.

Here you had a youngster who had all the ingredients that could make him the best bowler of his generation, if not an all-time great. Scorching toe-crushers, a well-disguised slower, nasty bouncer and a perfect built to survive the ordeal called fast bowling– an aspiring fast bowler could not have asked for more.

But Shoaib was done in by a self-destructive streak.

He would push aside suggestions by the few well-wishers he had among fellow/former cricketers. Success got to his head at an early age and he could not banish the demon ever. Instead, he nursed it inside and the result was ugly manifestations, one after another.

Pampered by the Tauqir Zia-led PCB to the point of being spoilt, Shoaib steadfastly refused to change. Isolated from jealous teammates who grudged his privileged status in the side, Shoaib became selfish. Challenging the speedgun seemed his sole mission when he started the run up. Poor Bob Woolmer could not convince him to cut short that spectacularly long run-up, even though that often invited slow over-rate for the side.

The fitness regimen he followed was flawed to the end. Shoaib would probably go down in cricket’s history as the guy who was ruined by the growing gym culture that threatens to ruin many a career. Fledgling pacers need to develop muscle, but that does not mean you have to resemble the WWF hulks.

But there you had Shoaib, a torso as heavy as a payloader, gasping for breath in the boundary lines and frantically sniffing from an inhaler after a four-over spell exhausted him.

His macho image, frequent hobnobbing with glamour world – Shoaib gradually became a narcissist. He was more hype than substance. We saw more of those tantrums than his yorkers. He became a problem child that every captain wanted to abandon. And all along, Shoaib still could not see the writing on the wall and mend his ways.

This is not the way one would like to see a player go. Mentors around the cricket globe would cite his example before warning their wards not to go the Shoaib way. Shoaib could easily have been a history-maker. Alas, he preferred to be a history-sheeter.