Friday 30 May 2008

Martin, eat crow

Provocation often comes from unexpected corners and in this case, Martin Crowe’s observation – Dravid had the 7th best side to work with in IPL – provided the fodder for thought.

Martin prepares a list where he meticulously catalogues what ailed the Bangalore Royal Challengers -- Murphy’s Law, Katrina Kaif’s omnipresence, Nargis (not the actress but the cyclone), soaring oil price, aftermath of China’s earthquake, Arushi Talwar’s assassins, Vikash Yadav, Dawood Ibrahim, Osama, ISI, CIA…

To cut it short, it’s apparently a tsunami—oops forgot to say, that too features in the list -- of reasons that swamped the side in the IPL.

A look at the list and you nod your ahead in appreciation and utter a word. Comprehensive.

Just pray it convinces Vijay Mallya, who is in a foul mood following a fresh USD 5 million jolt after Kimi Raikkonen ended Adrian Sutil’s dream run in Monaco Grand Prix.

Indeed, you can’t blame Mallya for feeling that Martin’s cousin Russell would have done a better job, making gladiators out of the Bangalore players, while adding glitz at the same time. And Russell too was interested in IPL, even though as franchise owner.

Seventh best team to work with Martin? I thought every team started equal and only after the league phases ended that calculators – in their case fingers sufficed – were out, points were tallied and teams were ranked accordingly!

Selective amnesia, Martin?

Flashback May 5 and Martin crowed in this interview “This team is my ideal IPL team.”

May the real Martin come out, please?

He lends shoulder to Dravid and says The Wall had a poor team to start with. But who picked the team in the first place? Mallya said Dravid went ahead with his own list, completely ignoring the players he wanted. And we are yet to hear a denial from Jammy.

Trying to lend a helping hand, Martin only invites more eggs and rotten tomatoes for Dravid.

Dravid maintains IPL has been a learning curve. I guess the lessons include -- why search for foes when you have friends like Martin?


Wednesday 28 May 2008

Of IPL, Gurukul and ballsy tricks

My unflinching scepticism didn’t desert me when perpetrators of the IPL preached it would be a virtual Gurukul where tricks of the trade of the cherry and the blade would change hands, from the battle-hardened bunch to the greenhorn lot.

Ungrateful souls like Cheteshwar Pujara and Ranadeb Bose swear, and swear at, it’s otherwise but IPL has indeed lived up to the Gurukul hype and I’m especially impressed by the guru-shishya parampara in the Deccan Chargers camp.

Guru Gilly has been trying to hard sell his squash-ball trick but few actually heeded to his ballsy theory. Y Venugopal Rao –- so what if he sees a cheap coiffeur -- decided to give it a try and since then, he’s having a ball with the bat and runs haven’t stopped flowing from his blade. The Andhra right-hander is now the team’s third highest run-scorer, just behind his mentor and Rohit Sharma!

Apparently, the trend is spreading like blogging in Bollywood, with Scott Styris too game for such an experiment, even though he plans to do it with a golf ball.

Monday 26 May 2008

Indian Premier League: Circa 2011 and beyond

I didn’t see CNN’s ‘Talk Asia’ programme which featured IPL ring master Lalit Modi this weekend. For that matter, I haven’t seen any of the episodes, even if that makes me lesser a human. And to be honest, I don’t see myself seeing any of the ‘Talk Asia’ episodes either, of course unless I figure there.

But as a professional hazard, I read the transcript and found that during the course of answering a series of ego-massaging questions, Modi said he envisages two IPL seasons in the same year from the fourth edition onwards.

When not cricket ball, crystal ball gazing is my favourite pastime and allow me take a sneak peak into the future of IPL:

1. Sreesanth will be slapped twice a year and the PDCB (Prabhu Deva in Cricket Boots, for those who came in late) would maintain that Harbhajan is like his elder brother;

2. The contract for Bhajji, assuming he still finds a taker, would replace the mandatory post-match handshakes with a folded-hand namaskar and any deviation from there would incur immediate termination of the same;

3. Meanwhile, all roads would lead to Mohali as players, arms wide spread, would make a beeline for Kings XI Punjab, obviously drawn by the hugly incentives from the franchise owner;

4. Kolkata Knight Riders coach John Buchanan will take the opportunity to publish sequel of his “If Better Is Possible” in the Australian embassy. Shane Warne will once again buy a copy, tear the pages, make a kite and fly it over Sawai Mansingh Stadium;

5. Modi will depose in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, explaining why cheerleaders’ presence cannot be construed a performance-enhancing substance;

6. Darren Berry will stay put in Jaipur to issue travel advisory that India had become a dangerous place to visit since a kid burst two firecrackers somewhere in Mizoram;

7. Vijay Mallya will ask Mike Gascoyne to tutor Bangalore royal Challengers on how to get fast off the block;

8. Grandpa, I mean Glenn McGrath would still look inconsolable after conceding 11 runs off his four overs;

9. Sachin Tendulkar would insist that even though teammate Arjun Tendulkar outscored him, he still has lot of cricket left in him;

10. Shoaib Akhtar would manoeuvre his way to IPL, pointing out the precedence set by the previous appellate tribunal which had spared him for the previous drug offence which incurred him a previous life ban.

Image: Daily Mirror

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Kanpur, Ahmedabad in 2010 IPL mix

Purists can go and fly a kite. The Indian Premier League is getting bigger. Come Twenty10…I mean 2010… and Kanpur and Ahmedabad too will be thrown into the IPL mix. Sahara is keen to get the Kanpur franchise, while Anil Ambani’s ADAG is speculated to land the Ahmedabad team.

Here is a sneak peek into the future:

  1. Mohd Kaif would be found unconscious in his Noida flat following the announcement that he has been granted Icon status for the Kanpur franchise;
  1. Luck Ben, as they would call Dame Luck in Gujarat, would smile as much for Parthiv Patel, who’ll be in an altered state of consciousness following a similar Hai Kaun- to-Icon metamorphosis;
  1. Kanpur players would dump hi-fives for Sahara Pranaam after every dismissal/boundary.
  1. Aishwarya Rai, in that trademark bordered saree, would be Sahara’s Brand Ambassador, with the entire Bachchan clan, and the toady Amar Singh, in tow;
  1. Kokilaben Ambani, also in bordered saree, will give Aishwarya tough competition as her Ahmedabad counterpart. Much to the relief of the players, blessing would be doled out instead of flying kisses and hugs.

Monday 19 May 2008

Welcome to Cricket Inc, and that’s the way out gentlemen

# Australian players yet to see the money they were promised
# Kolkata Knight Riders shows the door to five players
# Royal Challengers Bangalore jettisons Charu Sharma
# Team Mohali asks fringe players to shift to less-opulent hotels

Well, I don’t expect foreign imports to be jolted out of their illusion of a dollar deluge yet. But by now, some of them must have regained enough sense to realize that the Indian Premier League is not exactly the El Dorado.

But to be honest, they are not the only ones who felt the moneybag franchise owners have ankle-deep pockets. So did we. And some of the players clearly saw only the chequebook on one hand of their owner, completely overlooking the whip on the other. Suddenly, quite a handful of them have been driven out of their comfort zone.

Welcome to Cricket Inc. Perform of perish.

Behind her bubbly eyes, Preity Zinta is as much an entrepreneur as her thoroughbred fiancé; beneath the veneer of his charm, Shah Rukh Khan is a fierce salesman who has succeeded in monetizing a dimpled smile; and for the Ambanis and Mallyas – they have been schooled to believe that loss is essentially a four-letter word, which also happens to be the eighth deadly sin.

With IPL reaching its business end, and this is the apt phrase, now it’s clearly showing who’s the boss. With Charu Sharma went out a clear message for Dravid, Kallis, Ponting, Laxman as well as Cheteshwar Pujara and Ranadeb Bose. It’s out and out a cut-throat business proposition. No wonder, Shah Rukh is dealing in flying kisses these days, and Preity in hugs. Mallya apparently doesn’t care a hoot for niceties and Ambani does not think it worth making an appearance in the venues. Wife Nita, no wonder she handles charitable arm of Reliance industries, is representing the family these days.

Well guys, welcome to Cricket Inc. and that is the way out. Thank you very much.

Thursday 15 May 2008

Jayasuriya defies the age-old issue

One more myth lay in tatters as the apocalyptic Indian Premier League chugs on. Once again, the stereotype has been shattered and once more, pre-conceived notions were hit for a six -- 11 sixes to be precise -- at the Wankhede Stadium last night.

Champions of ageism preached Twenty20 is that brash drop-dead lass who woos the old as well but romances only the youth. It’s all about fresh faces, new blood and unabashed exuberance, asserted the modern day Dorian Grays.

But only till an unassuming 38-year-young from a nondescript city in the southern coast of Sri Lanka came to thumb nose at them.

Few player contradict their persona with their performance like Jayasuriya does and last night, the Matara Marauder not only stole the thunder from his illustrious opening partner but also proved that worshipping youth is alright, but the old trickster in him still have an ace or two up his sleeve.

McGrath and Warne have already made their retirement seem a mischief by novice rumour-mongers and now Jayasuriya gatecrashes into the party, which so far had a rude ONLY YOUTH sign hung at the entry.

Like McGrath and Warne, Jayasuriya made the point that it’s not about age but ability, not number but efficacy. Those who ridiculed the creaking bones, ageing legs and thinning thatch better take note. Age is just a number people unnecessary lose sleep about. It’s a matter of the mind, it doesn’t matter if you don’t mind. It’s all about delivering the goods, and especially when you need it most.

Enough of the age rub-a-dub. Let’s make performance the lone common currency.

Image: Cricinfo

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Good morning Mr Modi…and hat’s off too

In India, if you are trying to ‘cap’ someone, you are trying to hoodwink him.

“Topi pehna raha hai kya?”

To give devil its due, Lalit Modi is obviously not the first soul on earth trying to act smart but he definitely is taking the art to a new stratosphere.

Now that the IPL is into its last leg (ok, ok, business end), the IPL madcap realizes the folly. Maximum six award, Orange Cap…oops no candy for the leather-flingers? Hastily he comes up with something for the bowler, clearly the second class citizen in this Twenty20 world, and here you have Purple Cap for the bowlers with maximum cumulative wicket against his name.

We have seen over the course of the inaugural season of the DLF Indian Premier League so far that bowlers have just as important a role to play in winning T20 matches as batsmen do.
Thus spake Zarathustra, I mean Modi.

Some would say, better late than never. In this case, I would have loved better never than late. Don’t you think it’s too early for IPL’s next edition, Mr Modi? Well, Rip Van Winkle finally has got some competition here.

It’s not that Modi the Mad Hatter is actually taking his hats off to the bowlers by introducing the Purple Cap. The Purple Cap is just yet another gimmick-rabbit which Modi the magician pulled out of his hat.

And talking of caps, this guy himself wears multiple hats, simultaneously, and talks through each of them when he obliges section of the media (which, I’m sorry to say, approach him hat in hand).

I thought it was Laxmipathy Balaji. But Modi is IPL’s original hat-trick guy.


Saturday 10 May 2008

Of liver cancer, stupid cupid and Knight Riders

Sourav Ganguly can’t be faulted if he looks a sulking misanthrope. And as if the Kolkata Knight Riders didn’t have problem enough.

Already depleted by the exit of Ricky Ponting (so what if he forgot to put bat to ball) and Brendon McCullum (so what if he sizzled only to fizzle subsequently), Shahrukh Khan and Ganguly hurriedly roped in Brad Hodge for his well-documented Twenty20 prowess. But call it quirk of fate, the hitherto-out-of-favour Hodge also gets an SOS to forget IPL and join the Australian squad in West Indies as shadow for a cupid-struck Michael Clarke.

Reports say though Clarke’s father is fighting Hodgkin's disease, it’s the condition of his fiancée Lara Bingle’s father, who is battling a liver cancer, that prompted the Australian vice captain to stay back. Well, while that may fetch Clarke a nomination for the inaugural ICC Lover of the Year 2008 award, I doubt it does not win him a friend in Ganguly.

Tourism Australia had Lara as its face till the slew of scandals forced them to replace her with Croc-Hunter Steve Irwin’s daughter Bindi. Lara featured in the 2006 campaign “So where the bloody hell are you?”

Ganguly was last seen wielding his bat and searching for the stupid cupid, mouthing the line he borrowed from the campaign.


Friday 9 May 2008

The buck-bucking brigade and the Fifth Great Awakening

Let’s start with the admission that we have been so blinded by the IPL razzmatazz that we simply did not bother to look beyond. But truth, whether noticed or not, remains truth and the fact is away from IPL’s obnoxiously materialistic hullabaloo, England has recently witnessed a spiritual awakening among its cricketer.

Survey revealed Australian players are actually Fousts in Flannels who were already planning to hard sell their souls to Mephistopheles Modi. The lure was enough to rob the Rahul Dravids and VVS Laxmans of their sang-froid and make them believe IPL is their cup of tea and not woes. Sky-gazing Zoologists rubbed eyes in disbelief as Kiwis flew in flocks to hit pay dirt and even the inscrutable PCB contrived a way to allow Shoaib Akhtar, the Nizam of Foofaraw, join the romp.

But all along, English players resisted the temptation to join the Gold Rush and like Odysseus’ sailors, plugged their ears with beeswax and escaped the Sirens (it’s not Vijay Mallya’s imports stupid, I’m talking about the original cheerleaders from Odyssey). First it was Ravi Bopara, then Sajid Mahmood and now Luke Wright (see how it cut across religious believes?) has announced that he too has turned down an IPL offer.

Poor rich Mr Modi, your brainchild has no takers in this part of the globe, for the lure of moolah doesn’t work here. It’s a Robinson Crusoe economy where you can glue together all your currency notes and fly a kite. Now if that is not a spiritual awakening then what?

Next time they walk out in the middle, concentrate and I’m sure you would find the halo around the entire England squad.

And let me pre-empt your design to prove me wrong. What about Dimitry Mascarenhas, isn’t it? Dear, exception does not negate the rule, it only proves it. And how much English is an English cricketer, who has a Russian name, is of Sri Lankan-Tamil heritage, grew up in Australia and volunteered to be spoilt by his Australian captain in the Hampshire dressing room?


Wednesday 7 May 2008

Triumph of the Underdog

Nothing pleases me more than the triumph of the Underdog. Since David slew Goliath and Kapil’s Devils did something similar in the 1983 World Cup, the sadist in me has invariably derived some sort of pleasure whenever the unheralded thumbed their nose at their obscenely mighty antagonists.

Deccan Chargers’ victory over Chennai Super Kings may not be a watershed in the history of the game, but it once again elicits the Archie Griffin chestnut – it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.

Consider this. A meek, bottom-placed bunch, sans their helmsman, entered the lair of an outfit that was table-topper till the other day. They stood not a semblance of chance, it seemed, and still Adam Gilchrist’s comrades-in-arms managed to conjure up something extraordinary to pull the rug from under the feet of their fancied rivals. Stuff of a run-of-the-mill Bollywood potboiler? No, it’s IPL.

Forget it’s just a game of cricket, just a duel between a piece of wood and a hunk of leather. Consider this as a way of life and you see hopes all around. The odds maybe unflattering, the adversary unnerving. But in the end, every dog has its day, more so when it’s an Underdog.


Monday 5 May 2008

The rogue returns

There is something eerily uncanny about the rogue. He’s like a scam that umpteen hush-up efforts can’t suppress. The froth that will inevitably and eventually surface. Almost a leitmotif in a Wagnerian opera. Let’s give the devil its due, Shoaib Akhtar is an unputdownable story with intrigues galore and he may not be the best ambassador of the game, but like cricket itself, his career is all about uncertainty, occasionally glorious and often notorious.

Now that the IPL passage has been cleared by the appellate tribunal, the maverick is back. Indeed, it would have been a pity if he was missing from the mix. It’s not only his craft but also the theatricals that make Shoaib almost an indispensable character in the entire razzmatazz. In the end, it was poetic justice that he was eventually allowed to figure in the foofaraw which he has been so in love with throughout his career.

I’m not sure about his contribution but let’s admit he brings with him that nuisance value and adds to the entertainment quotient. That extraordinarily prolonged run-up, the glare, the snarl as the ball leaves his hand and that spectacular albatross celebration – Shoaib in action is one of the most compelling sights in contemporary cricket.

He maybe the child of hype but batsmen in their relatively vulnerable moments would tell you that the sight of him galloping along that never-ending run up still sends shivers down many a spine.

Welcome to IPL, Shoaib.

Mohammad Asif must be heaving a huge sigh of relief that he won’t have to share the dressing room with the erratic ‘Rawalpindi Express’. Umar Gul, however, is not similarly fortunate. Harbhajan Singh has already set the benchmark in compatriot-bashing and Gul would do well to exercise a little caution. Picking up a dressing-room fight with Shoaib has resulted in grave consequences in the past and history, after all, remains the best teacher.

Image: AFP

Friday 2 May 2008

Will Pak players raise their hands, please?

Now that IPL is in its adolescence, stock-taking seems an irresistible idea. But hang on, will the Pakistani players please raise their hands, and possibly their game too?

Intriguingly, the T20 World Cup finalists have not set the IPL alight. On the contrary, barring the possible exception of Asif, none of the Pakistani players pass muster. What happened to the T20 World Cup finalists?

If headline-hogging is made the yardstick, I think the only Pakistani who really made some mark is Shoaib ‘Will-He-Won’t-He’ Akhtar.

Let’s delve into the details on a case-by-case, and occasionally nutcase-by-nutcase, basis.

Among the KKR trio, Salman Butt got a look-in against Rajasthan but the sight of Sohail Tanveer probably made him emotional and he could not deny the fellow Pakistani a wicket. No wonder Butt made all the effort to drag the ball onto his stumps.

To be fair, Butt still can lay a legitimate claim that he did not get enough matches, an excuse Mohammad Hafeez can’t afford. Four matches and the Pakistani young gun is still firing blank.

Worst is the case with Umar Gul, who clearly shot himself in the foot with his candour that Ganguly has miles to go before he can replicate his success as India’s ODI and Test captain in this format. Criticising your own skipper, especially when he’s struggling to digest a hat-trick of defeats, doesn’t make Gul an ideal candidate for any diplomatic job but my suspicion is he wanted to prove that post-retirement, he is a commentator material.

Meanwhile, of the Rajasthan Royals trio, Younis Khan is phantom, while Kamran Akmal’s contribution hardly goes beyond his toothy appeal. No wonder Tanveer is wearing a smug smile.

In the Delhi Daredevils camp, Shoaib Malik has been cagey and he treats every bowler as if his alleged Indian father-in-law. Asif, on his part, looks shrinking under Glenn McGrath’s widening shadow.

And no prize for guessing who takes the cake. We have seen enough mopping of hair. Can we have some action, please, Afridi?

But you can’t really fault Misbah if he looks a miserable misanthropist. As someone pointed out, he’s the guy behind the razzmatazz. Had he not scooped that shot in the T20 World Cup final, had not India won the title, had it not triggered frenzy in India, IPL would not have been a reality after all.

But such is the plight of the Bangalore Royal Challengers – no prize for guessing Charu Sharma is their CEO – that they had to bench Misbah. Now that Ross Taylor is gone, Misbah gets his rightful place and I feel he might turn out to be Pakistan’s redemption man.

Image: AFP