CWC 2011

The event that was an Indian obsession for the past couple of months, called the Cricket World Cup 2011, has come to an end. It will forever be etched in desi memories, just as any Indian Cricket fan that watched the game can replay the shots of that remarkable 83 final from their memory banks. As an Indian fan, I enjoyed this tournament thoroughly, and yes, Indian team lifting the cup at the end has a good deal to do with it. Nonetheless, there are also a number of reasons why I am glad it is over, not the least of which is to stop embarrassing myself in the company of my friends.

If you watch Cricket matches with friends and family, you must be familiar with that character who is an amrchair analyst, you know the one I am talking about, the one who knows what is better for your team at all times. He knows best what the team composition should be for each game based on the pitch and the opposition, he knows what the right batting order is, he knows the type of shot each batsman should and shouldn’t play based on the situation and bowler, he knows who should bowl when and how may overs they should bowl, he knows the right line and length on every ball of every over for every batsman, and he knows the right field placement for them all. He not only knows all this, he never fails to let you know that he knows all there is to know about Cricket. He doesn’t second guess, he first guesses and lets everyone else know that he predicted the results with the greatest Cricketing knowledge any one person can possess, outside of Ian Chappell. Essentially, he is the most annoying company that you can have the misfortune to watch any sporting event with, not just a Cricket match. I hate to admit it, but I am that character. Cricket and only Cricket has that evil power to transform me into that a-hole. Looking back now, I admire my parents for their patience in resisting the temptation to kick me out of the house during Cricket matches. I would have never put up with it myself – son or no son. While my family clearly enjoyed this world cup better because of my absence, as I gathered from the phone calls during and after Indian matches, I ended up subjecting my friends here to this annoynace, the ones who had the misfortunate to watch this World Cup with me. In order to dilute their pain, I thought I will share my genius with the rest of the world with a mere sampling of my reactions during the finals.

Shankar – Ehsaan – Loy – WTF?

I like Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, I really do. I liked their music from the first time I heard them in Rockford, and their work in Mission Kashmir and Dil Chahta Hai. For the most part, they’ve managed to maitain a high quality and a different sound, but the tripe they dished out for this world cup theme song was just plain abominal. Now that it is over, I am thankful it cannot be forced down my throat again. I expected better from a really talented band for such a huge occassion.
Listen to it and tell me if you disagree.

Finals Toss Gate

CWC 2011 Finals Toss Gate

What really happened during the toss? Did Sangakkara call Heads or Tails? Dhoni thought he called Tails and told Shastri they were going to bat. Sangakkara claims he called Heads. Jeff Crowe, whose only purpose there was to listen to the call, said he couldn’t hear anything due to the noise. Michael Vaughan from BBC TMS tweeted that Sangakkara was up to some skulduggery as he, just like Dhoni, heard Sangakkara call Tails. Well, I always thought it was a good toss to lose. While the pressure of chasing a potential 250+ score in the world cup finals can be huge, with dew about to accumulate under the lights, combined with the strength of Indian batting, I was hoping they would chase, even while Dhoni would have preferred to bat if he won the toss. After this intentional Randiv no-ball to deny a Sehwag century in an inevitable Lanka loss, I wouldn’t put it past Sangakkara to commit such hera pheri, but he is the only one who knows what truly happened. You know what they say about Karma though.

Sreesanth? Seriously, Sreesanth?

Sreesanth? Seriously?

Ok, Dhoni is off the hook for finding his form in the nick of time to take India past the finish line, but seriously.. Sreesanth? What was he thinking? Sreesanth? He could have picked any decently athletic spectator from the crowd and would have done better than that selection. How can you take an off-hand gamble that somehow he is going to take 5 wickets and win the match for you in the FINALS when the only game he played was the opener in Mirpur against that powerhouse Bangladesh team that was knocked out for a grand total of 58 by West Indies, but managed to plaster his out-of-control, listless crap to a tune of 5-0-53-0! Wasn’t there one sane person in that Indian think tank who stood up against this insanity? What did poor Ashwin do to deserve this snub. He seems like an intelligent, level-headed young man with an added variety to his bowling who gives an honest effort on the field. His omission through out the tournament has been quite inexplicable and to discard him for Sreesanth, might warrant a suicide watch on him.

Zaheer.. yes, you’re the man!

Zaheer Khan, yes, you're the man!

I can’t get enough of Zaheer Khan’s reactions when he takes a wicket! For a batsman, he has the look of a man who knows he has your number and better yet, he knows that the you know he has your number. Arms out, a cocky smirk on his face, as if to ask, did you enjoy that performance? All this, while the other guy who opened the attack was being smacked around like a red-headed stepchild, no offense to any stepchildren. Yes sir Zaheer, you are the man!

Man hugs gone out of control!

Man hugs gone crazy

I understand it is a big occassion and you ought to be thrilled when you take a key wicket, but whats with Yuvraj and Raina and their excessive man hugs.. it is beginning to get just a bit ackward. What happened to a simple hand shake, a high five, or a pat on the back.. though if Yuvraj promises to take wickets like this for the rest of his career, he could plant full blooded chummas on Raina’s face for all I care.

Take a bow Jayawardane!

Jayawardane - A classy knock from a classy guy

Class shots, class innings, class game, and an all around class guy! Unlike an almost abnormal suspicion that festers within me against Sangakkara, I’ve always liked Jayawardane and his batting. A touch artist, who rarely bashes the ball, he reminds me of a John McEnroe or a Miloslav Mecir in Tennis, who sliced and diced their opponents to death with timing and placement. Alas, with the power game taking over, those days are no more, but here’s a tennis fan’s delight – Mac vs Mecir.

Not sure if Mrs. Jayawardane got enough air time.

Mrs. Jayawardane, quite a coach.

I don’t think people saw enough of Mrs. Jayawardane during her husband’s innings. Once is cute, twice is tolerable, thrice is stretching it, but you show her more than you show the players on the field, it gets to be bloody irritating. Yes, I know.. behind every successful batsman, there is a woman who coaches her husband how to be a better batsman, or like my hero Siddhu said in the post-game chat quoting Maryon Pearson – “Behind every successful man, there is a suprised woman”

What’s with Sangakkara and that Donald Duck helmet?

Sangakkara and his helmet

Alright, what is the story behind that Donald Duck helmet Sangakkara wears? Is it his fashion statement? His unique look? What is the deal? As a Cricket know-it-all, I need to know. If it is part of his smug, slick persona.. thats fine, but I’ve been watching it for a few years now, and still no one ever mentions anything about it even when it stands out like an eye sore.

Fan reaction to Sehwag wicket

Fan distress at Sehwag's wicket

No suprise that the crowd reacted to every Indian wicket like a death in the family. People covering their faces, women stuffing their mouths with sarees, Aamir Khan glaring with bloodshot eyes like he is chasing bad guys in Sarfarosh, I guess it is befitting a home crowd in a World cup final with their home team playing for all the marbles. The atmosphere was electric and you could feel the tension from the crowd seep through the TV set. Perhaps a little overboard, but this unscripted drama is what makes sports great and I’ll take this over some apathetic hand clapping in between some pretentious book reading that is a norm in some other countries.

Run Malinga run!

Malinga - jubilation after Tendulkar wicket

You are the guy your team is looking to make an impact with. You already took out the most dangerous hitter on the planet. 35,000 crazy people are screaming like there is no tomorrow because a living legend that they automatically expect to score his 100th 100 tonight is looking in sublime touch. You just shut them all up into a pin-drop silence by sending that guy back to the dressing room. You are entitled to run around the ground with your arms stretched out to see if you can fly. Lanka lost because they didn’t have enough Malingas. He was awesome as advertised. Indian strategy was simple. Survive Malinga, target the others. Kulasekara and Perera were crap. Sri Lanka evened out the dumb decision making from their counter parts, perhaps with some over-analysis of their own when they made four changes for the final, and brought in two pacemen to replace their two effective and successful spinners in Ajanta Mendis and Rangana Herath. Go figure.

Catch of the night

Dilshan - super catch.

Dilshan’s catch of Kohli was stupendous. Here’s a guy in Dilshan who was a bit unfortunate in the way he got out, but came back just to produce a breakthrough and managed to pull off a stunner to keep his team in the game. He is still young enough, has loads of talent, has a golden arm, is a great fielder and a devastating batsman. When it is all said and done, I think he will manage to surpass the great Jayasurya.

Shot of the night

Gambhir - shot of the night.

This shot from Gamhir, as he heaved a Perera pie over midwicket was the best shot of the day in my book. He charged the ball, like he does often to seamers, got into position and swung across the line and caught it flush. With the sweet sound of that perfect contact combined with the left hander’s elegance, it was a treat to watch the ball blast over the inner circle into the ropes.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Gambhir - gone

This time, he wanted to get to his 100 with an inside out swipe over cover, off Perera again and got an inside edge onto the middle stump. As much as the experts have admonished him for that shot at that time, it is a major part of Gambhir’s arsenal. In many ways, his innings was perhaps more valuable than Dhoni’s.

Aamir Khan and that ludicrous moustache

Aamir Khan and his ridiculous moustache

All I can say is, even with that ridiculous, fake-ish moustache he is sporting, I’d rather it be Aamir Khan and not that media whore, Salman Khan. It would have ruined my night to see Salman and his overacting histrionics in the middle of world cup finals.

A shot heard around India

Dhoni - blasting the winning six!

..ball from the winning hit soaring into Mumbai night

After all his curtailed flair as he dibbed and dabbed through out his winning knock, once it was all over but the shouting, Dhoni unleashed his power to send a Kulasekara ball soaring into the Mumbai night to end the game and win the cup, sendinng the lathered up crowd into utter delirium.. a perfect ending to a dream tournament for the hosts.

That somewhat creepy looking Tendulkar fan with the cup

Tendulkar sharing the cup with his "#1 fan"

I read the story where this guy, a self proclaimed #1 Tendulkar fan, goes to every India match with a free ticket from Tendulkar. I guess, it is generous of Tendulkar to recognize a fan and pay him that type of attention, but something about the guy makes me uneasy. Is he ever not in this costume? How long does it take for him to paint himself like that? What does he do for a living? Does he not have a job to go to? Does he plan to retire from this gig when Tendulkar retires? Has anyone ever dared to ask him that question or are they going to give hime free tickets for all games and let him retire at his own free will like his idol?

Coolest shot with the cup

Cool shot! Kumble sharing the cup with Sachin (cricinfo)

This is my favorite shot of the cup. Kumble holding it and Sachin whooping it up. With two of the top 3 Indian Cricketers of all time (Sachin, Kapil, Kumble, Sunny, Dravid.. in that order for me) sharing the moment, thats a rare shot of unbridled joy among two individuals whose achievements span across two decades of excellence.

This Indian team and these group of cricketers will be kings for the rest of their lives. They’ve been able to win this tournament without their esteemed batting lineup clicking on all cylinders, and their bowling that was mauled early did just enough to keep them in games, and they got timely contributions from everyone on the team. As for Dhoni, if you go by the airtime he gets being on every other ad on Indian TV, he might still be a bit overrated as a batsman, but his accomplishments as a captain speak for themselves. The T20 world championship, #1 Test ranking, IPL championship, T20 Champions league, and now the World Cup at home, he has done it all.. and chalking off everything to luck is getting to be more and more difficult. Beyond just having great players on his teams, at some point, the entire package of natural leadership, an instinct for tactical nous, a determination to succeed and a cool head at all times has to be acknowledged over mere luck behind the heights his teams have scaled. He is already the best Indian captain by miles and whether he can keep this up or not, he will forever remain up there among the top Indian sporting greats with majority of his career still ahead of him.


Najot Singh Sidhu - man of many talents.

I have no shame in admitting that I frittered away all my year-end vacation glued to the TV watching the two Cricket Test Series that finished recently – England vs Australia and India vs S. Africa. Australia is in somewhat of a sorry state currently, and England just unleashed years of frustration on their ozzie brethren on their way to a dominating 3-1 series win. While I wish India and S. Africa played a 5 match series themselves instead of just 3, it was some of the most enthralling Cricket I ever watched. There were sessions of play when I wouldn’t dare get away for a single ball. At the risk of sounding like yet another Cricket snob, it is difficult for me to imagine how anyone who grew up watching and playing Cricket could embrace T20, but I whined about the absurd popularity of T20 before and don’t want to repeat myself.

Well, IPL is back again with their 2011 auction.. and the only redeeming aspect of this tamasha for me is the return of my hero Navjot Singh Sidhu. It gives me an opportunity to revive my ongoing series with this title capturing nuggets of wisdom from my favorite sardar.

What did I learn from Sidhu on money?
Money is like manure, it is no good until it is spread.

What did I learn from Sidhu on imagination?
Imagination resembles the wings of an ostrich, enables them to run, not to soar.

You think you can get such off-hand profundity quoting a Thomas Babington Macaulay from your Michael Athertons, David Gowers and Richie Benauds of the world? Think again.

Sachin and Kumble.. this post really has nothing to do with Sachin. This picture is here to merely attract random hits.

There was a discussion recently on Cricinfo on Anil Kumble’s election to KSCA and whether more Cricketers need to get into Administration.  I usually browse through these discussions only with passing interest. Typically, they are sensational headlines and cheap sound bytes to attract casual audience. All it takes is an occassional menton of Sachin Tendulkar or MS Dhoni with a picture of either one slapped next to the headline on the home page and that is enough to garner enough hits to make it a worthwhile “discussion” even if the content is complete crap. Such is the nature of putrid Cricket analysis in Indian media. Cricinfo is still the best Cricket site out there though their standards have fallen steeply since their amateur days when the views and opinions seemed a bit more genuine.. but then they became too popular and sold out to ESPN and the result is predictable. It still doesn’t stop me from browsing it at least once a day to get my Cricketing fix. Thats when I came across this discussion. Harsha Bhogle and Sanjay Manjrekar were discussing the role of Cricketers in admininstration following up on Anil Kumble’s recent victory in KSCA elections. Included in the discussion were the views from an experienced Cricket administrator, Prof. Ratnakar Shetty.

You can listen to the entire discussion here ->  [Should more Indian cricketers get into administration?]

Harsha Bhogle

Harsha has turned into an excellent interviewer. He is so much better at this than at writing columns. He tends to get a little too preachy for my liking in his articles and little too soft with his messages. He is still

Sanjay Manjrekar

better than most there, but I hold him to higher standards. After all, he is a fellow Hyderabadee, went to Hyderabad Public School and you expect more from your own. He is easily the best from India at commentary and one of the best in the world, but hand him a mike and put him in front of prominent personalities to interview with enough time to kill, he is really exceptional. I used to gripe at him beating around the bush in his earlier days, but he is evolved into one of those who can ask really good and tough questions while sugarcoating them just enough to ease the impact on the interviewee. This is a skill that seems to come naturally to him and now-a-days he does it effortlessly. I used to wish he asked those tough questions more often and he is doing that now. Of the current crop of Indian Cricket analysts on TV, outside of Sunny, Sanjay Manjrekar is my favorite. He is sufficiently articulate, but more importantly knows what he wants to say, is always to the point and is never afraid to say it like it is, which is a lot to expect from the rest of the lot. So, listening to this engaging discussion was pleasantly different, not dissimilar to the feeling experienced when I first heard of Anil Kumble & Co’s election to KSCA.

Anil Kumble

If you are wondering about why there is such a fuss over Kumble’s election to a State Cricket Association presidency, you have to look at it from a broader perspective.   There is a sense of hope and anticipation from Cricket lovers all over the country, not just in Karnataka, because the general perception is that Cricket administration in India is pathetic – just like any other admininstration at any level, whether it is an association or a local club or any

Kumble and his bandaged face

group activity involving a collection of individuals.  It is such a rarity to find an honest, cleanly run entity that people expect the worst from everything.  Of course, corruption is epidemic, nepotism is expected, beureaucracy tolerated, red-tape a given, and all of the ills are well and truly accepted to the point of complete apathy.  Juxtapose that with Kumble and his image on the Cricket field.  This was a guy who once had his jaw broken while batting at #7 in a Test match against West Indies.  All he did was spat out blood and continued to bat for another 20 mins before India declared its innings.  When it was time for his team to bowl subequently, he came out with a bandaged face and sent down 14 consecutive overs while taking Brian Lara’s wicket in the process.  Asked why, he just said “I didn’t want to sit around.”  For more than a decade, he was India’s work horse and calling card for home victories.  His commitment and dedication was evident on the field.  Anyone who watched him play could sense the sincerity and integrity oozing through his demeanor.  So, it is little suprise to see a sense of anticipation and hope from all the observers about what he can do as an administrator now.

Rajiv Gandhi - flattered to deceive

In a sense, that anticipation is just a small microcosm of a larger desperation among everyone hoping against hope for a sincere, dedicated leader with unquestioned integrity they can latch onto while hoping that he can rid the nation of the evil and malaise that seeped into the grass roots of its administration at every level. The attention and the reaction reminds me of the last time I personally had any kind of an anticipation for an Indian Prime Minister.. back when I was still in College and Rajiv Gandhi was elected the Prime Minister. I had a healthy dose of hatred towards politics in general, perhaps selfish and even foolish, but not unusual for educated middle class youth of my generation. I despised all political parties, and especially the Congress party that Rajiv Gandhi represented and I loathed the fact that his family is treated like some damn aristocracy where they can just stand for elections shamelessly exploiting the name of Gandhi, and raise their party-symbolic hands as if they are some Gods blessing us sufferers and lo and behold, people would accept them for saviors. But underneath that hatred, there was still a glimmer of hope and anticipation that he might be different from his predecessors that ran the country down to beggary. It was more of a hope against hope for he lacked any proven track record to go by – perhaps it was because of his youth and education and he was the first young aspirant to hit the political scene that I had been exposed to, something someone in college during that time can relate to, but that was a false hope that  faded quickly even before his premature death. In a much.. much smaller scale, whether Kumble can make a difference in Karnataka Cricket and shape a model association that he wishes to create is completely up to him, but this episode does make me wonder if and when I can ever get that feeling again in my life time, one of jubilant anticipation of that next great hope to lead India.

Najot Singh Sidhu - man of many talents!

Delhi is playing Punjab and our intrepid sardar was in full flow..

What did I learn from him today?
New brooms sweep clean
Novelty always appears handsome
There is a wolf in the belly of every youth
.. and then this piece of worldly wisdom ..
He who wants a full farm, must have an old cock and a young bull!
All in a span of mere 45 seconds, try  getting that from your Ian Chappels and Sunny Gavaskars!

IPL.. and you might get to watch some Cricket too!

So the IPL is in full swing.  I can’t seem to muster enough excitement for it due to the reasons I explained before regarding why I haven’t warmed up to T20 as much.  Still, I have been trying unsuccessfully to fake some interest to not lose touch with perhaps the biggest marketing fad ever in India and not to appear ignorant when talking to friends and family.  Yes, it is somewhat  like succumbing to peer pressure for that bottle of alcohol at a school party, you know it is no good, but you might do it anyway to avoid risking social ostracism.  Thanks to its marketing success, IPL has become this popular party that you want to be seen at even if the host and the  rest of the  guests are complete strangers.  And while you are there, you might get to watch some Cricket, loosely speaking, that is if you understand what the game is.  Otherwise, you can watch the dancers, strangely all white, gyrating to some very loud bollywood music they perhaps never heard before, managing to fake as much excitement as I have for this tournament.  That’s what IPL is all about.. nevermind the fact that other than a few money bags that own these franchises who might call the city or region of the team’s namesake their home, which in itself should mean nothing to the average fan, I don’t see a compelling reason for any fan allegiance to their local teams.

Najot Singh Sidhu - man of many talents!

I figured if I am going to watch it, it is only reasonable that I root for my Hyderabad team, but I realized the Deccan Chargers who used to call my Hyderabad home don’t even play their home games in Hyderabad this season, they play in Cuttack and are spearheaded by a couple of retired Ozzies which makes it simply impossible for me to even consider faking an interest in them.  Screw the Chargers!  So, here I am, still searching for a hook when I witnessed the TV studio show in between the innings today for the Kolkatta vs Punjab game, and there was Navjot Singh Sidhu in all his glory, eliciting his Sidhuisms just as fluently as ever while the host is barely able to keep a straight face through out the show.  Maybe he has been back on TV for a while now, but I haven’t watched enough to notice him and it was great to see Sidhu being Sidhu on TV again.  It was a considerable loss to Indian Cricket shows when he decided to enter politics after a popular stint as a TV Cricket analyst.  For my money, he is the best in India by miles with Jimmy Amarnath a distant second.  Would you rather hear another boring analyst uttering the same old trite remarks like “there’s still a lot of Cricket to be played” or a such stream of conscience nuggets as “You got to choose between tightening your belt or losing your pants” from a bubbly Sidhu delivered with unbridled energy?  I will take the latter, thank you!
If you think his quotes are all about a joke or a punchline, you are missing the hidden wisdom behind them.  To avoid such a calamity, I am starting a new series called “What did I learn from Sidhu today?” from the voice of the man himself, gleaned from his wise remarks during this IPL season.  This means, I might be watching a lot of Punjab games, so I might as well root for Yuvraj and my favorite overseas player, Sangakkara.  Besides, I always thought Preity Zinta was cute.
Here’s a clip from Sidhu today, on how Punjab needs to respond to a formidable score from Kolkatta.. what if they are headed for a huge loss when I last checked.

So, what did I learn today?

Not only strike while the Iron is hot, but make it hot by striking!

Test Cricket - A dying breed..

T-Rex Sue at the Smithsonian

Haroon Largot, the ICC chief executive, thinks that the current top position in ICC Test ratings that India is enjoying, no matter how shortlived this can be, augurs well for Test Cricket.  If Lorgat and ICC are banking on India’s current #1 ranking for this version of the sport to be saved, then they are merely hoping against hope.  If they are serious about saving Test Cricket, they better wake up to that smell of imminent death emanating from that aging body of Test Cricket.  If they don’t act now it will soon resemble that T-Rex skeleton on display in the Smithsonian for historical purposes, a once imposing creature now left for generations to wonder about the cause of its death by the woes of time.


A Dilshan T20 special for you

I am not as ardent a Cricket watcher as I used to be, because my Cricketing tastes haven’t adapted to the changing times and the influx of T20 coupled with the reduction in Test Cricket. I tried getting enthused for T20s, but call me pedantic or boring, it is not for me. I do accept the fact that Cricket now has three different versions of the game (btw.. is there any other notable sport in the world that can claim such a dubious distinction?), and I don’t mind an occassional T20 game, with a few one day games sprinkled in with the main focus and the games played centered around Test Cricket. Ask any self-respecting world Cricketer even during the current rage for 120-ball-reverse-hitting-paddle-scooping-thick-batted-short-boundaried-slam-bam-shabam, they still favor my distribution, but I recognize along with all those self respecting Cricketers that expecting this sort of distribution across current formats is nothing more than a pipe dream. It is only natural for the Cricket boards to dish out what is demanded by their markets and the market with no less of an influence from the Asian countries demands 1-day Cricket and T20s over Test Cricket, with T20s being wildly popular all over the world and Test Cricket only enjoying patronage in England and Australia. I maynot like it and I can be prudish and call it a pity, but thats just the way it is and BCCI and other boards along with the TV networks are only catering to those demands and the result is more and more 1-dayers and T20s with an occassional Test Cricket match sprinkled in for novelty. I don’t blame them, for money talks and thats where the money and interest is. If any of those Cricketers want to get paid well playing the sport, they will have to accept and adapt to this demand.

Empty Stands for Test Cricket in India

Test Cricket in India is quickly resembling Ranji trophy Cricket in terms of crowds and spectators. No one is interested and the stadiums are empty. The decline is so steep that India is scheduled to play only one or two Test matches in the next 12 months. That is just a damning indictment both on the popularity or lack there of for this version of the sport in the country and how much BCCI really cares for it beyond the bottomline. Though more Test matches end in a result now than during the 80s and early 90s, there are still way too many matches that end in a draw. Beyond the spectator-friendly-batsmen-dominated structure of 20 over and 50 over Cricket, the key to their popularity is that there is a definite resolution to the game. One team wins and one team loses. If ICC is serious about preserving Test Cricket or some close replica of it, they have to think of changing its format to ensure a result every single time. When you think about it, it is a bit ridiculous in today’s age of instant gratification that you can have a single game for 5 straight days and a quarter of these games still end up in a draw. You can thank Australia for bringing this ratio down to a quarter, but there is no reason why this can be fixed to ensure a result every game. But drawn games alone don’t tell the full story, of the games that are won, majority of them are really one-sided. While that might generate some interest in the winning team’s market, it doesn’t augur well overall for Test Cricket that tight, result-oriented contests,  a proven recipe to sustain and enhance interest in any sport are far and few in between.

Channeling my inner stats geekdom, with the aid of Cricinfo’s stats guru, an excellent tool for Cricketing stats, here’s some data to show what I think ails Test Cricket.
In 2009 alone, there have been 37 test matches finished to this day, 14 test matches resulted in a draw, and 23 produced a result.

Test Cricket in 2009

For the sake of a reference point, let us go with an arbitrary definition of a “closely contested game” as the one that is won or lost by less than 100 runs or with less than 6 wickets on hand. Granted, it can be debated whether this truly depicts a closely contested game, but it is fair to say it is somewhere in the ballpark. Out of the 23 games that produced a result, a grand total of 5 matches fall into this category of a closely contested game. I know there was an occassional match or two that produced an engrossing contest that doesn’t fall into this group, but the point is, a handful of closely contested matches in an entire year of Test Cricket all over the world is surely not going to generate any renewed interest among the spectators. I realize the circumstantial relevance of every Test match (a meaningless Test in a decided series doesn’t generate as much interest as a decider) and also recognize that the Ashes victory for England was widely popular in England and there is a healthy interest in Test Cricket in England and Australia, but that market in itself isn’t going to save Test Cricket.

Let us extend this analysis to all of Test Cricket played so far in 21st century including year 2000.  Here is the country-by-country distribution of this arbitrary definition of close contests in Test Cricket from 2000 – 2009.

Test Cricket in 2000s

On the whole, less than 14% of the matches produce closely contested results. In the 21st century (2000s), India has played 103 matches, out of which 67 produced a result and the remaining 36 ended in a draw. Out of the 67 that produced results, only 11 fall into that category of winning or losing with a less than 100 or less than 6-wicket margin. Yes, this doesn’t take into account close draws that can still be very gripping contests when they are achieved with 1 or 2 wickets remaining at the end or those wins that might be one-sided but remained closed from a timing standpoint where one team was dominant but could only win on the last session of the 5th day.. a la.. Ind-Aus Sydney affair. Even if we include these matches and increase this overall ratio to a generous 20%, it means at a minimum, 4/5th of the matches are not close and hence don’t generate enough interest to an average fan. Clearly, this is not good enough for the survival of this format. Yes, there can be dominant teams like the Australian juggernaut through the 1990s and early 2000s and they don’t have to apologize for making these contests one-sided, but making some changes to the structure of the longer version of the game can still ensure that stronger teams are not penalized while making the contests tighter.  It might mean that it is a slightly different type of contest, but the interest and popularity has to grow for its overall survival.

Referrals in Cricket - hope the brain trust within ICC has better plans than this for Test Cricket revival

There have been a number of ideas floated around to remediate this and resuscitate Test Cricket. The one that I like the most has been suggested by a few before. Make it a 90-over/inning with two-innings played over 4 days with a reserve day to compensate for the weather. This ensures a gauranteed result and manages to retain many of the nuances of Test Cricket, while adding to it the added importance of scoring rates and the additional strategies of how to pace your innings based on the type of surface you are batting on. It is somewhat of an extension to one-day Cricket, but with 2 innings and 90 overs per inning, the bowlers are not taken completely out of the picture and you get the flexibility of making it a day/night affair. Yes, you can still have one-sided affairs, but I believe there will be more tightly contested games than 5 or 6 per year now. For starters, with the appealing aspects of the shorter version of the game imbued into the longer version, this should generate immediate interest. It eliminates dull stretches of the game because every action or inaction has a definite consequence associated with it.  When a team or a player decides to put the crowd to sleep for personal milestones, now it might mean a loss to their team as opposed to a potential draw.  The drawback here is a potential pitfall that currently makes limited overs Cricket less of a sport for Test match enthusiasts, that of bowlers and captains preferring containment over aggression for wicket-taking.  Of course, sporting pitches will fix this issue and might even make the traditional format more appealing and with the brain trust at the disposal of ICC, they can surely come up with methods to make Test Cricket a more engrossing product for the average fan. On second thought, looking at the current referral system, that might be a stretch.

I have been reading a few articles about Sunny Gavaskar the last couple of days on his 60th birthday like this one from Aziz Menon which prompted me to dip into Cricket nostalgia.
My once upon cricketing heroes..

My once upon cricketing heroes..

I have been reading a few articles about Sunny Gavaskar the last couple of days on the eve of his 60th birthday, which prompted me to dip into my Cricket nostalgia.

It didn’t matter that India got their butts kicked majority of the time, I was one of those kids who had his ears glued to our radio at home for every Indian Test Cricket match or for that matter even Ranji matches when Hyderabad was playing.  All India Radio’s Bapu Nadkarni and Narottam Puri were my eyes on the Cricket field.  I was even nerdy enough to practice their calls, the outs, the defensive shots, the fours and the sixes.  Mohammed Azharuddin, from Hyderabad, my city, was still a budding prodigy at All Saints, though it didn’t take long for the Cricket enthusiasts to take notice once he joined Nizam College.  Before his arrival, like many kids during that time, I had two cricketing heroes, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev.

fearless opener

fearless opener

My father was a huge Sunny fan, obviously well aware of his 1971 exploits against the Windies and how he exploded into world Cricket on debut in that series.  The comparisons for Sunny with Sachin are inevitable.  Sachin is by far the most gifted player I have seen personally, but where Sunny had an edge was his resolve, judgment and temperament.  If you couldn’t get him out before 20, he would get a 100 and those he scored at will, many times carrying the bat through the innings with little support from a weak batting lineup, and most of the time in a losing cause.  The other thing that separates Sunny from Sachin was that he was an opener and he played against the most feared pace battery of the 20th century (Thompson, Lilly, Hadley, Roberts, Marshall, and the list goes on)  without a helmet and not only succeeded, but even dominated in many ways.  Just check out his stats.  He was the original Little Master who made following Indian Cricket fun even as they were getting humiliated regularly.  Sunny was proud, articulate, fearless with a funny side that came out during a slew of boring draws that was the norm in the 80s when he would imitate Abdul Qadir’s action to entertain the crowd.

..had more impact on Indian Cricket than any other

..had more impact on Indian Cricket than any other

I liked Sunny, but I adored Kapil.  Durable and country strong, the Haryana Hurricane bowled fast and accurate with a devastating natural outswinger, he was a complete misfit among a group of lazy dibbly dobblers that would put the current Newzealand medium pace attack to shame and make Anil Kumble look like Shoaib Aktar.  Kapil was one of a kind,  in fact, even to this day, he remains the most talented all rounder India has ever produced, though he repeatedly under-performed as a batsman.  And then there was the 83 world cup triumph that transformed Indian Cricket to where it is today, his 175* against Zimbabwe, his catch against Richards in the finals and the picture of him hoisting the cup.  He was somone who led by instict, batted by instinct and bowled with instinct.  For most, instinct carries you only so far, in Kapil’s case, it produced a remarkably durable career.  He was not as suave as Sunny, wasn’t as clever with his words, just like his Cricket, he seemed comfortable with who he was.  It made him not look as scheming as Sunny and more likeable than him.  I was such a Kapil fan as a kid, I would drink nothing but Boost because “it was the secret of Kapil Dev’s energy”, and I would get into  lengthy and tedious arguments with my brother and his friends about why Kapil is better than Sunny.  If you have to chose one person for being the most impactful Indian Cricketer, it would be hard not to pick Kapil.  There might have been people more influential, people who served Indian Cricket more, but none had more impact than Kapil.

..had a style of his own.

..had a style of his own.

Then came Azharuddin, our own Azzu bhai, slim and wiry, akward and cool at the same time, and just a bit aloof to fit the image of us Hyderabadees of bygone time.  A phenomenon in his short Ranji career, with a style all his own, he slammed three straight centuries in three straight test matches, and a star was born.  Our Azzu bhai could bat, he could field, he was an excellent one day bowler and he was a treat to watch.  In my glorious gully cricket career, every time I had to field the ball to my right, I would run hard, pick up the ball, rise off the right foot and flip it back to the keeper, airborne, all in one motion, just like Azzu bhai did.  He rose in rank and stature quickly to become the captain.  His influence is still there in Hyderabadee Cricket.  Just watch VVS Laxman, another proud son of Hyderabad, and many of his wristy shots evoke memories of Azhar’s unique talent.
This period was the height of my Cricket infatuation.  I lived and breathed Cricket, knew every stat there was in the book, watched every match on tv, and of course knew all the right moves the captain had to make during the match.
..not all was well between the two.

..not all was well between the two.

Two things ruined it all for me.  The obvious one was the match fixing scandal, the other was the constant influence of murky politics on team selection and composition that ruined team chemistry and made the selectors look like the jokers that Amarnath once called them out to be.  It was there during the days of Sunny and Kapil.  The two never got along.  Sunny the schemer was a complete prick.  He was the spearhead of the mumbai mafia that pretty much ran and to this day runs Indian Cricket, and detested Kapil’s fame and fortunes.  Kapil, for his part didn’t handle this very well.  Unlike Sunny, he was never too sophisticated.  It was obvious to everyone that there was a clear rift in the team.  The ugliness reached its peak, when under Sunny’s captaincy, the team decided to suspend Kapil Dev for one game in the middle of a home series due to his irresponsible batting performance that cost them the previous game.  Kapil had a remarkable playing streak alive till then that no other fast bowler in the history of Cricket possessed and was justifiably incensed.  He served the suspension but never forgot how he was treated.  As a fan, with two icons of Indian Cricket playing on the team, it was difficult to just appreciate their Cricket without taking sides which took the fun out of it all.
..even with his flaws, he has remained resolute in his service to Indian Cricket

..even with his flaws, he has remained resolute in his service to Indian Cricket

While these ugly politics still exist, albeit to much lesser extent with the board focus shifting to squeezing the last paisa out of the existing popularity, the match fixing scandal was when the heroes died and Cricket lost its charm for me.  I still enjoy the sport and watch it as often as I can, but gone is that insane passion for the game.  First, our own Azzu bhai was a figure front and center of the scandal, and I had to digest the fact that he was a cheating, swindling, sold-out fraud.  Then the allegations against Kapil and his unconvincing response pretty much completed the demolition of my Cricketing hero pedastal.  The irony of it all is that, while Azhar and Kapil are still trying to weasle out of the Cricketing purgatory, Sunny is still around, his normal caustic self, chaneling his dark-side on his perceived double standards of those goras who treated him and his teammates with disdain, an aging Godfather of that mumbai mafia that pulls the strings from behind the scenes but takes care of the family.  I enjoy listening to him on the broadcasts, he has a sharp wit, a good comeback and one of the few who can maintain a banter with his broadcast partners.  Still unpopular with the phoren audience due to his “undiplomatic” statements and an unwillingness to play by their standards, he has done more in my mind than any other Indian cricketer during and after his Cricketing days. After all, your character has to mean something and whether you like him or not, he stood for something he believed in and had the conviction and fortitude to withstand his detractors, of which there are many, and stood behind Indian Cricket through think and thin, emerging out of that least liked persona from the ruins of my Cricketing heroes.

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