Down Under Diary – Run up to Round 2

yadav-2612-350_122811090626Some changes needed for the Brisbane test in the India side. Am not sure how much spin friendly is that wicket. The changes for me are:

  • MS for Saha, (chances are MS might sit this one down too)
  • Ashwin for Rohit – Am backing Ashwin to bat as well as Rohit (as of now their test records look very identical – so might as well go with an additional bowler who can bat a bit). Ashwin does have a good cross batted game, and does have the height to his advantage while batting.
  • Umesh for Karn.
  • I am pondering on Shikhar vs Raina too. However, will persist with former for the moment – he had a tough call against him the second innings at Adelaide, and his intention for once was to leave the short stuff which is good to see.
  • Bowlers need to be worked upon a bit. Shami and Aaron, will need to work over the next one day on understanding and reducing their margins of error. Too many boundary balls reducing their efficacy – even if they bowl 2/3 good balls. Ishant responds well to Dhoni, question is if the others will too.
  • MS must leverage Virat’s voice while influencing the younger lot. (Will he?).

It will be ideal if we can look eye to eye at Gabba, or better if we can put one across here. There is nothing like going for the jugular when its least expected. It will be well and truly game on!

My recommended team:

Shikhar, Vijay, Cheteshwar, Virat, Ajinkya, MS, Ashwin, Shami, Aaron, Ishant, Umesh

Team that I think will play:

Shikhar, Vijay, Cheteshwar, Virat, Ajinkya, Rohit, MS, Shami/Ashwin, Aaron, Ishant, Umesh


Down Under Diary : Round One – Australia

200733.3A great test match to start a series that promises to be an engaging one. The events running upto the test match were grossly unfortunate ones, and its admirable the spirit that both the teams brought to the ground to play a game that will long be remembered for its fighting qualities.

For starters am not disappointed one bit. I believe transition happens gradually. And this result is a big shot in the arm in that transitional journey.

For the recent history of Indian Cricket it was heartening to see couple of the top order batsmen putting their head down and make a serious headway towards the summit. Alas, at the end the lack of plan, match awareness and sheer mis fortune of some of the others made it yet another case of “So near yet so far”.

A few things that I pondered at the end:

The curious case of Karan Sharma: I am a huge supporter for giving new players opportunities at the big stage. However, as I saw Karan in this game I wondered if he himself had any plans for his debut. We hear legends talk about visualizing their first test match as they grow up the ranks. And when it arrives how they are keen to put the plan to action. I read Ponting, Hussey, Hayden speak about this in their autobiographies. However, I didn’t see that from Karan. I mean, for a leg spinner his plans were to look for the rough outside or around the leg stump and relentlessly try and land the ball there, irrespective of the outcome. Players like Warner will come hard at you yet one has to have the gumption to stick to that plan.

This also brings to the fore the question of why Karan Sharma? And not Ashwin? Probably our think tank thought about the number of right handed quicks (3 in India and 4 in Australia) who will create the rough around the leg stump (of a right hander), and went with the Leggie. And then our right handed bowlers kept bowling around the wicket, which fed to the aid of Lyon – to decimate us. Bizarre planning. Sometimes its good to not have options. Australia has one spinner, he has been told what is needed and he went out there to create havoc based on the rough created by just one of their bowlers (Johnson). Ashwin is our best spinner in that team, and he has to play if at all there is a chance of using a spinner. His batting too would have come in handy to reduce the lead in the first innings and some support for Kohli in the second.

Our Batting: Dhawan is struggling. Rohit lacked vision or plan or match awareness. Pujara’s footwork and technique looks downright dodgy (too much gap between bat and pad). Its great to play be instincts, however match awareness is a critical component and in tests does dictate the approach. Steve Smith demonstrated it how one needs to curb one’s instincts and dig in for a long innings. Am not sure Dhawan and Rohit have any of that on their mind. You cannot have “I will play like this only” attitude when expectation is for you to buckle down and play a certain game. It was heartening to see Vijay leaving 98% of the short stuff dished out to him. And its no surprise why he is the most improved and most successful Indian batsman over the last year or so. Time is running out on Dhawan / Rohit. Ambati Rayudu is snapping at Rohit’s feet and for Dhawan – it wouldn’t harm to try out Raina, with Rahane at the top.

That brings me to Pujara. The amount of Clean Bowled dismissals in England certainly underlined that yawning gap between Bat and Pad. It still exists. Add to that his neither front nor back approach to Lyon. He will need to soul search a little. This is the only format he plays and he should clear all mental cobwebs and focus on his balance, focus and technique. He will have to revisit the technique he leveraged well in South Africa and find what was working well then. At present there are a few issues there. Its very important for Pujara to be at the top of his game for Indian batting to be solid.

Mohd. Shami: Someone in that tent needs to have an honest chat with Shami, on where his head is at. Again I don’t see any plan in his head. He isn’t visualizing his bowling and its just running in and putting it there kind of approach. He does have a lot of potential. Its unfair to judge based on this wicket, am sure a wicket like Gabba / Melbourne will bring out a different Shami. Yet he needs to run in with intent and a plan. He will be a different bowler from what he is today.

Virat Kohli: He has arrived and how. I am amazed at his coming of age over the last 18 months or so. The biggest point he made with his twin tons is how to put your head down and shed a poor overseas form. We have often seen players let the poor form meander for too long. He worked hard and made sure he was ready with his top game for his debut at the helm. While one outing as a captain is too short to judge his performance in the long run, yet in his case we can be rest assured the future is in safe hands. Its increasingly clear now that this may be MS Dhoni’s last overseas tour as a test captain (or player). My gut says he may choose to not play tests going forward. I seriously feel the move to let Virat captain the Adelaide test in spite of Dhoni being in Australia is an intentional exercise. Whatever the reality, Kohli will be the go to man soon – and he has certainly made a huge shout out for it. Its great that we have transitioned into a younger test team (kudos to the present system which worked for it taking some really hard calls), and I also believe it will take some more time for this team to fully be there. This young band of people have a lot of time ahead of them to play themselves into a formidable unit. And going by the age group this team will be ideal for Kohli to lead. We can clearly say – exciting days ahead!

Clarke: Its sad to see what we saw – Clarke hobbling off. News coming from the Aussie dug out is a sad one. He isn’t going to play for the rest of the series that’s certain – he may not play Cricket at all. Whatever it is, its highly unfortunate to see a champ like Pup have an abrupt ending to his career. All our best wishes to him as he embarks on a long rehab plan. Hope to see him in the whites soon leading his band of boys out in the middle. In the last couple of weeks, I have been deeply impressed, moved and inspired by his leadership presence. It underlined his character as a person, mate, player and leader. To see him go out almost on one leg was certainly & utterly unfortunate.

For the remainder of the series, We will need a bit more planning, bite and effort from our bowlers. Dhoni will be back. He will need to continue this aggression. With Ravi Shastri in there one can be rest assured on the aggression bit. MS will need to play it out in the middle. Its certain the Aussie Zip will be well and truly in display at Brisbane. It will be for our boys to have their chin up and give a fitting reply to the questions posed.

Game On!

Sleepless nights of Kiwiland Cricket

MS NZNew Zealand has a great record at home. They invent a completely different gear while playing in their backyard, in comparison to what they end up doing elsewhere. And it is with this fact as a backdrop India embarks on yet another tour of the Kiwi Land. It is here in 2009, India pulled of one of the rarest of rare abroad glories (which for some funny reason, never makes its presence felt in the conversations centering on “India poor overseas travellers”). It was a competent Kiwi side with all their modern top talent playing, that India staved off and in the process achieved the rare feat. It is here we saw one of the many resilient examples of an India side playing for time to save a test match (Following on after a first innings deficit of 314 in reply to a mammoth 619 by the Kiwis, India batted 180 overs to save the game scoring 476 runs, where Gautam Gambhir batted for 73 overs for his dogged 137).

On my book, this was one of the defining moments of India’s rise as a cricket team, and underlined the era of Kirsten and Upton, that presented many such glorious moments, where our team, with their backs to the wall, didn’t back down and emerged unscathed.

Situation is different now. Kiwis, are on an upsurge, and India searching for an identity for its new look team. With 4 days to go for the battle to begin (and for us in India desperately struggling to adjust to the unearthly hours of these games), I am trying to take a introspective look at some of the elements of this battle (my focus is only on the ODI scheme of things for the moment):

Conditions. Mike Hesson the NZ coach, has called for “extending no favors to the Indian Team” and asking the grounds men to come up with Green tops that suit his team. And that is understandable. The mauling they got the last time they came visiting us only pushes their case for making conditions more closer to home for their side. However, if the ongoing series with West Indies, is any indication the conditions are mixed (and I doubt in this short span the curators will pull out green tops out of the proverbial hat). Having said that, strange things do happen. Let’s go by Hesson’s ask, and hope the conditions will be green, chilly, rainy – ideal for movement and speed.

(However, for a moment, if I deviate from Hesson’s dictat and go by what has historically happened – Napier has traditionally been a batting beauty (with Kiwis having an enviably good winning record), Auckland is awkward (tends to swing and bounce), Christchurch and Hamilton are mixed bags (We scored heavily at Christchurch last time around – 390+ in 50 overs).)

Another added dimension in New Zealand is the aspect that none of the grounds are truly round in shape. Many of these grounds get used for different sports and have all sort of shapes and sizes. For example Auckland resembles a baseball diamond in shape, and can flummox the Captains (visiting ones, of course) completely when it comes to field placements and cutting corners etc. It will be interesting to see if that can be balanced by a good fielding outfit (that our team seems to be).

The weather too will be an important component to the mix. It’s going to be windy, chilly sprinkled with rains and stoppages. Its critical our boys, get themselves acclimatized at the earliest before the first ball is bowled at Napier.

Opposition. This is a seriously good Kiwi side. They have been rebuilding for a while now and as co-host for the 2015 WC, there is a positive focus with which they have gone about building an outfit that plays its cricket aggressively and with a certain combative spirit

  1. Batting. When I see a line up laced with names like McCullum, Guptil, Ryder, Williamson, Taylor, Ronchi and the new sensation Corey Anderson, we are talking of a good batting outfit. These folks play extremely well at home. For me the danger man is Ryder – who seems to have a measure of the Indian attack. His amazing story of recovering from a near fatal mishap to doing what he does the best – marauding & terrorizing bowlers, is fast becoming a stuff of legend. I expect them to get off the blocks quickly, and India will have to carefully plan against this.
  2. Bowling. The Home team’s composition can be a huge give away on how the conditions of play are going to be. And when I look at the Kiwi bowling attack, there is a heavy dose of speed and seam – Southee, Milne, Mills, McClenaghan, Neesham, with just Nathan McCullum as a Spinner (who on my book is atmost a crafty one day bowler). The others are part timers in Williamson, Taylor and Guptil. This shows what they are betting their aces on. With Dan Vettori, calling it quits, NZ cricket is putting all their eggs in the speed basket.

West Indies, just drew the ODI series, and if we take a leaf from their work – there is an opportunity for our boys here. While their speed is their key and a lot of chatter is surrounding this new 150K sensation, Milne, it may be tad one-dimensional an attack. And if India can negate this expertly, there may be a great opportunity for our boys.

Our Composition. That brings us to the important question of what composition should we go by. Here I am hoping the conditions will play an important role, over the tried and tested stupidity. MS Dhoni is a competent captain, however tends to get married to his fixed idiosyncrasies, which by the time rectified, can be a bit too late. This is a seam friendly nation and our endeavor should be to field our best seamers (& Pacers, if I may), initially with one spinner. For me the combination that can be effective is Dhawan, Sharma, Kohli, Rahane, Raina, MS, Jadeja, Bhuvi, Shami, Pandey, Binny

I know this is an impossible team (knowing MS – Ashwin, Ishant will find their way in). But I think the above team has enough seamers (4) and spinners (1 – ½) to be able to cause some impact. I don’t see Ashwin succeeding against Ryder and Taylor. The key will be to start strong, betting on our strength in those conditions. And I feel this team has the wherewithal to do that.

Leadership. Last time when we played in NZ, MS Dhoni led from the front in the ODIs with his bat (Like he has been doing for almost 7 years now). It will not be a surprise if the trend continues – though I expect our top order coming good consistently. Its his captaincy that I am curious to see. Will he move away from the oft beaten path and try “horses for courses” approach, will there be more communication with his bowlers (now that majority of them are either rookies or graduating from being a rookie), will he continue to accept the “200-at-40-overs-330-at-50” mayhem that our bowling has been facing consistently over the past 12 months or will he demand performance from his boys.. He is an exceptional leader when it comes to the shorter format (for the longer format I have a different opinion, that is for some other day/post), and a little more active and proactive approach will only galvanize this bunch to unearth a hidden potential. We let the games meander in the ODIs in SA. Wrong selections costed us the first couple of games, and too much faith is Ashwin’s intelligence (which I am seriously questioning off late), proved fatal.

I also, call for a little more accountability for Joe Dawes, who in his couple of years as the bowling coach has done nothing of repute that guarantees his paycheck. If ever his presence is needed its now in these overseas tours, where his words and work will / can add so much shine to our upcoming band of bowlers. A bowling coach has to be the catalyst helping bowlers have clarity of thinking, specific plans and discipline, etc. I don’t see anything (except for Shami, who for me has learnt most of his art and discipline at Bengal or KKR dugouts, and not under Dawes’s care). If our bowlers need to come good, they will need to think like Kiwis, and for that they need acclimatize and get adjusted to the conditions and tracks fast. Dawes can play a “make or break” role here.

If Hesson’s dictat is adhered to, there is a possibility we will witness, some prodigious swing and this will call for Duncan Fletcher’s handiwork to help batsmen play late, with soft hands and not go hell for leather. (Especially Dhawan, Raina etc.).

Final word. One way or the other this is going to be a fascinating tour. Two nations trying to rebuild their cricketing outfit with some seriously good talent on display is certainly a mouthwatering proposition. India’s 50 over performance has been nothing short of exemplary, however the recent SA debacle must be rankling them no end and they would be keen to set the record right (and continue their reign as the top of the pile) and NZ, on the other hand will be nursing the shared result from the recently concluded series with the WI, and will be keen to record an outright win. It’s good to see we will have a 5 match series which gives both the teams enough time to course correct if they had to face a tricky start. It also promises a well fought contest that will eke out the best from these two very talented outfits.

And, we the hopeless lovers of the game, wait with bated breath to embark on yet another cricketing junket, that promises to (quite literally), give us some Sleepless Nights with those 2 am starts.

For me, its “Game On” tonight!

Question crossing my mind, as media goes ballistic around the Mumbai Police arrests of alleged “Bettors” (Not fixers, mind you) – What are we so appalled about? Are we over reacting (like most of the days, off late)? Are the fans really cheated, the way some of us and most of the media are making it out to be?

So, I thought let me express “my” thoughts on this just to put things in perspective.

Spot Fixing VS Fixing VS Betting Conundrum:

  1. Spot Fixing: Delhi police intercepts some activities and uncovers a bunch of players who they allege were involved in spot fixing – which means, they agreed to tailor the script for a certain spot in the game (One ball, Over over etc.). This is an offence, clearly where a player agrees to do something on the ground in lieu of money or any other benefits that goes against the team strategy and more importantly contributes to underperformance and loss. What was uncovered was these players agreed about the “spot” beforehand and when the time arrived gave some signal to kickstart the execution, going on to execute as per plan. Thus corroborating the suspicion into a fact. This is what our Pakistani friends Butt, Asif and Amir did some time back. This is heinous and definitely calls for the concerned elements to be scrapped, tried and jailed. We as fans have all the rights to be distressed and Rajasthan Royals have all the rights to feel “bereaved” (Dravid’s words) – for this lets down the honesty with which the larger player ecosystem prepares for and plays a fair contest. (However, what happens if a batsman takes money to commit to start a tirade of sixes at a certain point, and does it 100% as per plan and this contributes fully to the team’s plan and win – then what? Gayle is quite capable of doing that? Does that also attribute to same penalties? It should… no?)
  2. Match Fixing: This is by far the biggest crime of all, when players get paid to throw games (or to put in refined terms, to tailor the script of a game). This is the ultimate cheating, and requires a whole lot of inroads on the part of bookies to create strong connections within players, connections that sway to their whims and fancies, and ultimately are able to land the desired result. 1999 saw uncovering of some of the most unthinkable instances in SA, India and Pakistan.
  3. Betting: This is by far the most harmless and hugely prevalent territory. I say harmless because, this is where you and I can go and put money on the probability of a potential result or event or a sub-result etc. This is legal in many cricket playing nations, thus eradicating the “oh shit” element, however in India Betting is still considered Jua, dirty thing, a huge “Oh shit” element – it is illegal. And thus the entire syndicate controlling betting on anything (Not just Cricket, there betting done on events in Parliament too, am not kidding) – happens underground. Obviously there are no Ladbrokes here, its all run by nefarious & sinister souls. Millions of people engage in betting. This is where odds are fixed for games, for teams. However, key thing to note is this is harmless for the game on the park. It remains so, till some nefarious element manages to make an inroad in either getting more information on games that will help them bet on certain probabilities with more certainty or get a player hooked in their net, who can help them convert probabilities into certainties.

Gurunath Meiyappan, (as it is emerging), is a bettor who bet large amounts, (wither on his team or other teams in the IPL or maybe in other cricket competitions). Does that make him a criminal – yes because Betting is Illegal in India and sharing Insider information is an offence of cheating? That’s it. The implication is just that. Does that impact his team? No. He is what many insder traders in the world are – who when caught are tried and convicted (Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta, Ivan Boesky etc.). Does it mean the enterprise or corporations they belonged too were corrupt? No. Unless, in the coming days it emerges that Guru was not only betting on his team, but also managing the destinies of games in which he had the concurrence and partnership of some or many players. There is nothing on that part, so it would be unfair for us (the fans) to start ridiculing the game, the competition and the players. This is a team which has been winning consistently, and if these wins/successes were orchestrated (some sentiments being expressed) then aren’t all the other 8/9 teams culpable too, for they would have agreed to lose to ensure CSK win?

In fact, I am surprised we are making “Betting” such a large issue. It has been prevalent for more than 50 years in India. You arrest bookies, that’s fine – these are the illegal dens that perpetrates betting, that’s understood. But you arrest bettors, that’s hypocrisy. There are millions in India who bet, will Mumbai/Delhi police go behind all of them? I guess Delhi Police, made it very clear when they admitted with a smirk – “We do not have anything to go after Mr. Meiyappan or Vindoo etc”. Hidden in that smirk, was that small mocking expression which meant – “Are you serious when you are making such an issue out of “Betting” which every tom, dick and haridas is indulging in, in some shape or the other?” For them the real deal was spot fixing.

Now, having said that – An Insider indulging in betting large amounts (With all the strategic info in his back pocket) is a crime (if not heinous, then serious to say the least). Guru is where he deserves to be. What implication it has on the fate of NS, is something    g I am not interested in at all. For me these people are insignificant. This is not the first time, when the indiscipline of the establishment has overshadowed the field of talent (Commonwealth, Olympics, Hockey etc. are some others), and to me I am immune to these by now. N Srinivasan is another to join the long list of Kalmadis, Gills etc. Frankly I don’t care. India is run and governed by such people, and we seem to be ok with that. Anything that generates eyeballs in our country will have greedy mongrels hovering all over and around it. These people do not constitute our cricket.

Our cricket isn’t dishonest (mind you 1999 hasn’t been conclusively proven till date. Stories and tales do make rounds, but then those are just stories). To paint the game and cricketers with the same brush as is being used for some names that have made headlines over last 2 weeks would be unfair. IPL is living the life that every rich league across the world had to live. Money, Corruption, Sleaze, will get tagged to these competitions as long as the mongrels lurk around, yet the game prevails because of a strong Kernel (the players, the support system and the fans).

The important aspects are – the game and the players. This the Sanctum Sanctorum of cricket. I have loved this game for what happened within the perimeter of a cricket ground and not beyond it. I still feel all the engineers employed in Satyam were & are world class when RamalingaRaju-gate opened. They created world class solutions and they were and will be some of the best. One individual’s greed for money didn’t make that wonderful organization a corrupt one. So for me I see cricket for what the game brings to me – and I don’t believe that’s corrupt. I refuse to accept it till it’s proven (conclusively) otherwise.

So for me Gurunath is a non-issue – I am looking forward to some “real” revelations (if any) to happen – Especially Players….if any! (or as Arnab is hoping it will be)

One other issue, that cropped up was – should CSK as a franchisee be scrapped? The law 12.3 does say that “Any official/Owner/Member of the team, if involved in activities that bring disrepute to the league will result in the franchisee being scrapped” – aren’t players members? So why wasn’t Rajasthan Royals scrapped when 3 of their players were caught (they later accepted to engaging in the offense)? Don’t the same rules apply here too? Why was Pune Warriors spared last year when some of their players were involved in Spot fixing? Funny, because the entire scrapping suggestion seemed to have arisen after Shri Lalit Modi started barking about it on TV. And we all know which way his ire is directed? Somewhere media houses need to make their discretion around what they should report and not pander to individual battles like these.

Here, an individual is at fault (akin to all the other individuals who have been caught), and the concerned individual is under legal scrutiny. While law takes its own course, the game must continue. This is a team which has rightfully reached where it has, playing good cricket and winning 12 out of its 17 games.

I (being a sucker for the game and a fan of CSK) will be rooting for them. That’s the only way I can show the middle finger to all the nefarious elements who want to harm the game or to people who feel IPL is a stage managed reality show.

C’mon, lions, one more step to take, one more battle to go! Game on!

The Pirates of the Caribbean or the “Gangnam” Gang!

Sunil Narine takes a Hat Trick for KKR, Pollard leaps deep into the Ozone layer to pluck a ball that was headed halfway down to Trincomalee to win MI a match that was out of their bounds, Gayle swats yet another white cherry into the orbit adding to the few that have been revolving around the sun already, Cooper strangles the opposition in the death to pull out a rabbit for RR, Bravo breaks into an impromptu Calypso tutorial for the CSK lions and Sammy & Russell sit awaiting their opportunity in the Sunrisers & DD dug outs respectively …. Except for KXIP, every team in the IPL6 boasts of a Caribbean quotient.

And they all like “Doing the Job” – Winning games. Fasten your seat belts, the Gangnam Gang is well and truly here.

This is a new crop of West Indian Cricketing Pirates, the ones who chose to be the ultimate mercenaries. A bunch that fiercely loyal (to the dollar).

As the Windies era (West Indies in the 80’s under Lloyd and later Richards – the most dreaded cricketing outfit in the history of the game) faded, a vaccum set in. In the 90’s, the world sighed at the pale shadow the WI cricket casted on the glorious days that had just gone by. While Brian Lara was the sole carrier of the Caribbean Juggernaut supported by the workmanship of Shivnarine Chadrpaul and some brilliance from the duo of Ambrose and Walsh, the usual Calypso thump was sorely missing. The steel bands had gone silent, and “Ya Maan”s weren’t landing with the authority they once used to. A decade went by with WI being just a statistic in World Cricket punctuated with some rare occasional brilliance.

The new Millennium brought with it some new crop of young players – Equipped with extraordinary skills, fitness and panache that got the Caribbean islands sit up and take notice. The only thing lacking was a vision/pupose. The islands were hungry for some desperate Cricketing revival. By 2000, Lara was the God for West Indian cricket, and his single handed persistence to motivate younger talents in the islands had resulted in unearthing some talents from the heartlands. It was in 2000, one such tall lanky, (slightly laid back) youngsters, whose claim to fame was a single yet powerful word that was often used to describe him – “Destructive” – Christopher Henry Gayle, arrived at the stage that God sent him for. But it wasn’t till 2002 that the world got to see what could do, when he became the third West Indian (After Richards and Lara) to score 1000 runs in a calendar year.

CG (as Gayle is popularly known amongst his Carib mates), went onto write plenty of brutal tales of annihilation or slaughter of the opposition as his career flourished further. 2005, saw him take small break to get his heart fixed (Congenial heart condition, that needed a small corrective surgery), and since then there was no looking back.

But why am I writing about CG? This isn’t his article, this is about the emerging might of the new crop of West Indian cricketers. Yes it is. And the genesis of this modern day renaissance has CG at the heart of it.

Gayle, emerged as an influential figure amongst the West Indian cricketers, post the exit of Lara. He was the obvious choice of being the leader, who was to take WI cricket mantle forward. Yet, it wasn’t that simple. His global popularity, his flamboyant cricket, his overall style got stadiums filled world over. He was the reason for people to come, pay and watch cricket. He was the toast of the sponsors. So when the establishment chose to sign a sponsorship with Digicel, and ordered some of the players (Gayle included) who had lucrative contracts going with Cable & Wireless (Digicel’s rival), the concerned players revolted (Gayle was the helm of it). WI Cricket Board cracked the whip and dropped CG and the others from the team. Gayle made the compromise and returned, but the seeds of disharmony were sown forever. There will always be the 2 stories of “who was right?”. Nevertheless, Gayle, carried forward a huge grudge against the establishment and that later erupted in some of his public comments and other incidents. This disharmony would later play a major role in shaping the way the players chose to think about the game.

In 2006, Allen Stanford and his Stanford 20/20 happened in the WI. From getting paid a meagre $350 dollars for a 4 days game, players teed up for a Million dollar prize money in the annual T20 event sponsored by “Sir” Allen Stanford (the Ponzi Scheme perpetrator and a rogue, who since then have fallen drastically, got arrested and convicted and presently is cooling his heels in an American prison after being sentenced to 100 years of imprisonment for fraud, embezzlement, and zillion other charges). Under the flood lights at the Stanford Cricket Ground, Coolidge, Antigua – West Indies cricket took a royal turn. Young strapping lads turned out for 20 island teams that constituted the West Indies. The unthinkable happened – What the preceding 15 years couldn’t do, was done by this competition. The crowds came in – big numbers. And the money got the players to perform like they never had before. Games were fought tooth and nail, Bowlers bowled as if their life depended on every ball, Batsmen struck with incredible savagery( as if to banish the frustrations and misery that life had thrown at them). Last ball finishes, towering sixes, raw pace, crafty spin, calypso thump…all of it was back. A new side was discovered, and a new bunch of Pirates were born. What many years of halfhearted systemic overhaul efforts couldn’t do, money did it, overnight.

Soon after, IPL happened. Money was no more a onetime matter of chance, it was a continuing certainty. And with a competition like Stanford 20/20, IPL franchises chose more openly in favor of the Caribbean talent for what they brought in as a package. However, the IPL naysayers (read, England Cricket Board), wanted to outshine the IPL, and they joined hands with Stanford for a one game “winner takes it all” $20 Mn Dollar prize money bombshell. It whacked the daylights of the entire cricketing fraternity. England was to play West Indies. And against all odds, West Indies pulled a rabbit out of the hat. The scene that erupted on the cricket field that day was way beyond cricket. The players, their families all in tears – one 40 over affair had changed their life. (The famous Gayle interview, where he, weeping uncontrollably, admitted, that he would now be able to get his brother the necessary medical attention – spoke how much the monetary liberation meant for them).

Life for a West Indian Cricketer, changed that day. They soeem to have got a purpose – To earn a living as a Cricketing pro, playing as a freelancer. It changed the way they thought about themselves as cricketers. While Stanford faded away, the Commercial Cricketing market opened up like never before. West Indians were at the forefront of being the most sought after overseas talent, attracting the top most bids. The IPL, the Big Bash league (Australia), the English County 20/20, SLPL (Sri Lanka), BPL (Bangladesh)… all of them rooted for West Indians cricketers. The Life out of a suitcase – that of a “Freelance Cricketer” was well and truly on.

Professional freelance cricket, had its own demands. Franchises investing in a player wanted the biggest bang of the buck and players had to work hard to bring in maximum value of the dollars invested in them. This is where the West Indians made huge difference, and were rewarded with some of the biggest contracts. What they brought to the table was:

  1. Outrageous Talent (Gayle, Bravo, Pollard, Narine, Russell, Dwayne Smith, Sammy, Cooper, Rampaul, Samuels) – that is one hellu041813_1329_ThePirateso1.jpgva list of outrageous talent. Each of them on their day can pull off a Houdini act singlehanded
  2. Supreme Fitness – One thing this bunch realizes is their potential to earn more is directly related to their fitness. All of them work hard, and have the construct of an Ox. They are fit, agile and strong. That is a potent and lethal combo
  3. Box-office stuff – These players love the spotlight. They come alive when all the cameras and eyes are trained on them. It’s the big stage, the big moment that gets their adrenalin going, they thrive in making that moment theirs.
  4. Multi- dimensional abilities – They can be masters in one discipline (Bowling or Batting), yet almost all of them can come in handy in the other disciplines. All of them have multiple dimensions to their games and are extraordinary fielders.
  5. Starry characters: Modern day cricket needs characters who can liven up atmospheres, and bond teams. The Caribbean bunch truly know the art of enjoyment and they bring in that flair, that gets the team going

While the free lancing players made a name (a sizeable wealth) as hired mercenaries, the void still remained on the West Indies cricket front. A blow hot blow cold, relationship between the cricketers and the Cricketing Establishment of West Indies prevailed. The world pondered “What will be the consequence if these extraordinarily talented bunch come together?” and the larger questions was “When?”. Players kept appearing at the lucrative T20 competitions even when WI kept sending pedestrian sides to play test cricket. And, that had to change, the hatchet needed to be buried – from both sides.

And, finally to everyone’s delight it happened – ICC T20 World Cup, 2012. WI fielded a team that had all the stars playing together, and the world witnessed the grandest calypso spectacle. Against all odds, calculations, predictions, the Pirates of the Caribbean, chose to hijack the stage and make it their own. It was a show par excellence, a bunch of fearless men chose to express themselves with much aplomb, and the world rose to take a bow – mesmerized in the dazzle that erupted at the Premadasa.

The small flicker that had sparked in the early 2000s finally had gained the size of an inferno, towering on the world, playing great cricket, spreading joy and admiration. This should be the starting point of yet another glorious chapter in the ever so enthralling story of West Indian Cricket.

May this last long, as they teach the world how to do the Calypso – “Gangnam” Style!

The first 10 days of IPL6

If anything has to be read into the first 10 days of this edition of the IPL juggernaut, it’s definitely turning into a “Captaincy” special edition. While we did see fielding standards escalating to another stratosphere, and last ball photo-finishes almost becoming a norm, the thing that is becoming evident is the enhanced role that a captain plays in setting the mood of the team and having an impact on the little nuances of the game.

Points TableAs we take a glance at the points table as of today (14th April 2013), it clearly has a bottom of the table contender, but there is no clarity of who is a clear leader. We do have the Mumbai Indians on top, and if we go by the way the edition is shaping up, there is very little to differentiate them from the others following. I say this, because still there are more than 10 games per team to be played, and a lot of water has to flow. Rameez Raja, made a point in the Extra Innings, yesterday that the deserving top teams are making a surge for the top 4 slots, I agree, ever so small but a definite surge there.

However, when I look back at the 10 days, the few things that catch my eye are as under:

  • Fielding: A matter of immense personal delight. I am amazed and chuffed with the fielding capability displayed especially by the Indian Contingent, and especially the uncapped lot. While we tend to get enamored by the “classic” catches, and of 11752course that stunner from Gurkirat Mann (signature of IPL6), it is the ground fielding that has impressed me no end – this I say looking at the number of last ball finishes (or the narrow margin jailbreaks) that we have had. There have been the regulation howlers too, but overall all the hard work put in by the respective fielding support system is definitely paying rich dividends. Mumbai Indians stand tall here – Certain J Rhodes, has been working diligently with this lot, and this season (till now), he will be feeling tremendously broad chested with pride. They are burning the field with their anticipation, athleticism, intensity and agility. Beyond, IPL these are great wins for India Cricket as a whole.
  • Indian Quotient: I have always maintained, the recipe for success in IPL isn’t who you have in terms of your foreign players, it is the other 7 Indian Players – who decide how good you are. The foreign players must be over and above, picked with specific abilities to add to the zing of the teams. So teams, writing strategies that revolve around certain foreign players are finding themselves increasingly stuck with their backs to the wall (If those certain foreign players don’t come good, or worse when they are non performing captains). Angelo Mathews, is a classic case. It is a gross mistake for the Pune outfit to keep the most tactically and ability wise adept T20 player Smith, warming the bench because the captain cannot be dropped. This is where the team think tank gets it wrong, and gets too dazzled by the foreign brilliance and doesn’t pay much attention on the Indian composition. Look at the teams which are doing well,
    1. Mumbai Indians – Sachin, DK, Rohit, Rayudu, Munaf, Bhajji, Ojha and that new kid R Dhawan. That is a strong Indian lineup. Now look at their foreign bench – Ponting (Picked purely for his intensity and leadership – don’t be surprised if he doesn’t do too much with the bat, but the way he has fired this unit up, that’s what he was hired for), Pollard (All round pro – multiple capabilities), Mitchell Johnson (Fast & swing bowling), Malinga (You know what!). We always knew MI can be a deadly force to reckon with, only if they have good leadership – Ricky fills in that void. This is the best they have looked ever.
    2. For the little they have played KXIP, have shown some promise in their Indian section. Dependence on Gilly, Hussey, Mehmood etc still remain – yet the Vohras, Manns, Mandeeps, Praveens etc. have shown some spunk in their first game. This is a team always known for some late surge then missing the play offs by one win. If their young and relatively unknown bench can turn up some good performances, who knows they might just about push their stake by a notch or two.
    3. Not much to write for CSK, their repeated successes over the years is because they probably are the best balanced side, with the Indian side being more stable and capable with the foreign players adding to this stability.
    4. RR: Rajasthan, too have done reasonably well till now based on their Indian quotient – Dravid, Rahane, Binny, Sreesanth, Menaria, Shukla, Trivedi etc. While Hodge, Cooper, Badree too have come to the party, and Watto is yet to fire, it is the Indian side of things, that have pushed the envelope.
    5. Sunrisers: Its heartening to see the opportunity provided to unknown entities like the Reddys (Akshat and Aashish), Hanu Vihari and its doubly pleasing to see them grasping these chances with both hands. Ishant, Parthiv and Mishra have been doing their bit to give Sanga, White, Perera and Steyn the required support. That makes this outfit strong. They have looked to be a bit thin in batting, but the key would/could/should be the return of Shikhar Dhawan. That, Shikhar will be a different player after that unforgettable test debut is a given. Uber point to note is the composure the team is showing. Under the older owners they looked heavily under pressure. Also the think tank had too many non-performing assets. It certainly looks like the team is enjoying in this new avatar. Touchwood!
    6. RCB is a peculiar case. They have put their eggs in few baskets and hoping their rockstars to come good. This may be a deadly trap, if the punt doesn’t click. Their Indian bench look thin (as we found with RP yesterday). Pujara’s absence is felt. But with The Karthiks (Arun and Murali) not bringing in too much value, Mayank, RP, Syed etc. blowing hot and cold, there’s too much pressure on Kohli and Vinay.

And, for the ones that are faltering – KKR, Pune Warriors & DD: Woeful performances from the Indians till now have resulted in their present table positions.

It isn’t rocket science. Its pure logic or say mathematics – 7 is greater than 4. I do understand the focus to get those 4 right – maximum bang for the buck, but to severely underrate the 7 – cardinal sin. Going forward it’s the names like – Yuvraj, Tiwary, PAthan Brothers, Chand, return of Shikhar Dhawan, Chet Pujara etc. that will have a reasonable impact on the tournament.

  • Pushing 40 – More than amazement, this is matter of pure admiration, respect and delight. To see Dravid slugging it out with the bat and on the field, Ponting drenched in sweat throwing himself and screaming his gut out, Gilly all fired up, Mehmood squeezing out every drop of talent from his armory, Hodge continuing with his precision-ary role of ultimate mercenary, The Hussey brothers dogged, determined and disciplined…. They surely aren’t the Papa’s army. They are hardened professionals who mean business. They in fact seem to be better prepared and in the mood for the tournament. Their professionalism is a lesson to be learnt by everyone. They are here to justify the dollar invested in them. Their fitness, cricketing prowess, astute thinking, and overall intensity is adding a very unique charm to the competition, and somewhere igniting the fire to pull out the playing boots amongst all those 40 year olds (Add Hoggy to that list), who do have a lucrative career option here – only if they are willing to work hard. Dravid giving up the comfy commentators chair to go and get in shape for IPL (that too couple of months back) – is a lesson for the likes of Sehwag, Nehra, Gambhir, who for the last 2 years haven’t been able to find that corner where they dropped/lost their form.
  • Captaincy: Ponting, Dhoni, Kohli, Dravid, and Sanga – a lot has happened in their corners, the way they have led their sides. Their own involvement and performances notwithstanding – it is their personality and inspiration that has made their teams evolve into their own. I am tempted to put Gambhir in the list, for his team always endorses his brand of leadership as an effective one (And I agree too), yet I shall underline it once they start winning. For the moment, Gauti looks a bit lost – all that fired up exterior’s alright, but have often seen him running like a headless chicken. (With his Indian players not coming good, he is feeling the heat). Almost seems, he is waiting for someone to pull him out with a dazzle of brilliance. For the Rest – Gilly – early days, Mahela – he simply doesn’t have the team yet he has been trying his level best to get that unit fired up (again the problem with DD is there are too many Sehwag cronies there, and their outlook is very similar to their mentor’s – scanty respect for fitness, discipline etc. Difficult to get such souls stirred up) & Angelo (this one is a purely bad choice as captain. He may be a good skipper material for Lanka, but for an outfit as diverse at PWI, he isn’t the choice. He clearly looks not in control.

Captaincy has been a critical cog since edition one (Warne, Giclhrist, MSD, Gambhir) and it will be the same this year too. Glad to see MI and RCB have found themselves a long term solution in this space. Augurs well for them. RR looks stable under Dravid (Question is will they sustain). For the 3 SL captains, they are the handicap for their teams when they play in Chennai – as they sit out to fulfil Amma’s ego-friendly thirst. (Commentators have been mulling over the question of should foreigners be the captains – My take is, they should if they are the best candidates, or if they have been hired with that in mind. For captaincy isn’t just a role to fill that can be done by any Indian? Case in point, Bhajji captaining MI. Didn’t work, did it?. You need specialists. Sometimes, these selections can be beyond just personal performances – Captaincy can be a specific hired skills, e.g. Ponting. And once selected the Captain needs to be given the mandate – “you are the leader for the season, do it your way”. A good captain will work hard to “lead” the team, and the team will love it being led. Dinesh Karthik’s emergence as the deadly #3 is a testimony of how much he is loving it playing under Ponting. So are the others. The smiles on MI player’s faces indicate what the skipper has done to them. Even Mitchell Johnson, who had lost his inswing under Clarke and others, has rediscovered it under Ponting. Lot to read there. If MI go onto win the summit, Ambanis will have to cut a big performance cheque for the Punter).

What Virat and Gambhir will need a bit more is their composure, especially when they are under the pump. At present their “wearing my heart on the sleeve” demeanor is causing a few butter fingers at crucial moments.

  • Team Persona: This one was noticed by my Wife (an Ardent Cricket watcher, herself). She opined that gradually all the teams have started resembling the personality of their Owners…hmm. Let’s see:
    1. RCB: Flamboyance, Live life king size – Gayle, Kohli, De Villiers, it’s like an endless party
    2. CSK: Closely knit, In their own world, stable running corporation – India Cements
    3. KXIP – Unsure, Praying to god – make something happen, fragmented at times
    4. RR: Conservative, Calculative, High on planning/strategizing, Resourcefulness – Manoj Badale & co (Ignore the Shilpa connection, she doesn’t even know what’s happening in the team. The real owners are Badale)
    5. PuneWarriors – Lost
    6. MI – Big names, Ruling the roost with sheer might of personality and power (10/11 players international players), Money can buy everything – Ambanis. Reliance
    7. KKR – Wearing their hearts on the sleeve, almost saying a massive “Up Yours” to the world at large… “I am the king” syndrome. You know who I am indicating there.

Funny, but this is so true. When it all started, the thinking was, the owners will just be owners. Sit in a corner and hope (pray) they make money out of it – like umpteen sports team owners across the globe. But this is a great case study how much the thinking and persona of the ownership rubs off in architecting a team’s shape and individuality. Uncanny… huh?

These are still early days. The table will (it better!), undergo massive churn. There are still some players who haven’t made their appearance, who are nursing some tendons/cartilages somewhere. A lot what’s expressed here, might get thrown out of the window soon. Yet, it’s fascinating to see so much already emerging in this edition of this wonderful caravan.

To top it all, the fan has been the real star. Every year they turn up in truckloads, showing a prominent middle finger to the mid-summer heat. Every game, has registered a full house, with the aisles infested with crazy cricketing hearts, rooting for their city. Somewhere, my heart goes out to the naysayers from the early years of IPL who had bravely predicted – fans will find it difficult to embrace this city based loyalty – I hope the Pie is humble and yummy!

VVS, now “Relax”man!

VVS Laxman retires. The Cricketeratti comes alive. Tributes pour in.

I ponder over the career, that was chequered with some of the most glittering moments of Indian cricketing annals and find an amalgam of evens and odds.

Evens– for the obvious reasons of the wizardry that he brought to the game with his magic wand, for the doggedness that will be a lesson of test batsman-ship for many years to come, for the sheer creativity that enabled him to tame some of the most potent attacks in their backyard, for the never say die spirit that saw him as that last thorn in the opponents’ flesh (one that inevitably got stuck) and that consummate team man, who any skipper would want by his side, going into any tough battle.  Records justify  (or may be not fully) the evens – 16 years, 8000+ runs, 100+ catches, Australia being the most favored opponent, author of the most significant sonnet in the poetry called Indian Cricket (281*), gaining respect of all opponents under the sun …and the list goes on.

The more I think of this, I feel sad that VVS had to play cricket in this era where he had to coexist with the holy trinity, which in itself was a matter of immense pride and pressure. That, he was the one who faced the “gun” on most occasions isn’t a matter of surprise. It will always be a matter of ambiguity, how many times did he bite the bullet, on someone else’s behalf. Gods cannot be reprimanded, you see. The mortals should be – and thus the eternal mortal died numerous deaths, only to be reborn and prove himself yet again. The man with all the possible Gods in his name, had to bow down to the whims and fancies of the cricketing gods … ironical.

As for the odds – VVS never came in with a godfather. He hailed from a region where for the last 2 decades there hadn’t been a credible Cricketing Association in practice. He came in on his own and tried to make a mark on his own brilliance. That doesn’t work here, does it? History has time and again, chronicled such instances, where the deserving talent without a backer, is sent packing. But then he was Very Very Special, wasn’t he. He chose to do things, that were so un-Indian and forced people to keep him. Twice against Australia (in 2001 and in 2004), he forced his way into the ODI squad without being named in it initially on the basis of his form in the Test series – and delivered, big time. Yet, when a series went awry the one name that was deliberated for maximum length was his and sadly, on several occasions he did fall by the wayside. While we can whine about the system and its crazy ways, VVS wasn’t helping his cause. The cricketing world was taking a turn where a player’s utility was defined based on the cumulative value he got to the squad. It was the age of Michael Hussey – Will bat any position in any format, Can bowl if you want me to, and will field as if my life depends on it. Its here VVS was static and gave opportunity for the indifference meted out to him. The other glaring Odd, was the duration between two good periods of consistent scores – off late these gaps had started widening. There would be flurry of scores and then a long gap. And when the noose started to tighten, one more stroke of brilliance. Without any additional value (other than batting), it was increasingly an existence on borrowed time. In hindsight, after his ouster from the 2003 WC squad, I would have imagined his resolve going up several notches to enhance his value as a player – somewhere, he resigned to the fact that his future lay in Test Cricket as a #6.

Noone would ever know what was that “Inner voice” of VVS, that he underlined time and again in his retirement address. Its not easy to be a professional under the weight of continuous scrutiny with the sword of Damocles swinging like a pendulum on your head. Its commendable to applaud what he achieved in such cirumstances. He never had anyone backing him (other than some customary pro-Laxman chants). In a way it was ironical to see Sourav Ganguly ridicule the establishment, selection committee and Captain holding them responsible for VVS’s exit. Almost trying to absolve himself of what he singlehandedly brought upon this special player

  • Lets face it, the 2001 Eden Garden innings – so called India’s best ever Test innings was played by VVS under Ganguly’s Captaincy, to turn around a series against Australia, propping up Ganguly’s captaincy record, in Ganguly’s home turf .. yet a few months down the line the axe fell on VVS. Where was the captain?
  • 2003 World Cup, Ganguly’s show. VVS is in every ODI squad leading upto the world Cup. Yet when “the” squad is announced – VVS gets replaced with, er.. Dinesh Mongia??? “Gods” must be crazy.
  • For a period of 34 months starting from the Eden test Vs Aus in 2001 to Steve Waugh’s final test in 2004 in Sydney, VVS amassed 2594 runs in 30 tests, at an avg. of 63.26, yet was the only cricketer on a perpetual probation. Where was Ganguly’s backing?

It is here, VVS’s life as a cricketer got jeopardized royally. Because, to any cricketing brain it was evident Sourav wasn’t fit to be in the Test side (If he wasn’t the captain), yet the axe kept dangling on VVS. This issue was picked up by Greg Chappell, and the rest is well documented. To his convenience Ganguly kept giving those obligatory skipper bites on how important a member VVS is without assuring him of his spot for eternity. No wonder VVS chose to talk about it (again, true to his nature, without naming names just pointing at the preferential indifference) in that infamous tour of Zimbabwe in September 2005.

Adam Gilchrist summed it up well after VVS was dropped from the 2003 world cup squad.,

“Every time he plays against us, he comes up with something special, and the next thing we read after the series is that he’s been dropped. It leaves me completely bewildered.”

The innings at Eden for the 281* will always be a jewel in the crown. However for me the innings that will be right up there would be the innings of 73* he played at Mohali vs Australia in 2010/11. Chasing a modest 216, India was at 124 for 8. With Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha (And Suresh Raina as his runner), VVS saw us through. That day he didn’t bat just for himself, he taught batting, patience, persistence etc. to the kids around him. A magical knock, that made Ricky Ponting exclaim “We were wary of VVS”.

Today, sitting in Hyderabad, the loss is much more gaping. An era has ended. A legacy of batting artistry, which was made to be Hyderabad’s domain expertise by the likes of Tiger PAtaudi, ML Jaisimha, Mohd. Azharuddin and VVS, doesn’t have any heir apparent. In 2007 when IPL was launched, the team from Hyderabad didn’t even think VVS to be an icon player, till the day before the first ever auction – and to his credit he declined to be the icon to save money for his franchise enabling them to invest in bigger names, settling for a modest paycheck – in a way summarizing his cricketing story.

Thank you VVS. You will be an inspiration to all of us who want to make our place in the sun without a Godfather

Very Very Stylish, Very Very Special & Very Very Selfless !

And the best supporting actor goes to …..

As the curtains came down on the 5th battle of Indian Premier League, the eastern skies of India illuminated with joy and gaiety after their Knights had shut out the advances of the monarchs from the South in their pursuit of a triple crown. Yet another festival of relentless cricketing extravaganza coupled with the behemoth of Media and Commercial song and dance, came to an end. For the crick-o-maniacs it marked the end of a Summer Carnival that will leave a vast void in their hearts and the evening slot of 4 – 11 pm.

And there somewhere beneath all the hype and hoopla, the analyses will begin. Which team showed the maximum improvement? Which one had a steep fall? Which player(s) caught the eye? Which ones had a forgettable edition? Who were the other newsmakers? How much did Indian Cricket gain? And many such deep introspective ponderous thoughts shall sprout. In fact as I write this, there are countless aficionados of this godly game, who are already burning the keyboard to come up with their perspective – each one a unique look at the runs and ruins of the edition just ended.

Customarily, this time of the year, I write a piece that’s a tribute to CSK (Team that I passionately support), for winning the IPL. For almost halfway till yesterday’s game this year’s tribute was forming in my head. What to write, how to frame etc. Somewhere, in the last 20 overs it all went up in thin air. And as I sit down to write the look-back on this year’s edition I thought of focusing on an aspect that isn’t getting much of the airtime or cubic-centimeter space from our Electronic/Print media – The role of the Support Staffs – The Indian Support Staff (In each teams).

IPL is a complex tournament. It certainly isn’t a bed of roses, that many feel it is. It may look rosy though, with such obscene amount of money being involved et al. But with money comes accountability – a thread that isn’t very commonly used in many professional circles in India. (Let me underline this – I said “many” not “all”). Owners spend money, buy talent and hope to win matches, going onto win the tournament. While it all looks so simple, each of those steps is a complex activity and requires a lot of effort, expertise, foresight, vision and executional mastery. Each team has to play at least 16 games (excluding the playoffs), in at least 9 different conditions (8 away games – 8 different conditions + 8 home games – lets say condition remains same), against 16 different kinds of opposition (considering teams are changed every game) and of course, under varied pressure situations depending upon how one is placed on the points table. Its dynamic, complex and stressful.

Its no hidden truth that the teams with the most potent bunch of Indian domestic talent have turned it on consistently in various additions till date. It’s the Vijays/ the Valthatis / the Tiwarys / the Rahanes / the Rayudus / the Balajis / the Yadavs who have been equally (if not more) instrumental in ensuring their sides gained the kind of foothold as they did eventually. And it’s the system that keeps this part of the game alive, that needs to be lauded.

A lot gets written about the Flemings/Bailisss/Simmons/Jennings/Uptons/Lehmanns etc. These blokes are most certainly the movers and shakers of IPL. Each one has a great story to tell on how they are shepherding their respective resource pool towards achieving some great results. However, underneath their much talked about and much publicized world of Coaching lie some lesser known unsung heroes. The true success stories of Indian Cricket.

Lets take a look at some of these stories:

  1. Vikram Rathore (KXIP): As Mandeep Singh strode towards Harsha Bhogale after collecting his Best emerging player of IPL5, he looked excited and proud. And the moment Harsha asked him his reactions he blurted out his heartfelt gratitude for Vikram Rathore – The Assistant Coach of KXIP. Rathore, who played 6 test matches for India and veteran stalwart for Punjab in Ranjis, is the present coach for Punjab and understands the game and its demography in India as well as any long time serving Indian player. His presence in the KXIP dug out proved some inspirational performances by “Indian” contingent that saw KXIP (against all odds), almost making it to the playoffs. While the likes of Azhar Mehmood and David Hussey led the charge, it’s the efforts of Mandeep, Nitin Saini, Gurkirat Singh, Parvinder Awana, Bhargav Bhatt, Siddharth Chitnis etc that brought a new lease of life to this team’s fortunes. And its here, Rathore had a stellar role to play. Of course, he was the right hand man for Gilly while making the informed decisions on the team composition and preparation the domestic conditions (venues) and oppositions.
  2. Monty Desai (Rajasthan Royals): Monty is a unique talent. He has never played active cricket, yet pursued his dreams of associating with the game under the tutelage of late Hanumanth Singh, and got qualified as a Level II Certified Coach from ECB – UK and NCA India. Monty joined Royals, after being recommended to the management by his friend Zubin Barucha and since then have worked with Warnie, Jeremy Snape and Darren Berry to ensure the Indian contingent is in top shape – Cricketwise, physically and mentally. He resides and works as a coach in USA (south east region), however his exploits in Royals is worth a rousing applause. After Warne retired from IPL, Monty got elevated to the position of Royals coach, this season and was seen actively involved in Royals matters with Dravid. He has been instrumental in the rise of the Royals local talents like Rahane, Menaria, Chandila, Sid Trivedi, Amit singh, Ankeet Chavan and Pankaj Singh. And Royals emerged as a force this season because of consistent efforts from the domestic bunch.
  3. T A Sekhar (Delhi Daredevils): In many ways Daredevils bowling looks like a miniature Pace Foundation – Morkel, Pathan, Bracewell, Russell, Yadav, Agarkar, Aaron, Salvi etc. And it doesn’t surprise one bit, because for one thing that T A Sekhar has done well in his life other than getting up every morning, is to produce fast bowling talent with relentless consistency. His efforts for the last 20 years are no less than a social service of the highest order. So to have him in the support system augurs very well for all the fast bowling talents in the Daredevils stable. Sadly, TAS’s expertise has never been used widely in a national context. This season while the Purple cap holder Morkel was on top of his game, it’s the precision of Umesh, the consistency of Pathan and occasional successes of Aaron in addition to that of their spinners (Nadeem and Negi) that ensured Daredevils had the requisite depth. Here worth mentioning would be the role of Aashish Kapoor (the Off Spinner of yesteryears) who has worked hard with the spinners and has also been Delhi’s prime domestic Talent Scout.
  4. Paras Mhambrey (Mumbai Indians): Long before the days of Indian Premier league when the Indian domestic scenario was warming up to the concept of having coaches for the Ranji teams, Mhambrey emerged as one the first ones in the job. His coaching resume is a sparkling one – took Bengal to 2005 and 2006 finals, then coached India A in 2007 before joining Baroda as their Head Coach. Paras, has been instrumental in scouting the domestic bunch for MI (his additional qualification being he enjoys a lot of respect from Sachin, which is probably the biggest qualifications for a job at MI). Though MI was probably the only team which had 9 out of their 11 players as International Players (That reduces the scope for Domestic Players), but successes of Rayudu, Dhawal Kulkarni and occasional performances of Abu Nechim, Yuzvendra Chahal etc. have been under the keen eyes of Mhambrey. (Sadly, on most days Paras was seen sitting with the Ambanis telling them what’s happening on the field for them to understand and react).
  5. Vijay Dahiya (KKR): In the 2004 auction, KKR came in with a mission – To rewrite the fabric, the core of their team. They intended to create a new personality and crux, with one pure intent of constructing a strong team that is well-rounded with skills, have the heart of gladiators and THAT CAN WIN IPL. Thus began a voyage that culminated into the sweet crescendo of being crowned as champions in IPL5. Dahiya, was the mastermind, who proposed a future with a new leader – Gambhir and a team that will be “complete” in most aspects. He along with Dav Whatmore plotted the look and feel of the team and went onto acquire the same tenaciously. Irrespective of who was the head coach (whatmore or Bailiss), one could figure out who was the constant sounding partner for Gauti. (Here I must mention the Dahiya – Gauti connection – Dahiya played his cricket for Delhi, he was once the captain there when Gautam was a rookie opener. Later Dahiya became the Delhi coach in 2007 leading them to the Ranji title after a hiatus of 16 years. Gauti was his captain) His sound understanding of the tactics, and profound knowledge of the cricketing demographics made him scout for some of the most effective domestic talents (Bisla, Tiwary, Shukla, Das, Balaji, Abdulla etc.) and its their performances that finally got KKR to a level of consistency that’s only second to CSK (Making it to 2 consecutive playoffs , with one Title). They certainly are a force to reckon with in the world club T20 stage.
  6. There are others Praveen Amre (Pune Warriors) and Kanwaljeet Singh (Deccan Chargers). However, their contribution was limited as they had to comply with stronger directives from their respective seniors (Ganguly and Lehmann). No wonder these two teams adorned the last 2 positions on the Points table. Their overt dependence on their International Stars and unimaginative usage of domestic talent was a major cause of these teams losing out overall. RCB with Kumble, Prasad and Brijesh Patel manage the domestic quotient within themselves and there again the difference between them and other teams (in the games that they lost) was due to the inconsistency with the domestic talents. CSK, have not used much of Indian support off late with their support teams being fairly seasoned after being therefor 5 years. They haven’t experimented much with their team hence most of the domestic talents are well onboarded in the side. Noteworthy, CSK did have V B Chandrasekhar for the first 3 years when they were searching for the right combination of domestic talent.

The spotlight will always be on the owner (for what and who they are), and the much celebrated coaches who make the big decision of spending the big bucks on the big international names. However a team is complete only when the uncapped players get picked and they are prepped towards delivering on the big stage. Its here champion teams make the difference. Its in this crucial space some of the above names are doing some remarkable work. Its time we acknowledge their efforts. We have had many instances of young players bursting into the international / IPL stage with stellar performances only to sink into the abyss of disillusionment. A support system that can arrest these consistent rise and fall, will only write the pages of a much brighter cricketing future. Its time to invest in this layer – The Supporting Actors!

PS: There are 65 Level C (Level III Certified) coaches in the NCA (National Cricket Academy alamanac). Incidentally except for Amre and Kanwaljeet, none of the above names figure in the list of the so called topmost certified list of coaches. Which does tell a story – but then that’s for another day.

Loathe Path Loathe Path, Agony Path Agony Path Agony Path!

So, I decided to see Agneepath. 22 years back I did the same, I had managed to see the original in the first 3 days. So, there’s something in that subject that got the better out of me to get out of the couch and go to the downtown screen-plex for the experience. To be honest, it’s difficult to keep the original out of your mind (in spite of critics  trying their best to squeeze that last line in their respective articles – try and go with an open mind and not trying to compare with the original). It’s difficult, nevertheless I tried.

For starters, Karan Malhotra has an imaginative mind. He displays this ability to double click on existing premise to bring out a new flavor. It’s also proven that he sees a lot of films – Well the Old Agneepath, Nayakan, Harry Potter, Angaar etc. etc. And tries to bring in elements from all to make this that ultimate concoction – cocktail if you may! But you know what? it tastes like a fruit punch gone terribly sour. The real question that I was left with was – what was the attempt? While I know – to make it grander, gory-er, larger, menacing-er was the intent or at least that’s what came through listening to all the sound bites, I struggled to find them while soaking in the visual presentation.

Here’s a village where there is an upright and honest man (masterji) teaching the lessons of fearless, principled life to his son (Yeh mahaan drishya hai, chal raha manushya hai..). Village has its share of illiteracy and vices that are being exploited by the evil son (Kancha) of the local chief. A plot is hatched, and masterji bumped off , leaving the boy with a burden and rage of revenge. Shift to Mumbai, boy grows up under a local don (Rauf Lala), with the rage to work towards a logical 3 hour ending to this saga. Now that’s the gist.

The problem begins with Karan M under the influence of his boss Karan J getting over zealous in trying to take this plot and getting into the “Operation Grande” mode. This makeover is Cosmetic. Thanks to the 22 years of technological insurgence, the version 2.0 is sleeker in its cinematography, its color rendition, its canvas etc. The sound of the film is loud, disturbing (in the negative sense) and downright bad. And the performances are mostly over the top hamathons. Most importantly the subject lacks soul. As an audience the only muscles I used was to see and cringe. I did not feel – the grief, the menace, the rage, the despise, the anger, the adrenalin – nothing. I definitely felt the fatigue, the late night, the sleepiness and the regret of dragging my wife into it. The problem was with the feeling.

Mandhwa became this imaginary tapoo (as om puri describes in his inimitable croak), which has a skyline and backdrop which is very Hogwart-ish and with a bald voldemort-ish Kancha looming large in his lungi, it does appear that this was KaranM’s version of “when Harry met Agni”. So while in Mandhwa you have a lot of rains, grey, dilapidated real estate and one bargad tree. (In hindsight, there was a bit of Ratnam’s Raavan too there).

Kancha is a man, who seems to have read, internalized and probably earned a few scholastic laurels in the ancient hindu vedas and Upanishads, yet chose to interpret them in an evil sense. There’s a fleeting reference to him running camps akin to hitlers concentration camps – so kudos to his general awareness and intellectual horsepower. Kancha specializes in “trying” to look menacing .

Rauf Lala, the new addition in 2.0 is a Mumbai Gang-lord, who has a fairly diversified lines of business – from Meat to Charas to Cocaine to Little-Girls and runs an enterprise with Monopolisitic intent. He organizes for these sales-durbars to sell little girls (Damdi as he spells) to extremely desperate and very loud sheikhs. When he isn’t picking up “young talents” from the hapless “below-the-poverty-line” households and selling them in his durbars, he is the unchallenged drug lord of Mumbai. A super power who keeps Kancha off Mumbai limits. Rauf Lala is the shelter and training ground for the boy to get even with Kancha. An interesting addition, which fails big time and takes along with it the whole titanic.

Vijay Dinanath Chauhan, the boy – who sees his father, his beliefs, his dreams, his guiding light extinguished in front of his own eyes brutally. His desire for living ends then. His ambition is to restore this gross imbalance that gets created on that rainy day in Mandhwa. He lives with a deathly silence around him, in solitude but does his annual “Gopala” routine, and an occasional jig or two. He also craves to live a normal life with family, only to remind himself of the larger vision he has aligned himself to and get tragically serious. Yet, VDC doesn’t make you feel the pathos he has undergone. He doesn’t evoke the feeling of the tragedy, the impending doom or the empathy for his troubled soul. VDC, is the biggest disappointment thus making the premise shallow and weak.

Agneepath 2.0 is a directorial disaster. The problem is the classical (ongoing) polarity between “Look” and “feel”. Karan (both M and J), chose to go with the former without having an inkling of the latter. They wanted to make this huge “thing” with a casting coup thereby pulling off a miracle. Sadly this missile lands very close to where KJo’s nemesis RGV landed with his Aag. The writing is abysmally poor. When not mouthing the poetic Agneepath, or Kancha’s Upanishad routine or a few “playing-to-the-balcony” lines  – the rest of the lines are very poor. Characters of VDC’s mom and sister, Commissioner Gokhale, VDC’s love interest etc. are just peripheral and barely add to the plot. The script is shallow and screenplay over the top.

However, the topmost failure was the Casting. Sanjay Dutt, tries his best to look and be menacing as Kan”Voldemort”cha. He flaunts an over powering frame, fiery eyes, mouths his shudh-hindi upanishadialouges with occasional fumble and brings in his collection of guffaws, eccentric outbursts and evil stares. Within a limited premise Dutt, brings the character alive, yet looks detached with the larger canvas. Its those moments of silence that Dutt oozes superlative promise compared to the over the top monkish renditions.

Rishi Kapoor as Rauf Lala is a royal let down. Karans wanted to do something out of the ordinary and this was the extent they could have gone to do so. (They depsrataly need to look beyond that one lane of Juhu for being a bit more imaginative). RK isn’t comfortable looking evil. The trademark conviction we associate with him deserts him in those scenes of tyranny. Its here the makers could have been imaginative with their casting, and someone strong could have held the boat together from capsizing.

Zareena Wahab and Om Puri as VDC’s mom and Commissioner Gokhale are forgettable as they appear just as glorified junior artistes in a few scenes. Beauty is Puri manages to Ham his guts out even in those miniscule parts.

Priyanka as Kaali, makes you ask the question, Why? But some questions never evoke any answers so let it be.

Agneepath is Vijay’s tale. And here comes the painful part. Roshan, excels in what he does. He is probably the only mainstream actor present today who understands himself well and brings out the right mix of action and emotion to make it look real. Even here, to what s been written for him, and the direction he receives, he brings that alive. He is understated for the large part of the journey and explodes in a volcanic crescendo. You love him for the earnestness he brings in while playing the son, the brother, the henchman, the troubled kid, the enraged soul et al, yet he doesn’t evoke any feeling in you. You love Hrithik but you cant meet or feel Vijay Dinanath Chauhan. That’s a classic failure of poor writing and the “Look” v/s “feel” conflict. Hrithik wasn’t a good choice for VDC. One tends to compare with 1.0 , but even if I leave that chore – I don’t have anything to write home about here, apart from some kind words for Roshan. This wasn’t his film.

And then This wasn’t a subject for the yippie-yippety school of fim making – the Karans. This needed serious writing, and immaculate casting. Agneepath is all about feeling, and sadly that sense is muted. So what comes out is bigger, grander, louder, sleeker yet a complete slush fest, that screams “Loathe Path Loathe Path, Agony Path Agony Path Agony Path”

My Verdict: See it to quench your curiosity, but avoidable ! (But then Cash registers are ringing, Who am I to crib?)

Saar ! All Izzzz Well !

Indian tour manager Shivlal Yadav’s report to BCCI post Sydney test !!

Dear Shri. Srinivasan,
Wanna Come! (Or Wanna Go?)

The match just ended (Just in case you missed) and our performance was consistent – We lost, again and on the 4th day! Don’t go by what people write (especially the TV channels), its nowhere remotely as dire as they are making I sound. Trust me the Morale is sky high!
Just to make things more specific let me enumerate the positives emanating from this game:

  1. We won the toss, now cmon – that’s never happened in a test match for almost 3.5 years.
  2. Dhoni scored a 50, his highest score in Australia in a test – Huge positive (even Umesh was inspired after that)
  3. We have been ridiculed for a long time that we call teams home and ask Sehwag to score 250+ in Tests and ODIs. Since Gooch in 1991 we haven’t obliged any intl. batsman with a 300, so here we are, in the 100th game at SCG letting their captain achieve this infront of their PM on the Pink day – Talk of bilateral relations. This one will certainly earn you and Manji a lot of Pinky points.
  4. We tried 9 bowlers – Happy to report that Even VVS and Wall are in good bowling form
  5. You wanted Hussey to be brought back in form just before CSK’s next IPL season – Well there you are
  6. I had a quiet word with Virat on the third day morning and conveyed your message to get his stiff fingers some exercise, I think you would agree he has done enough to prove it to the world he is “Digitally” sound! Also talking of him he has been requesting me for the “Water” job, its time I obliged.
  7. M S Dhoni tried 846 different fielding combinations, from Fletcher’s unpublished book “How to Lose Ashes in 10 days”, I must say they aren’t hypotheses anymore – but tried and tested phenomena
  8. We scored 300, 400 both in one innings – now that is huge! In fact we have taken Sri Shastri’s suggestion and heading to the local beach for the next days to celebrate this stupendous Morale milestone
  9. You will be delighted to know Sehwag is very well rested as he ensured he had a good sleep when India batted – both innings.
  10. Gautam Gambhir finally overcame the after effects of that head injury he suffered in England, he told me yesterday “he is able to see again”. Oh, can’t tell you how inspirational a moment that was for everyone
  11. Ravichandra Offspin has been brilliant, he has been batting very well. You remember the mental trauma he went after missing that single against West Indies. He has been working hard. In fact he is a big plus for us because he has been learning from every four hit against him to bolster his batting abilities.
  12. Finally Sachin Tendulkar. Anna, What do I say? The man is in the form of his life. But I don’t want to talk on that statistical expectation that everyone is talking about. I just want to say he did not go out with some overt waving of bat etc. that means he will be back – in Sydney in 2021. Trust me nothing can be more motivating and positive than that. He has infact started his Autobiography titled “So-nia, yet so far” – that might get him that UPA ticket he always wanted , nahi?

Now if you look at what Australians have gained its miniscule in comparison. A few hundreds, a triple 100, a five fer etc. These are routine and you and I have always agreed that Win and loss are just statistics what is important is that game within a game. We were winners all the way there.
Don’t worry saar ! I assure you we are doing the right things. You just DRS – Drink, Relax and Sleep !
Keeping a Hawk eye …yours truly !