November 25, 2006

by Aparajith Ramnath

‘Well, what did you expect?’ began Ted Corbett’s report (in The Hindu) of the first day of the much-hyped Ashes series. At the ‘Gabba in Brisbane, Ricky Ponting had just notched up century number 32 in a relentless march towards Tendulkar’s current total of 35, Justin Langer had scored 82 runs, and Mike Hussey was keeping his captain company at stumps with a fifty to his credit: 346 runs in the day for the loss of just three wickets. Corbett’s opening line captured acutely the utter dominance of the Aussies.

Now, the same line could probably be used to talk about the home team’s decision not to ask the Englishmen to follow on after having clinched a mammoth lead of 445 runs. They seem to have made this a part of their style. Just consider. At the end of Day 3 of the Test, they are at 181 for one in their second innings, so that they now lead by 626 runs with two days to go.

Conventional wisdom has always been to go for victory by the shortest possible route. So if the opponents are 445 runs behind and have only managed around a third of that total in their first innings, asking them to follow on would be the shortest route. The Aussies have, over the last few years, given a number of reasons why they do not prefer this – including their bowlers being tired, and not wanting to bat last on a wearing pitch. (Staunch Indian supporters will no doubt hypothesise that the experience of losing to an Indian team that was following on at Eden Gardens in the now-famous Test match of Laxman’s 281 has led to a distrust of the follow-on method). None of those reasons, though, seem to apply here; for the Aussies had to bowl all of 61.1 overs in the first innings, and batting again for any length of time was hardly a very likely scenario for the Aussies. Why then the decision to bat on?

The pragmatists would advance the theory that this is part of an overall strategy to demoralise the opposition for the rest of the series, for the Aussies to stamp their authority on the series early on. Somehow one is not convinced about the need for this. Yes, sport must be competitive, but it is not politics. Is so much long-term planning necessary?

(In this context, see my post titled ‘The Cricket World Cup is still a year away!’)


At the Ground

November 11, 2006

by Aparajith Ramnath

Reading about cricket always puts me in a good mood. Especially when the writing is top-notch, combining the evergreen qualities of literature with the warm glow of the sporting activity it describes.

Such are the entries in The Picador Book of Cricket, a book that I had heard much about but never read until recently, when I have been able to read some of the pieces in it.

Some of the writing about the pleasures of watching a cricket match led me to think about my own experiences of watching cricket live, in Chennai and in Pune.

The first first-class match I can remember watching was a Duleep Trophy match in Chennai (then Madras), at the MA Chidambaram Stadium at Chepauk, a ground which has been synonymous with high quality cricket for my generation (earlier generations saw some Test matches at the Corporation Stadium). I must have been younger than ten, but I remember clearly the experience of sitting in the Madras Cricket Club members’ pavilion, courtesy of a relative who is a member, and watching a Central Zone off-spinner bag a clutch of wickets against a West Zone team that featured, if I remember right, Vinod Kambli, Amol Mazumdar, and Sachin Tendulkar (though I think the last of these was not batting on the day). That off-spinner, Rajesh Chauhan, was selected to play for India soon after.

Watching Test matches was a step higher in terms of excitement. The cavernous stands at Chepauk with concrete roofs that helped to keep the sun out just a little, the colour in the stands, the chit-chat among neighbouring spectators, the Mexican waves that did the rounds every now and then – all these were new and stimulating experiences. I once saw a fellow spectator with a portable TV so they could catch the replays; years later when I saw my (so far) last Test match at the stadium, some of the stands had TVs mounted on the pillars, beaming live (well, almost live, there being a delay of about a second) action and replays. (The mammoth scoreboard at the Kumbhat Stand end of the ground, which used to have the players’ names and scores painted in bright yellow across a black background is now gone; in its stead stands an electronic replay-displaying scoreboard carted all the way from an Australian ground.) It was here also that I tasted first-hand the strange but palpable yearning of every spectator at the stadium to get his or her fifteen seconds of fame by being shown on television. There was much frantic waving of hands and witty banners whenever the cameramen turned his lens in our direction.

From there it was on to Pune. I don’t know if the Poona Club still hosts Ranji Trophy matches, but if it does, it must surely be unique in being a first-class venue with almost no seating for spectators – the only spectators being the ones in the club house. The ground itself was lush green, and its historical significance in being the venue of B.B. Nimbalkar’s famous 443 not out in years gone by made it glow a little more in my eyes. The sightscreen was a white cloth tied to a bamboo frame, quite unlike the Test match grounds where the practice of using sliding panels to use the sightscreen at the batsman’s end as an advertisement had already become established.

If Poona Club was the epitome of this dichotomous city’s ‘Camp’ or cantonment area, then Nehru Stadium was right in the middle of the more traditional ‘City’ area. This was where the one-dayers were played, and it seated thousands of people, though perhaps fewer than Chepauk. At this ground I did not have the privileged behind-the-bowler’s-arm view of the cricket, but watched the action from a shamiana-covered stand square of the wicket. The memories from here are not very detailed, except the way people rolled their paper caps into cones and shouted ‘oo-aa-oo-aa-oo-aa’ as the bowler began his run-up.

Watching the action on television just does not compare with the real thing. When you are at the ground, you can feel the speed at which the pacer hurls the ball, sense the quickness of the batsman’s reflexes, see the effort the fielder at fine leg actually makes when he sprints all the way to the square leg boundary. There is no commentary, and so you are closer to the players. You see things as they see them. You feel the heat they feel. You glance up at the scoreboard just as they do. When the twelfth man runs up with a bottle of water, you, sitting in the stands, reach for your own. Now which channel can top that?

Hair-Ball-ing controversy!!

November 7, 2006

by Amit Goyal 

Darrell Hair seems to beat the current bad boy cricket (Sohaib Akhtar) when it comes to being the centre of a cricketing controversy. The apparently no nonsense umpire has been removed from the elite panel of umpires and will no longer be officiating in International matches.

While the media from Down Under and Britain are crying foul and terming it as strong arm tactics of the Asian bloc, Mr. Hair is not stranger to courting controversy. Lets take a look at his career which has never remained free from the limelight.

1992. Adelaide Test. India vs Australia. In this match eight Indians fell victim to LBW decisions but only two of their appeals were upheld. Australia won by a narrow margin of 38 runs. Wisden felt that the entire affair was “marred … by controversy over lbw decisions – eight times Indians were given out, while all but two of their own appeals were rejected”.

1994. Adelaide Test. South Africa vs Australia. Peter Kirsten had an animated talk with Mr. Hair after a series of Proteans were declared out LBW. Kirsten was promptly declared out LBW in the next innings, and South Africa lost the game. Many felt that the decision was flimsy at the best.

1995. Melbourne Test. Sri Lanka vs Australia. Mr. Hair infamously no-balled Murali (from the bowlers end) for chucking. Now though the Aussies agree that Mr. Hair is very fair in all his dealings, I am ready to bet that such instances are not very common in the cricketing arena where the leg umpire is generally the one to declare a ball as being “thrown”. Lot of water has flown under the bridge since then. ICC has cleared Murali of all charges. Mr. Hair was charged (note, not penalised) for bringing the game into disrepute by calling Murali’s action “diabolical” in his autobiography.

2005. Faisalabad Test. Pakistan vs England. Mr. Hair declares Inzamam run out for leaving his crease while taking evasive action. Cricketing gurus feel it is contradictory to cricketing laws that stipulate that batsman cannot be run out if he leaves his ground due to evasive action. [Side note: I was happy as the decision against Tendulkar at Eden Garden is avenged.]

2006. Oval Test. Pakistan vs England. Mr. Hair, in consultation with Mr. Doctrove, declare the ball as being tampered with penalise Pakistan 5 runs and change the ball. Now, we all now that Pakistan has long faced such charges and are often in trouble for tampering with the ball and getting “some” reverse swing. Anyways, Pakistan decide that they had done nothing wrong and decide to not take the field as a mark of protest. Mr. Hair declares the match as forfieted and awards it to England. An enquiry committee then finds the ball being not tampered with and clear Pakistan of ball tampering charges but penalise them for bringing the game into disrepute. This was done after hearing the views of former cricketer Geoff Boycott and TV analyst Simon Hughes.

On the receiving end of Mr. Hair’s decisions have been India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and South Africa while on the other end stand Australia and England. Now, only if someone could explain me why the so called Asian bloc (supported by South Africa, West Indies and Zimbabwe) was for, while Australia and England (supported by New Zealand) are against, the suspension of Mr. Hair?