Cricket Uncut

A group blog run by professional cricket writers from across the world

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A collossus shuffling towards a painful doom

Roshan Paul writes about Matthew Hayden:
The Hayden of today embarrasses the Hayden of the last few years. Unsure of himself and his footwork, poking and prodding against even Matthew Hoggard, a bowler he has clobbered before, he has lost the game in his head.

And so he now seems a big ageing bully of a lion, being harrassed silly by a pack of hyenas, constantly nipping and cackling at his feet, slowly cutting off all escape routes and watching the massive bully collapse.
Quite. So when will the Australian selectors, known to be ruthless and unsentimental when it comes to team selection, finally let him go?

Cross-posted on India Uncut.
amit varma, 9:07 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Monday, August 29, 2005

Smile

Yesterday I watched yet another amazing Test between England and Australia. Today, a lacklustre performance from India. And the difference is clear to me: enjoyment. The iconic figure of the English side is Andrew Flintoff, who is quick to smile on the field, and clearly enjoys every moment he spends on the field, relishing the game he loves. His attitude has rubbed off onto his team-mates, and it helps, I suppose, that England's captain is one of the more relaxed guys around.

Contrast them with the Indians, who look under pressure even when there is no reason for it. They seem burdened, and only those who know them well can really shed light on what it is that holds them back. Trapped in a cycle of diffidence, they're just getting worse and worse.

Perhaps they simply need to smile more. As I'd once written here, that alone can be the start of a turnaround.

Cross-posted on India Uncut.
amit varma, 3:36 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, June 19, 2005

No questions about this one

Bangladesh has beaten Australia in a one-day international, and unlike their previous one-day wins against Pakistan (1999 World Cup) and India (December 2004), I guarantee you that no one will allege that this match was fixed. Makes you wonder why, doesn't it?

Update (8.27pm): A couple of readers thought that I was implying that this game was fixed. Quite the contrary. I believe match-fixing does not exist in international cricket today, and that Bangladesh's successes are due only to their being the better team on the day. But it upsets me that when they beat a fellow subcontinental team, everyone implies the match was fixed, but when they beat Australia such allegations don't arise. Any racism in that, you think?

In each case, the credit should go only to Bangladesh, and not to bookies.

(Crossposted here.)
amit varma, 12:52 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Monday, June 13, 2005

Red, round, and shiny

Two months ago I was in Meerut to write about the making of cricket balls. Here's the finished product, on Cricinfo.
Rahul Bhatia, 12:08 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A step in the right direction

This first appeared on Cricinfo.

A few months ago, Cricinfo received feedback on how to make the one-day game more interesting. Some seemed viable, and many were radical. But nearly every one of them agreed that the game needed to be changed in some way. The question was, how?

The ICC's Cricket Committee has walked this tightrope rather well. It has not suggested telling individual boards to produce more responsive pitches, nor has it recommended regulations to check Australia's dominance. It has instead recognised that one of the game's major problems lay in its rigidity, and that is what it has sought to rectify.

The recommendations of the panel chaired by Sunil Gavaskar are about offering flexibility. Umpires, captains, teams will have options: options over lbw decisions, over when to apply fielding restrictions, over which player to substitute. This is a remarkable development for it is a clear sign that there is intent to revive the one-day game, even if it means breaking with tradition.

One-day cricket needs these changes. Both Tests and the hoopla about Twenty20 have overshadowed it. Yes, there have been too many one-dayers played in recent years, but they are still profitable - and you can't argue with commerce. But at the moment, it is a game that is neither here nor there. It is not a place for bowlers, as Tests can be, and as for big hitting, Twenty20 has cornered that market. These changes will add variety and make one-dayers stand out again. It is, after all, a spectacle. And this leaves Test cricket's sanctity intact.

The familiar routine of bash-bash-knock it about for singles-and then bash some more will be done with, thanks to the new fielding restrictions: increasing them to 20 overs, of which ten can be used in two five-over blocs at any time by the fielding captain. The criticism of this proposal - that the move will only complicate the game further - is misplaced. Cricket has never pretended to be a simple game. This is just another variable to use and to deal with, and adds to the game's depth. This keeps the action constant and breaks up the predictability. It is, in a way, in keeping with the times. What the times demand are bigger audiences, more action, more drama, more everything.

Even the most contentious of the proposed changes - to allow substitutions - fits in with the need for modern sport to reinvent itself from time to time. While its benefits might not be apparent immediately, it will provide captains flexibility to switch a player for tactical or other reasons. And flexibility isn't a bad thing.

Empowering the umpires with technology is another good idea, for it could reduce the chance of error. For far too long has there been resistance to this, though this is now changing. While cricket attempted to become professional, its umpires - and in which other sport do decisions hinge so much on the umpire? - continued to make mistakes. It is anything but charming. It makes sense, then, to reduce errors in every way possible.

However, none of these changes, except the use of technology, help bowlers. So what can? Barring any major lbw- or bouncer-rule changes, there is one option: changing the composition of cricket balls so they swing or bounce or spin more. Balls have been made the same way for over a hundred years though, in that time, rules have continued changing to suit batsmen to the point that these encounters are one-sided. Though commercial considerations are necessary - a match that goes over or ends before the stipulated time is bad for rigid TV scheduling - it would be dangerous to ignore the battering bowlers receive, because their actions help create contests.

The changes suggested by the ICC will serve to renew interest - even if it is only curiosity. Now if only they'd help the poor bowlers.

Rahul Bhatia, 9:59 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage | (10) comments |

The other genius

While reading James Gleick's Genius, a book about Richard Feynman, a passage in the prologue caught my attention. In this, Mark Kac, the mathematician, beautifully describes why Feynman, a brilliant man in many ways, left behind few students.

"There are two kinds of geniuses, the "ordinary" and the "magicians." An ordinary genius is a fellow that you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what they have done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it. It is different with the magicians. They are, to use mathematical jargon, in the orthogonal complement of where we are and the working of their mind is for all intents and purposes incomprehensible. Even after we understand what they have done, the process by which they have done it is completely dark. They seldom, if ever, have students because they cannot be emulated and it must be terribly frustrating for a brilliant young mind to cope with the mysterious ways in which the magician's mind works." [Italics mine.]

As a cricket writer, I find myself wondering if this paragraph could be applied to Sachin Tendulkar. During his time as captain there were suggestions he lost his cool with teammates if they failed to complete a task he considered simple. Could it be that to Tendulkar's magical genius, Rahul Dravid is an ordinary genius, for his excellence at orthodoxy is obvious and easily understood? Both men play the game in their mind, but one was born with it, while the other worked towards it. This could also be another advantage if Dravid becomes captain. He could coherently help players understand their talents better.
Rahul Bhatia, 9:35 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Facing Flintoff

An interesting piece by Lawrence Booth in the Guardian:

When the pitch is playing up, batsmen change from being proponents of free-will ("cricket is what you make of it") to grim fatalists ("there's a ball coming soon with my name on it"). Since the Spin [Lawrence] had never batted in conditions more taxing than the back garden (sloping, tufty, but generally ankle-height bounce only), it had always belonged in the first school of thought. Then it agreed to face an over each in the Lord's nets from Jon Lewis and Andrew Flintoff, and all of a sudden fatalism seemed to make much more sense.


It's the sort of thing that changes your perception of things as a cricket writer. Suddenly you are part of the game and, well, things look different. Read the rest of it.

Rahul Bhatia, 9:29 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The truth about cellphones

Mike Marqusee writes in War Minus the Shooting:
A cellphone is a definitive postmodern accessory, sported by stockbrokers, drug dealers and political professionals, linking individuals without forming a community, indeed fragmenting existing communities.

Um, excuse me, there's a postmodern vibration on my thigh. And, ah, have you read this?

(Quote courtesy Sid.)
amit varma, 5:27 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Monday, May 16, 2005

The precocious baby, and selectors' marriages

Fine writers, strange sentences. Two of our better cricket writers, Tim de Lisle and Mike Atherton, recently wrote pieces that were otherwise excellent but contained one curious sentence each. First, from a piece by Atherton in the Sunday Telegraph, comes this:
Having rattled up only 86 runs from seven innings, Marcus Trescothick's new baby is not the only thing at the moment that will be giving him sleepless nights.

This indicates, obviously, that baby Trescothick has already embarked upon a cricketing career, and it is hard to see why Atherton should complain about that. And then, there is this sentence from de Lisle's column in the Times:
The No 5 spot was up for grabs as the selectors made Graham Thorpe wait after twice pulling out with marital problems.

This sentence isn't exactly wrong, but it's ambiguous: when I first read it, I assumed that England's selectors collectively had marital problems, and poor Thorpe was suffering for it.

Both these men are such fine writers that I am assuming the copy desk twisted sentences around to produce these errors. (Cricket Writing Commandment 1: Blame the subs.) And as Chandrahas, who brought my attention to these sentences, pointed out, both pieces contain some excellent writing, especially de Lisle's superb paragraph on Alan Wells. We shall savour the writing, but shall not deprive ourselves of a chuckle at Trescothick's talented child or England's selectors' marital woes.
amit varma, 5:23 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

A confusion over initials

If you were to look inside the Wisden Cricketers Almanack 2005, you would imagine that I have written for it. The report for the Indian tour to Bangladesh in 2004-05 is supposedly by Amit Varma. Why "supposedly"? Well, Anand Vasu, my colleague at Cricinfo, wrote that report.

I had written something for the 2004 Almanack, and they must have got confused over our initials and credited me for the piece. I feel terrible for Anand – it was a big step for me to have my name in the Almanack last year, and I presume he attaches a similar importance to it – though he is taking it well, making self-deprecating jokes and all that. Well, now you know.
amit varma, 5:14 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, April 28, 2005

On translation

Cross-posted here.

As a cricket writer on tour, one of the most interesting things I note is press conferences that are not in English. Most of the Pakistanis, for example, prefer to speak in Urdu and many of the Indians, such as Virender Sehwag and Irfan Pathan, speak in their own language. What is fascinating to me is the manner in which they are translated by the English-language press.

How one translates quotes from another langauge reveals a lot about how one thinks, and writes. For example, if some writers lazily fall back upon cliches and banalities in their own writing and thought, something I had written about here, it is likely that a glimpse of that will appear in their translation as well. Those who tend to use archaichisms in their own writing will put them in other people's mouths.

Also, the translated quotes pieces that appear the next day reveal which groups of writers work in cliques. These are the pieces which are verbatim the same, something that would not be possible if each individual did his own translation. It means that one guy did the translating and the rest of his group took the copy from him. That is not a bad thing; stressed-out journalists on tour often need to work together to retain their sanity.

How do I work, you ask? Well, press conferences in Urdu and Hindi are the ones I enjoy the most, as I know these languages pretty well. It's a breeze for me to take down the gist of what is being said, and translate it quickly into simple English. I try not to use a big word when a smaller one would serve the same purpose, and I make sure that it sounds natural when spoken aloud. In the hands of many other writers, simple natural spoken Urdu turns into stilted English.

Consider, for example, this interview of Irfan Pathan in Outlook, in which he supposedly says: "I’ve already experienced the vicissitudes of life at the top." As fellow blogger Bala points out, "vicissitudes" is hardly the kind of word that Pathan would use in everyday speech. It tells us more about the interviewer than the interviewee, and that is a pity.
amit varma, 4:01 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Monday, April 25, 2005

Blind? Sorry, you can't play

How do you deal with blind cricketers? Easy. You don't. Here's what George Abraham, the chairman of the Association for Cricket for Blind in India (ACBI), claims the heads of the BCCI said to him when he sought support for a series against a visiting Pakistan team:

"Dalmiya did not think it was cricket... Though the cricket boards in most of the countries are now aiding the cause of blind cricketers, we are struggling to survive ... I did try to talk to BCCI secretary SK Nair but he said he was very busy. The BCCI does not recognise us."

Even if this is true, not much can be done. The BCCI is a private body and it can cover the forms of cricket that it wants to. It isn't inclined to listen to us or be swayed by moral obligations, if you want to go down that road.

Still, it doesn't look too good on the cricket board's resume.
Rahul Bhatia, 9:38 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The New Don, and his chest

In a piece on Rediff.com, Bob Woolmer, Pakistan's cricket coach, compares Virender Sehwag to, gulp gulp, Don Bradman. Discussing Pakistan's experience with Sehwag during the recent Test series, he writes:
I would often sit in front of the computer, with Sehwag's innings on the biomechanics screen, searching for the weakness; looking for the line and length that would give him most difficulty.

In the end, we settled for a short ball, targeted into his chest. While this stunted his run scoring, we did not get him out this way.

Well, I identified that as Pakistan's tactic as the series got underway, in this post: "The battle of the series". But as I wrote here, Pakistan's bowlers weren't accurate enough to make it work. I still believe that Sehwag has a problem there that needs to be tested, but who will do it? Barring Australia, and perhaps England when Steve Harmison isn't homesick, no team has the bowling attack to implement the plan. Contrast that with 20 years ago, or even 10.
amit varma, 10:37 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Touched by Wright

Today was John Wright's last press conference as Indian coach, and we all applauded as he walked into the room, something that hard-as-nails journalists seldom do at PCs. Wright was bowing out with defeat, but not in disgrace. India always had plenty of talent, but it was Wright who made them a professional outfit that could take on the best teams in the world. Beating Australia in 2001, reaching the final of the World Cup, drawing with Australia in the away series in 2003-04, beating Pakistan the same season; Wright had many high points, but many low ones too.

I shall write more about him, and his relationship with Sourav Ganguly, some other time. I'm writing this post simply because something he said moved me. When asked if he would still continue watching India play cricket, he said: "Like a hawk." He continued:

"My son supports India. My daughter supports India. I will always support India." Here he paused, and then said, "India has touched me".

These were sincere words; you could make out from the manner in which he said them. It was easy, from his tone, to imagine him holding back the tears while packing his bags for the last time, blinking furiously so that no one would see how much it meant. He is a quiet, undemonstrative man who gave everything to his job, and much as we credit others for bringing passion into the side and Wright for bringing professionalism, he was as passionate as anyone else there. He just didn't wear it on his sleeve.

These have been fascinating and emotional years for Indian cricket, and someday, I hope, one of the handful of talented cricket writers in the country will tell the full story, so that people know how much Wright tried, and how badly he was let down, by the BCCI, by his captain, by a media keen to rush to judgement, by circumstances. It was a time of possibilities, and much as Wright will gracefully deny it, it will also hold many regrets. What a shame.
amit varma, 6:39 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

A greater disgrace than defeat

India just lost their sixth wicket, but there is a matter of greater disgrace than just a loss at hand. Hordes of bottles have descended on the field from a section of the stands, in a sudden flurry, as cops and groundsmen have rushed over to pick them up. What is curious is that there are plenty of cops inside the stands in question, and they're just standing and watching the fun. The bottles come in a series of bursts, like water from a malfunctioning faucet, and the players, after a few minutes, have decided to walk off.

This happened at three venues during the seven one-dayers that West Indies played on their tour to India in 2002-03, and no action was taken against those venues then. I believe that any venue where there is a disturbance should be banned from hosting international matches for five years, no excuses tolerated. Politics ensures that nothing of that sort will happen, of course, because the ICC can't piss off the BCCI and the BCCI president needs the votes of local state associations and the blocs they form. Pity.

Ah, and as I type this, another piece of information emerges. The stands where the disturbance came from are complimentary stands. These people haven't even bought their tickets, they're family and friends of VIPs, people with "contacts". And, if I really need to add, bottles.
amit varma, 3:01 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Timber falling

This first appeared on Cricinfo's Plays of the Day.

It should have been a regulation quick single, but it probably marked the end of a series. Rahul Dravid patted Abdul Razzaq to mid-on and ran, and Yousuf Youhana ran in, picked up and, in one easy motion, threw. The stumps went down, and the umpire called for the third umpire to make a decision. But before the replay could come on, Dravid was on his way back, head bowed.

Pakistan had, time and again, got their direct hits right in this series. It was a tribute to the work Bob Woolmer had put in, and the benefit of having a professional foreign coach was showing on the side. India, meanwhile, were playing their last game under John Wright.
amit varma, 2:55 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

A demand for carbohydrates

As Inzamam-ul-Haq gets ready to play Ajit Agarkar, the crowd starts chanting, "aaloo, aaloo". ("Potato potato"; a nickname that irritates Inzamam.) Inzamam takes guard, Agarkar bowls wide outside off, Inzamam swings at it and misses by a long way. The Indians appeal and AV Jayaprakash lifts his finger, as if up the nostril of an imaginary man irritating him by hanging upside down just in front of him. It's a ridiculous decision, and Inzamam, slowly, walks back for lunch. Does he think, perhaps, of what might be on the menu?
amit varma, 12:45 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Airline wars

A group of fans in the stand below us at the Ferozshah Kotla Stadium have started chanting, "jeetega bhai jeetega, India jeetega". (Loosely, "We will win, we will win, India will win".) They chant, and I am shocked to discover after a few seconds that my head is bobbing along to the rhythm.

Suddenly, one solitary voice shouts, "Air India jeetega". Nice.
amit varma, 12:34 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Bombay Duck's Indian, ok?

A manual scoreboard at one end of the ground lists the Pakistan team. The last man named is Ajit Agarkar. Well, I can imagine the Pakistanis like him, but surely not that much.

Hat tip for this observation: Dileep.
amit varma, 11:49 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

The attacking captain

From whatever little I’ve seen of Rahul Dravid captaining the Indian side, I’ve been impressed. He’s been assured, always in command of things, never short of ideas and, to the surprise of some people, aggressive. It’s easy to go by his being typecast as a defensive batsman in the early part of his career and assume that he would be a defensive captain as well, but he attacks more than most of his predecessors, and is tactically more astute as well. He had six fielders inside the ring for a lot of the middle overs, for example, something that can only come from a captain who is confident and believes in his players.

That belief shows in the way his players have been responding, fielding energetically, going for direct hits whenever there’s the slightest chance of a run-out, and backing up enthusiastically. His men respect him, and it shows.

Interestingly, another man typecast as a defensive player who was a superbly aggressive captain was Ravi Shastri. Cliché-ridden though his commentary is today, he never got a shot at an extended stint as captain. Hopefully, Dravid will.
amit varma, 11:40 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

A brutal deja vu

This first appeared on Cricinfo's Plays of the Day.

"[Shahid] Afridi was the difference between the two sides in Kanpur," Rahul Dravid had said before this game. "We need to get him out early." Well, shortly after Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh shook hands with all the players, the offensive began.

Ashish Nehra to Afridi. Just outside off, swing and miss. Hmmm, Nehra must have thought, maybe that's the wrong line. Second ball, down leg, glanced for four. Third ball, on his hips, tucked away for four. Fourth ball, down leg again, glanced for four again. Fifth ball, short ball on middle stump, a high pull that looped up as if being sucked in by a cloud, and then fell on the fence for six. Hmm, Nehra must have thought, let me try something else. Last ball, outside off, slashed for four through point. Twenty-two off the over.

Nehra walked away, looking down at the ground. All this had happened before. Familiarity, in the case of Afridi, does not breed contempt; it breeds fear.
amit varma, 9:45 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

The statesmen and the cricketers

Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh just came on to the field and met all the players, lined up in green and blue. When they were introduced to the Pakistan players, Manmohan led the way; when it was the Indians' turn, Musharraf led the way. They waved to the crowd after that, walking around a bit, and the crowd cheered madly.

I know out history isn't too enouraging, but I'm not a cynic about this peace process. As I've said here and here, I think we're on the right track. I hope it leads somewhere.
amit varma, 9:08 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Who needs hydration?

As I entered the press box at the Ferozshah Kotla ground, at 6.30 am today morning, the bottle of water I was carrying was confisticated. "Water not allowed," the cop told me. He also said "mobile not allowed" and "camera not allowed", conditions that don't exist for the press at any other ground, but I smuggled them in anyway. A bottle of water, though, was too big for the secret pockets of my Samsonite laptop backpack. But I assumed we'd get water in the press box refreshment area.

Ha. There were massive containers of water there, but no glasses or bottles, because those had been held up by security. The Pepsi machine was working, but again, no glasses. After a couple of hours, I spotted an empty bottle lying somewhere, washed it throughly, filled it with Pepsi for my colleagues, and strode towards the part of the press box where we sit. I was stopped by security. "No Pepsi," they insisted. There was a commotion behind me. Bottles of water had just arrived. But those weren't allowed where we were sitting either. Eventually, Jaideep Bhandarkar of NDTV, a big man with a big heart, smuggled us some bottles, as the TV cameramen's enclosure was next to ours, and bottles were allowed there.

But what about the rest of the crowd? I don't know how many thousands of people have queued for hours for tickets and come here at an insanely early hour to watch the match. They now sit in the open air, and the sun beams down on them. They cheer lustily, but soon their throats will be dry.
amit varma, 8:47 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Politics and the Indian captaincy

Sourav Ganguly had packed his bags, but the journey he meant to take never happened. This was before the Kanpur one-day international between India and Pakistan, and Ganguly’s appeal over his six-match ban had been submitted to the ICC, which had allowed him to play until it came to a decision. So he would play in the last two one-dayers, he thought. Then he found out he wasn’t included in the team. Not through the BCCI, but through the media. He unpacked.

I haven’t had any illusions for a while that the captaincy of India is decided not by what happens on the field, but by backroom politics. Ganguly, regardless of whether he deserved to be in the team or not, would remain captain for a while because he had the backing of Jagmohan Dalmiya and the Bengal lobby. An easy away series against Zimbabwe comes up next, and I was sure Ganguly would lead India to its first series win outside the subcontinent since 1986.

In politics, though, the sun rises from the West when you’re doing your surya namaskar and burns your ass, and you never know what will happen next. So it is turning out. Everybody assumed that Ranbir Singh Mahendra, who had been installed by Dalmiya as a puppet BCCI president, would do his master’s bidding. But just as a previous puppet, AC Muttiah, had risen up against Dalmiya, so is Mahendra, sources tell me. He is a senior politician from Haryana, and rumours are that he has now joined hands with an even bigger politician, Sharad Pawar. Mahendra, as a front for Dalmiya, had beaten Pawar in the last elections for BCCI president. What would their coming together mean for Indian cricket?

One, it would mean that Dalmiya’s days as the omnipotent force in the BCCI could come to an end. Two, it would mean that Ganguly is finished. Why so? Because Mahendra was the manager of the 1991-92 tour to Australia in which Ganguly went, and the two did not get along there. Later, in an interview to Rediff.com, Ganguly was to describe Mahendra as “probably the worst guy I have ever seen in my life” and “a shame, a shame to Indian cricket.” If Mahendra starts asserting the power he technically holds as BCCI president, Ganguly is history.

How much credence would I give to these rumours? I’d take them pretty seriously. What else could explain Ganguly not playing the last two ODIs despite being eligible, and being treated in such a manner? And SK Nair, the secretary of the BCCI, recently contradicted himself to the press on this issue, first saying that Ganguly was told about the decision to drop him, and then, on a separate occasion, admitting that Ganguly was not aware of his being dropped.

I have felt for a while that despite his outstanding record as captain, Ganguly’s batting has suffered, probably because of the pressures of captaincy. Indian cricket needs to move on unsentimentally, for the good of the side, as Australian cricket always does. But not in this manner. Ganguly should have been allowed to leave with dignity. Ideally the BCCI should have had a quiet word with him and asked him to step down from the captaincy gracefully, and given him another series to focus on his batting and try to pick up the pieces. But just as Ganguly tarnished his legacy by playing on for too long, the BCCI has disgraced Indian cricket with its treatment of a man who led India through such a crucial phase in its cricketing history.

In other other words, it is the right decision, taken for the wrong reasons, implemented in the wrong manner. This is no way to go.
amit varma, 8:16 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

The dialect of a cricket writer

This article was first published in the Indian Express as "Windbag and the willow". Note how my blog helped me in forming the ideas that went into this piece; I'd explored the subject of cricketing cliches all through my blogging in March.

THE next time you watch a cricket match, listen to the phrases that pop into your head with every piece of action. Have you heard these words before? I don’t know about you, but I am assailed by familiar phrases and sentences when I watch cricket, and I recoil each time one pops into my head. I am a cricket journalist, and it is my job to describe every game of cricket that I write about in a fresh manner, to give the reader a clear picture of what happened. And yet, that is so difficult.

Cricket writing, and commentary, has a dialect of its own which consists of lazy shorthands, cliches that do not evoke what happened in the field of play, but regurgitate banal expressions that dull our mind. It is difficult to escape this dialect, to write outside it, because we have been exposed to it repeatedly over the decades, and we reflexively think in this dialect whenever we watch cricket.

Here are some of the common forms that it takes. One, there are the descriptions of play, or of a situation. These could consist of dead metaphors, like the batsmen being ‘‘on a leather hunt’’, ‘‘using the long handle’’ and ‘‘taking the bull by the horns’’, as the match ‘‘teeters on a knife’s edge’’, as the bowlers ‘‘feel the heat’’. They could be phrases that were innovative when first used in this context, but now evoke nothing, such as when we talk of batsmen ‘‘taking control of the situation’’ or ‘‘tearing apart’’ the bowling or ‘‘seizing the initiative’’, as bowlers try to ‘‘tempt the batsmen into indiscretion’’ and ‘‘snatch the momentum’’.

They could be common descriptions, such as of a man who plays a ‘‘captain’s innings’’ or another whose ‘‘feet are stuck to the crease’’, as the ‘‘the game meanders towards a draw’’. And then there’s the hyperbole: ‘‘it’s all happening here’’, the ball ‘‘sped to the boundary like a tracer bullet’’, and ‘‘when he hits it, it stays hit’’.

Two, there are the aphorisms. ‘‘Form is temporary, class is permanent,’’ they say, adding, ‘‘When you’re in form, make it count.’’ After every bad decision someone is sure to write, ‘‘It all evens out in the end.’’ (That is not just a cliche, but also false.) And every twist in a match is sure to be accompanied by talk of ‘‘glorious uncertainties of the game’’.

Three, there are the adjectives. Certain cricketing nouns always seem to go with particular adjectives, which is why we talk of ‘‘fiery spells’’, ‘‘elegant cover-drives’’, ‘‘crisp driving’’, ‘‘lionhearted spinners’’, ‘‘gritty customers’’ (also a dead metaphor), ‘‘needless run-outs’’ (which run-out isn’t?), and ‘‘metronomic accuracy’’. These are objectionable not because they are inaccurate, but because they do not convey the particulars of a circumstance. Michael Vaughan, Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Yasir Hameed all play ‘‘elegant cover-drives’’ that are different from each other, and it becomes the duty of the cricket writer to convey that difference.

What shocks me as a reader, and saddens me as a writer, is how in many Indian publications mastery of this dialect is considered a virtue. And television has actually sanctified it. For celebrities-turned-commentators, in fact, who have received no training in writing or commentary, the easiest way to cope is to pick up such shorthand. And if you learn the dialect, you are at least never at loss for something to say, for every situation evokes a basket of cliches to choose from. Perhaps this is an art in itself, if an ignoble one, but it does the game, and its followers, a disservice.

Regardless of whether we are writers, and regardless of the context of cricket, the language we use reveals the way we think. Are our ways of thinking fresh? George Orwell, in his famous essay ‘‘Politics and the English Language’’, wrote: ‘‘Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration.’’

Replace ‘‘political regeneration’’ with ‘‘the enjoyment of cricket’’ and that sentiment still holds. And that is why I get angry when people say that cricket is a dying sport. The game is not dying for faults of its own, but we are killing it with the ways in which we think about it, and speak about it.

Cricket is full of dramas, epiphanies, epic passages of play that reveal and celebrate the qualities that make us human. It is we who refuse to see cricket the way it is, and reduce it to banality.
amit varma, 7:16 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Friday, April 15, 2005

Rameez Raja banned from doing commentary

So Gaurav Sabnis reveals here. The reason for the ban is "repeated mispronunciation of cricketers' names". Gaurav tells us:
ICC Match referee Chris Broad, while watching the highlights of the match, noticed that Raja was pronouncing the name of Virender Sehwag as "Varindar" Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh as "Yovraj Singh", and Rahul Dravid as "Raool Draavid". Broad found this in violation of the ICC Code of Conduct for commentators Rule 420 and summoned Raja for a hearing. He was let off with a reprimand.

But not for long. I especially love the last line of the piece, but am flummoxed when Gaurav reveals, in the italicised bit, that Rameez and Tony Greig are the worst commentators in the world. What about Ravi Shastri?
amit varma, 5:30 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Burning fat

There is an old Awadhi saying, "City aawe, par stadium na jaawe." ("He goes to the city, but not to the stadium.") Well, ok, maybe not, but there could be, and blogging is about possibilities. Anyway, here's what I'm getting at: after a 28-hour journey by train to get to Kanpur, I am in the city but not at the ground. High fever and a bad cold have restricted me to my hotel room, the second time in this series I've missed a day of cricket. (I missed the last day of Kolkata Test because of getting the loosies.)

What makes it worse is that it was avoidable. I arrived in Kanpur with a slight fever, some bodyache and a minor cold. Nothing that a few hours of rest couldn't have sorted. But I went off to collect my press pass at 3 pm yesterday, and was made to run around for it, under the searing sun, until 8 pm. The pass was ready all along; they just like making people run around for it; and when they see you suffer, they delightedly tighten the screws.

The media management of the BCCI is something I won't waste much space on: it is run by inefficient amateurs with no accountability and an inflated sense of their own power. Furthermore, they resent us Wisden boys, especially those of us who also write for the British broadsheets. Some of them are failed journalists themselves, and boy, do they hate us. These guys are supposed to be helping journalists, but instead they're a giant harrassment machine. Some of the dialogues I've had these fellows are unbelievable, but more on that some other time.

A thought struck me last night when I was returning to the hotel with my room-mate, Rahul Bhatia. ""Every time I get fever and bodyache like this," I told him, "I think I'm going to lose weight. It's because the ache so much seems like fat getting burnt. But it never happens." Rahul laughed heartily, and sang me an Awadhi song, which got its charm from the insertion of "rabba" at the end of every line.

Enough of this post. I need to finish a piece, unrelated to the match, by 3 pm today, and because of half a day getting wasted yesterday, then tossing and turning all night in agony, I haven't even started the thing. Let's see how it goes.
amit varma, 12:42 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Travelling, and procrastination

It's 3.36am, and I am sitting here typing with a slight cold developing. What kind of maniac would do that? Yes, a blogger.

My train journey from Ahmedabad to Kanpur was a tedious one, lasting 28 hours, though it would have been much more boring were it not for the warm presence of Qaiser Mohammad Ali, the sports editor of Indo-Asian News Service, and a veteran cricket journalist. We had a few entertaining discussions, as well as many samosas and some hot tea.

What was far from hot, however, was the compartment we were travelling in, the only AC one on this train. The temperature was nipple-erectingly low for much of the time, and I spent large stretches standing outside by the door, letting the warm air rush into my face and screw up my hair completely. (Having long hair is so difficult in India; how do girls manage?)

The landscape was beautiful, and I took a few photographs I shall post later, some of them involving animals in stations. My CDMA Reliance phone didn't get connectivity for much of the journey, so I couldn't get online and blog, and my GSM Nokia was on low battery, so this was perhaps the first day in years that I did not speak to my wife, though she did send me a message about some pup taking a vacation from a corner.

There is a lot of writing to be done today, a couple of articles that I've been procrastinating on for days. Speaking of procrastination, here's a fine excerpt from an interview with Lawrence Weschler I was reading recently. In this, he is speaking of times when, after indexing his research material for a story, he is unable to work on it for weeks. Here it goes:
The most important thing is to not allow myself to hate myself. When I first started journalism, I just despised myself during these periods. I'd think, "I'm lazy, I'm a fuckup, I'm an evil person. Other people are working and I'm doing nothing." It is very important to teach yourself that this malaise is part of the process.

Having said that, it doesn't mean that you won't panic anyway. And it may well be that the panic turns out to be part of what gets you going again later on. You can't completely help hating yourself, I've found. But if you can't get over that self-loathing at all, it is best to stop being a writer. Because nothing is worth that kind of self-hatred. [Italics in the original.]

It was such a relief to read those two paragraphs. So I'm not alone in this world and it's not just me. Other writers feel it too. Now, um, on to those articles I need to finish.

That interview, by the way, is one of many other excellent ones in this book: The New New Journalism.
amit varma, 3:36 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Zoner or goner

Sachin Tendulkar , for his first over at each end, took a long time getting the sightscreen right. People somewhere above it and diagonally behind? Move them. Plastic chair near the advertising hoarding in front? Move it. Speck of dust on the surface? Clean it. Well, not that last one, but in recent years he’s been extraordinarily finicky about the sightscreen.

This can work in two ways with the media. When he fails, they will criticise this tendency of his, saying that when a batsman is confident or “in the zone” or playing well, he shuts out little distractions and just gets on with scoring runs. When he succeeds, they will praise his attention to detail and his concentration. Either way, it will be hindsight, as it so often is. See that journalist perching on the sightscreen; ooh, hanging off it now. Hit him, Sachin, smash the ball there.
amit varma, 10:54 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Run, run, run

That's what I did now, to catch my train for Kanpur in time. (Yes, I'm in it!) And that's what Pakistan did to win the game. What an outstanding chase. One statistic said it all for me: Shoaib Malik's 50 came off 49 balls, with just two fours. Another one that my press-box neighbour S Rajesh dug up for his verdict: "Between overs 14 and 34, Pakistan scored 120 runs – that's exactly six an over, yet there were only four fours during that period." They ran like hell, and hardly wasted any balls. That won them the game.

Battery will run out any moment, so now I gotta run.
amit varma, 7:57 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Still shining after all these years

Sachin Tendulkar's century today was a beautiful one, and people who have been criticising him recently – and Wisden was not one of them – have perhaps not actually been watching enough cricket. He was in fine touch during the Test series, and his second-innings 52 at Kolkata, cruelly cut short by an umpiring blunder, was one of the most sublime half-centuries I have seen. The first half of his 94 at Mohali was also exquisite, though he went bizarrely slow in the second. And the way he played here, woof, outstanding.

His game has changed over the last few years, but it still has beauty and grace. We see less of those powerful drives on the up and through the line, but more finesse. He played some breathtaking late cuts and leg glances today, and his reverse sweep off Danish Kaneria belonged on a canvas. If we look at performances over the last four years, Tendulkar may be India's third-most valuable batsman – but when the first two are Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag, that is no insult. And when he gets going, the man does things no other batsman can.
amit varma, 1:29 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Neologging

Mahendra Dhoni just hit his first four of the innings, and as no existing adjective does it justice, I'll just invent one: punchacious. It was punchacious. Dhoni's punchacity (or punchaciousness?) is comparable to Virender Sehwag's. Punch away, boys.

(For a previous neologism of mine, click here.)
amit varma, 10:57 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Shadow cricket

Many batsmen, when they come out, you see them sparring with imaginary balls, practicing shots. Most such shadow batting focusses around how they want to play a standard shot correctly. Like, here goes the off-drive or the forward defensive. Elbow up, head over ball, there’s the followthrough, once, twice, thrice. Sometimes after missing or mis-hitting a ball they’ll rehearse the shot they meant to play, as if saying to themselves, that’s what I should have done.

Virender Sehwag does this too, but the shots he practises are not the textbook variety. He came in, took his guard to play the first ball of the day, and then leant back and practised the slash through gully, once, twice, thrice. Later, between overs, he moved into what seemed to be the rehearsal of a straight-drive, but each time as his bat reached that part of the followthrough when it’s perpendicular to the ground, his wrists whipped into action, his bat turning over like a ladle putting whipped cream on a cake. One coating, then two, and three. Bowl it there, he seemed to say, and I’ll whip you a dessert. Sweet.

Update (April 14): Swapnil Shah points out in an email:
Even when Virender Sehwag came out as runner for Sachin Tendulkar, he was practicing his favorite shot, the upper cut/cut to third man. So it is not just "that’s what I should have done", but also a natural instinct when the batsman comes out to the middle. What's next? Ajit Agarkar practicising his swinging deliveries when he comes out with drinks for his team-mates?

Good observation. Bowlers, I have noted, don't do shadow cricket in the sense of practising their action, but they often like to lift their arm from the elbow upwards as if they're holding the ball, two fingers lifted as if around the seam, and extend it forward, as if to indicate the direction it will swing before seaming the other way. Heck, even non-bowlers do this all the time, even when sitting at Udipi restaurants waiting for dosas.
amit varma, 10:37 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Monday, April 11, 2005

Swelter swelter

It all looks nice and easy on TV, a few men running around with balls and bats, but it isn't. I was standing at the boundary of the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad today, in the afternoon, watching both teams practice, and the heat was so sapping that I went from fresh-after-bath to wilting-in-heat within five minutes. Even sitting in that kind of heat tires you out, as I discovered in the open-air press box at Bangalore, and the levels of physical fitness that the players have is quite astounding.

The physical activity of the players isn't restricted to the game. If play starts at 9.30, the players are on the field at 8, doing fielding drills, jogging around, warming up. And an hour after the game you'll see them on the field, doing cool-down exercises. They work between Tests also, even on days when they travel. And when they come to the press conference at the end of a day, the fatigue is visible; as is the sportsman who can handle it. No paunches, by the way, as in the glory days of Ashok Malhotra et al.

And what do the players have to say about the heat? Here's Inzamam-ul-Haq, from today's press conference: "You know how hot it is in the gallery. It's hotter on the field. I'm a human being, I get affected."
amit varma, 11:23 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, April 10, 2005

On the road again

Early tomorrow morning, patient readers, I leave for Ahmedabad. I shall be covering the last three one-day internationals between India and Pakistan, and much of the next week will be spent travelling by train, from Mumbai to Ahmedabad to Kanpur to Delhi to Mumbai. So I may not get much time to blog – or I may. So please do bear with a sporadic output over the next week.

A fantastic blogger's meet took place today, by the way, at which 12 bloggers and one non-blogging writer turned up. Much spirited discussion happened, but I'm rather too tired to blog on it right now. (No, cannibalism was not on the menu.) Many of the other 11 bloggers will surely write about it, some without using the letter 'e', and I shall duly direct you to them when that happens.
amit varma, 11:43 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Back in Mumbai

I'm finally back home after 25 days of travelling, too tired to blog much right now. Picked up an engrossing book in the airport on my way here, one that I'd recommend highly to fellow journalists: The New New Journalism. I shall resume blogging tomorrow, and cricket will go on the backburner (see, cliche!) for a while.
amit varma, 8:42 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Monday, March 28, 2005

The delights of geometry

One of the things I’m enjoying most about the Pakistan bowling performance today is the close-in field positions. The one with most symmetry was when Arshad Khan was bowling to Dinesh Karthik, with the wicketkeeper and the batsman being in the middle of a perfect hexagan, with three close-in fielders on either side of the wicket. That became a pentagon when Shahid Afridi was bowling to Anil Kumble, with four men close-in on the off side, one man on the leg side. Danish Kaneria, meanwhile, has been bowling with an unequal heptagon, with five men on the off side – two slips, silly point, silly mid-off and short extra-cover – and two on the leg. Hexagons, pentagons, heptagons, fluid shapes with their corners moving as the batsmen change, or the bowlers change their tactics, and the two men in between, concentrating intently on that round piece of leather that follows a geometry of its own. This is Test cricket. Marvellous.
amit varma, 4:07 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Running into happiness

This first appeared on Cricinfo's Plays of the Day.

Shahid Afridi ran, ran, ran, ran, ran towards square leg and punched the air with a divine joy and turned around, and then they fell onto him, one by one, a swarm of Pakistanis homing in on happiness. Sachin Tendulkar had played a ball from Afridi, just short-of-a-length, to Asim Kamal at short leg, and Kamal, who had dropped him earlier, held on. And then he watched Afridi run past him, and keep on running. What could stop them now?
amit varma, 4:02 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Captain falling

This first appeared on Cricinfo's Plays of the Day.

When Sourav Ganguly came out to bat, sections of the crowd shouted, "We want Karthik, we want Karthik". Less creative sections just booed. It was sad: such a fine batsman in his prime, perhaps the best captain India has ever had, now reduced to a poor parody of his former self. He pottered around for a while, then tried to drive a ball from Shahid Afridi that pitched wide outside off, and missed. The ball came into him viciously, and bowled him. As the fielders celebrated, Ganguly stood around wondering what had happened, unable to fathom that he was out, thinking perhaps that it was a stumping attempt and his foot was in the crease, or that the ball had rebounded from Kamran Akmal's pads. He had been down for a while; and now the umpire said that he was out. He walked off; was it for the last time in a Test match? The crowd didn't care. They booed him.
amit varma, 2:31 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 35

A test of character

Rahul Dravid just got out, and this is now "a test of character" for the remaining batsmen. Pakistan (cliche coming up) have their tails up, and are (one more) within sniffing distance of victory. Sachin Tendulkar has often been criticised for not delivering (cliche again) when the chips are down, and this is his chance to show that he is (another cliche) as hard as nails.

A couple of these cliches, again, courtesy Sid.
amit varma, 1:17 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 34

Meandering towards a draw

Some journalists are no doubt saying at this very moment that this Test is "meandering towards a draw", or even drifting towards it. This fifth-day pitch isn't quite (cliche coming up) the minefield of a wicket that some would have hoped for, a (another one) mouthwatering prospect for the spinners. India seem perfectly capable of (two more) shutting shop and pulling down the shutters.

(Some of these cliches courtesy Sid and Osman, fine press-box brainstormers.)
amit varma, 1:09 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Anything is possible

This was written a couple of hours back, and first appeared on Cricinfo's Plays of the Day.

VVS Laxman had said yesterday, "The way [Virender] Sehwag plays, anything is possible." Well, Sehwag was 38 off 53 balls, playing with controlled aggression, when Danish Kaneria bowled to Gautam Gambhir. Gambhir pushed it to mid-on, Sehwag casually backed down the pitch, Abdul Razzaq raced to the ball, Sehwag turned, Razzaq threw, and leather hit timber. Sehwag didn't even have time to try to get back, he just walked to the crease and past it to the pavilion. Razzaq windmilled his arms, and Inzamam-ul-Haq came, a wide smile painted on his face, and lifted him up.

And then Rahul Dravid walked in.
amit varma, 12:49 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

The men to watch

Yesterday, at the press conference, VVS Laxman said: "We will go for a win. The way [Virender] Sehwag plays, anything is possible."

Meanwhile, Danish Kaneria said that the batsman Pakistan were most worried about was Rahul Dravid. "Dravid is a big wall," he said eloquently, "and we must break the big wall."

That sums up the situation today. If India is to win, Sehwag is the man; if they find themselves trying a to salvage a draw, Dravid's the guy.
amit varma, 10:37 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Desert storm

My Guardian report of yesterday's play is up here.
amit varma, 10:34 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Cricketing Cliche 33

When you're in form, make it count.

Younis Khan made 267 and 84 not out in this game, thus pleasing the pundits who say: "When you're in form, make it count." In the second innings, in fact, it could be said that he (cliche coming up) carried on from where he left off in the first innings. He is certainly (one more) in the form of his life.

The form-and-counting cliche was suggested by my pal and colleague, Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, who mentioned in a moment of whimsy that he would write an article slamming Sachin Tendulkar. "Be prepared for death threats," I told him, and he replied: "No problem. If I get death threats tomorrow, Younis Khan will [variation on cliche coming up] bat for my life.
amit varma, 5:07 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

A time to declare

So when should Pakistan have declared? A perfect time would have been after passing 350, with about 12 overs to bowl on the day, and 90 the next. India would hardly come close to it on the last day, and even if they did, Pakistan could always dry up the runs with defensive fields and negative bowling.

Instead, they waited till they were 382 ahead, and the batsmen wasted more time than the bowlers did, with repeated mid-pitch confabulations. Why so, we wondered. The only logical reason was the prospect of Younis Khan's second century of the match. But the batsmen kept talking, and trying to hit out, and the century didn't come. Eventually, Pakistan wisely declared.

So now Virender Sehwag will walk out, and so much will depend on him. If he blazes away for a session-and-a-half, India could even think of winning. If he gets out early, the rest of their batsmen will be under pressure, an Indian win would be out of the equation, and Pakistan would have a great chance of drawing level.
amit varma, 4:56 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Defence is attack

Sachin Tendulkar is bowling to Younis Khan, as I write this, with six men on the boundary, four of them on the leg side. He's bowling a negative line from round the wicket, outside the leg stump, angling across the batsman. Anil Kumble, bowling from the other end, is using the same tactics. The Indians are slow and easy between overs. Are they being too defensive? I think not. Is this how the game should be played? Why not?

The more India play defensively in this situation, the more likely they are to win the Test. At some point, Pakistan have to declare and give their bowlers enough time to get the Indians out. The smaller their lead then, the more chance India have of getting to that target. Wickets don't matter now; and the time when Pakistan must declare depends not on the lead on the board, which has already justified a declaration, but on the time their bowlers need to take 10 more wickets. So India's negative play, in this context, is actually positive play. Play to win, dry up the runs. Defend now to enable a successful attack later.
amit varma, 4:37 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Glorious certainty

This was written a couple of hours ago, and first appeared on Cricinfo's Plays of the Day.

In an unpredictable game, there is at least one element that is always predictable, though not monotonously so: Shahid Afridi will attack. The first time he gets strike in Pakistan's second innings is off the last ball off the first over, from Irfan Pathan. Pathan drops short. Afridi pulls him for four.

He comes on strike to play the fifth ball of Lakshmipathy Balaji's over. No-ball short outside off, Afridi slashes and misses. Next ball, drifting down leg, glanced for four to fine leg. Last ball, lofted off-drive for four. That's now 12 off 4, an average of 3 runs per ball. But don't be misled – Shahid Afridi does not deal in threes.
amit varma, 3:15 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Predicting Afridi

All through lunch we criticised two moves that Pakistan made: one, taking the new ball, which made strokeplay easier; two, delaying getting Shahid Afridi into the attack. Afridi's faster ball, delivered with a dubious action, is always good against tailenders, but the innocuous Arshad Khan bowled instead.

Afridi was brought on after lunch, though, and a journalist I was chatting with commented, after three balls of the over: "Here comes the chuck." It duly came, and Kumble was duly bowled.

Now Afridi will come out with the bat. And he will, I suspect, be quite as predictable.
amit varma, 12:57 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Achievement and appetite

My comment on yesterday's play is up here on Cricinfo. It uses a bit from a post I wrote during the day on Virender Sehwag, and though I rarely use my blog as a scratchpad for bigger articles, it is now beginning to seem like a good idea. I didn't have the Guardian piece to do yesterday, of course, as it was a Saturday. Today and tomorrow, and then back home.
amit varma, 11:03 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 32

_____ lost his head.

Wouldn't it be nice to see decapitated players go for wild slogs? Harbhajan Singh will rightly be criticised in the papers tomorrow for the manner in which he "lost his head", and (cliche coming up) threw his wicket away. He (one more) threw caution to the winds, and that means that VVS Laxman, playing a fine innings at No. 6, is again (again) running out of partners. Ah, the joys of batting at No. 6.
amit varma, 10:38 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The tactics of diarrhoea?

Coming to think of it, my last post may be unfounded in fact, and Dada could just have had the loosies. He'd be sitting in the loo when Sachin Tendulkar was out, and VVS Laxman would have gone and knocked on his door.

"Dada, Sachin's out, come out and bat," Laxman would have said.

"Splitter, splutter, splat," the noises would have come from inside. "Splotter sploot." And then Ganguly would have said:

"No, Laxman, you go. It's what the team needs right now."

Update: A friend and colleague just remarked: "Stunning decision to send nightwatchman in an hour early."

Update 2: Nightwatchman is out. One ball after being dropped, he stepped out to Danish Kaneria, and was beaten by a googly and stumped. What an extraordinarily stupid thing to do, stepping out like that. What an embarrassment Ganguly's batting is becoming to the side. He was such a fine batsman, and a great captain, in his prime, but he's tarnishing his legacy with such rubbish.
amit varma, 4:01 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Here, take my place

What comes first, the man or the team? However much one criticises
Sourav Ganguly, for his petulance, the decline of his batting, his
bull-headedness, it's undeniable that he has built a team with better
team spirit
than any other Indian side before it. These men would do
anything for each other and the team, and while Ganguly has often
asked his men to make sacrifices, he has also made them himself. Part
of the best opening pair in one-day international cricket, he dropped
himself down the order so Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar could
open together. And later, he dropped himself from No. 3, the other
position to which he is well-suited, so that VVS Laxman could play.

And today, after Tendulkar was out, he sent Laxman out at No. 5. Both
Laxman and Ganguly have been out of touch; both have had their place
in the side questioned; both needed to rebuild their confidence on a
pitch like this; and it was Ganguly who was the incumbent No. 5. But
he shifted it around, presumably because he felt it was the right thing
to do for his side. The crowds cheered when Laxman walked in, as
much for Ganguly as for VVS.
amit varma, 3:55 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Like making love

This first appeared on Cricinfo's Plays of the Day.

Virender Sehwag plays cricket as if he is making love, with lust and abandon. He does not think twice when the moment is there to do what just has to be done, and where some other men would be cautious, he goes right ahead and does it. Slow down approaching the end of the day? Not Veeru. Be cautious approaching a landmark? Remember Multan. Cautious on 147 as his 150 comes up? Ha.

So he plonked his right foot down as Danish Kaneria bowled it where Sehwag wanted him to, and heeeeaved it over long on for six, a puff of dust coming from the pitch, as if it was gasping. The crowd went into raptures, their most basic instincts aroused, and sated, by this amazing batsman, who has now crossed 150 the last six times he has crossed 100. It is good, but for Virender Sehwag, it isn't enough.
amit varma, 3:02 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

The qualities of watchfulness

The term "watchful", when applied to batsmen, often evokes images of dour defensiveness. It has become almost a cliched way of describing defensive play. That is a pity because, scoring at a strike-rate of more than 80, Virender Sehwag is playing a watchful innings.

Sehwag's watchfulness is predatorial: he waits for the right moment to pounce on his moving dinner. It is an aggressive watchfulness, not a defensive one. It intimidates the jungle, because when he gets the opportunity, he strikes with speed and finality. The rest of the time, muscles taut, mind relaxed but alert, smelling prey, he is watchful.

Update: One of the many things a journalist can do with a blog (I had listed some others here) is use it as a scratchpad. I used the jotting in this post, for example, in my Verdict on Cricinfo, "Achievement and appetite".
amit varma, 11:07 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Hey, I didn't write that

I have praised the Guardian's editing in the past, and accepted minor lapses because, well, shit happens in the relentlessly hurried environment of a newspaper desk. So when cliches have been inserted or the best portions of the writing cut, I've taken it in my stride. But what they've done to my latest piece is quite shocking.

Read my report of yesterday's play here. You will notice a line in the first paragraph that says that Younis Khan's innings comprised "more than 11 hours of diligent scratching". Well, firstly, I did not write that line; secondly, it couldn't be more untrue. Younis's innings was one of the most fluent I've seen, and only someone who didn't watch the game, or doesn't understand cricket, could call it "scratching".

The start and end of the piece is chopped rather badly, but all of that I can accept. But not the insertion of untruths in my copy. People will now read that piece and think what a bad writer this Amit Varma must be, and how poor his knowledge of the game.

Update: A birdie in the know tells me that the senior Guardian guys often don't do much editing on Fridays, for the Saturday paper, and it is likely to be some junior sub who made this mistake. I'm quite inclined to believe that, as the editing of my pieces has been good before this. You can't judge an organisation by what some trainee down the line does in a careless moment, unless it happens too often.
amit varma, 10:13 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Friday, March 25, 2005

Not Virender

The short ball directed at the body, I had speculated earlier, would be Pakistan's weapon against Virender Sehwag, but for it to work, Pakistan's pace bowlers would have to bowl accurately to him. They did not do so at Kolkata, and it isn't working here. Sehwag pulled Abdul Razzaq to the boundary when Razzaq pitched short at his body, and weaved out of the way of a couple from Mohammad Sami that were drifting down the leg side before dabbing one to fine leg.

And then Danish Kaneria came on to bowl and Sehwag hoicked him into the crowd over long-on. Play out the overs until the end of the day? Not Virender.
amit varma, 5:14 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

You want what?

Gautam Gambhir comes on strike and the crowds starts to holler, "We want sixer. We want sixer." Hello? It's Gambhir on strike, gentlemen, Virender Sehwag is at the other end.

Or maybe I've misheard, and they're really screaming, "We want single. We want single."

And Gambhir duly gives them that.
amit varma, 5:08 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Beating Kanhai

Younis Khan's amazing innings of 267 has just come to an end, and his score is the highest by a visiting batsman in India, beating Rohan Kanhai's 256 in 1958-59. I have my peg for today's report, of course, but I can't quite figure out what superlatives to heap on this innings. Outstanding? Superb? Glorious? Everything seems so banal.
amit varma, 4:34 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Two plans

As I type this, Pakistan are 519 for 7, at about 3.25 in the afternoon, and the last two overs they have played have been maidens. So what's going on? Well, there are two possible plans they can have at this stage.

Plan one: declare after a few overs, and give India about 40 minutes, or ten overs, to survive till close of play. That plan would require them to attack the bowling now. They are not doing that.

Plan two: Bat out today, and perhaps even a bit of tomorrow. The idea would be to bat only once in the match, and to hope to make India follow on. Sometimes this strategy can backfire, because even if they got the Indians out once, their bowlers might not have the energy to take 20 wickets. But Inzamam-ul-Haq has three spinners at his disposal in Danish Kaneria, Shahid Afridi and Arshad Khan, and all of them can bowl for hours at a time, even 35 overs a day. As Harbhajan Singh is demonstrating – see the ball with which he bowled Kamran Akmal – there's plenty of spin in the pitch, and though it is good for batting now, it will spin more and more as the game progresses.

Going by the languid pace at which Pakistan are playing, they seem to be following the second strategy. That might also enable Younis Khan to get a triple-century. What an achievement that would be.
amit varma, 3:27 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Carrying helmets

When he sleeps at night, do Rahul Dravid's hands sometimes slip down the side of the bed in search of a helmet? One of the things that he's been doing in this Test, in his capacity as what Rameez Raja would no doubt describe as "the first slipper", is carry helmets, over after over after over. A spinner finishes an over, Dinesh Karthik runs to the other end, Dravid picks up the helmet (or helmets) behind him, and jogs along. Sometimes Karthik takes the helmet; sometimes the close-in fielder it is intended for already has it on, and runs along. Monotonous, yes. But it's better than carrying the drinks.
amit varma, 3:17 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Recognising Kaif, writing on Tendulkar

Here's some thought-provoking blogging on cricket: Gaurav Sabnis writes about the team-spirit of the Indian side; and Jai Arjun Singh reviews the latest Sachin Tendulkar biography in the market.
amit varma, 11:29 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Opportunity and ease

For a No. 6 batsman in a Test side, the opportunity he gets to make a big score is inversely proportional to how easy the conditions are. If the conditions are easy, as they are here at Bangalore, he could be walking in to bat at 500 for 4, with his side needing quick runs (as I'd earlier speculated might happen to VVS Laxman in this Test). The best he can do, in those conditions, is make an attractive cameo that will look like a failure on the scorecard.

If he gets in early, with a lot of time to build an innings, the chances are that the conditions are tough, or the bowling attack is good. Coming in at 50 for 4 gives him a good opportunity to play a big score, but he's only got that opportunity because the batsmen aren't having it easy. Plus, he might have to bat with the lower order, and they would find those conditions ever harder.

There are exceptional circumstances, of course, such as when the top-order batsmen, lulled by easy conditions, play impetuous shots and get out. But by and large, I think, No 6 batsmen are plagued by this inverse proportion of opportunity to ease of batting. And when their place in the side is being questioned, often for questionable reasons, it is even harder. I feel for Laxman, who would make a great No. 3, but just happens to be in the same side as the greatest No. 3 India has ever had.
amit varma, 10:28 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

The roar, and the prospect of more

A massive ear-splitting roar went up at the Chinnaswamy Stadium a short while ago as the players walked out to field. I called someone on the phone, and could barely hear what was being said on the other end. Horns and whistles and drums and screaming, screaming, screaming. I am a man who likes my quiet, but on a cricket field, this is quite what I enjoy.

As I type this, Inzamam is out, lbw to that excellent trier, Lakshmipathy Balaji. Bummer. He's such a beautiful batsman to watch that I would have been glad to see him bat all day today as well. Well, Dravid, Tendulkar and Sehwag will get their turn, and should enjoy themselves on this pitch. It will be a good chance for Sourav Ganguly to play himself back into form as well. I suspect, though, that by the time VVS Laxman comes in to play, India could be 500 for 4, hunting quick runs. No chance to play a big innings. Isn't that how it often is?

My Guardian report of yesterday's play is up here. A largish descriptive para I'd written describing Inzamam's play has been shortened because of space, so that part reads a bit abrupt. Well, that's part of the trade.
amit varma, 10:00 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, March 24, 2005

A golden peg

All the journalists here are delighted at Inzamam's adjective-defying innings, and his partnership with Younis Khan. (Not because it is adjective-defying; most journos here are quite happy with cliches.) The reason is that it gives them a peg for the reports they will write after the game. A peg, in a journalist's lingo, is the central theme around which the rest of the narrative revolves. It can shape the headline, and once you have the peg in place, writing the rest of the story becomes a breeze. It gives the story direction.

In contrast, consider what would have happened if Pakistan ended the day on 320 for 4, with four of the batsmen having got scratchy fifties, and all the main bowlers having got a wicket each. What's your peg then? Both sides would have had a reasonable first day on a pitch that was good for batting, and no player would stand out. What headline would sum up the day's play and draw the reader in? What one strand would hold the story together, giving you an opening para and an ending para?

Yep, that's why, whenever someone scores a hundred or takes five wickets, or a dramatic fightback or collapse takes place, all the journalists smile in contentment. "We've got our story for today," they say, and begin tapping away on their keyboards, like Ray Charles with a riff stuck in his head.
amit varma, 4:48 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

A generational shift

I was just having an interesting chat at tea with Ramachandra Guha, the fine historian from Bangalore. He made an interesting point about Rahul Dravid.

"Dravid," he said, "is the only vice-captain in India's history who has never schemed for the captaincy." And in the same breath he added, "[Sachin] Tendulkar is the first Mumbai cricketer who is not parochial."

Well, I believe that it isn't just these individuals who are exceptions, but their generation that is different. And I think satellite television had everything to do with it. The generation of Indians who matured as cricketers after satellite television came into India, in the early 1990s, imbibed an entirely different set of values than the ones previous generations grew up with with. They watched teams like Australia and South Africa (at their pre-Cronjegate peak), and heard commentators like Richie Benaud expound upon the importance of things like professionalism, fitness, running between wickets, and so on. They watched Mark Taylor declare his innings when he was on 334 not out, they saw the athleticism of the top sides, they saw the pride for the Baggy Green that the Australians had, and it made an impact.

There used to be a cliched belief that Indians don't dive on the field because Indian grounds are hard. Well, the grounds haven't changed, but Indians have. Go to any under-19 match on any of the "hard" fields of India, and you'll see the players are harder, and without exception ready to dive. All young players work hard on fitness now, spending hours in the gym, and the pot-bellied Indian batsmen of the 1980s, the likes of Ashok Malhotra, would never get a look in today.

The change shows in more than just their cricketing skills and their fitness. The players of today aren't as parochial as before because their horizons are broader, and one reason for this is satellite television. Another possible reason is that many of these players have come from smaller towns, avoiding the cliques and prejudices that may form around lobbies based around the big cricketing centres.

One remarkable thing about the Indian team today, in fact, is that all the senior players are nice guys. Dravid, Tendulkar, Kumble, Laxman, even Ganguly when he is not being petulant, are good men, always willing to support each other, and whoever is captain. That is one way in which, perhaps, they truly are a seminal side.
amit varma, 3:09 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

100 in the 100th

With Inzamam-ul-Haq in sublime form, journalists across the press box are trying to find out which cricketers have made a century in their 100th Test. Well, the list is here.

And then after they've done their research and written their first three paras about the hundred, the fellow will go and get out on 92. Wouldn't that be a bummer?
amit varma, 1:10 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Blue on green

Nah, no mushy Indo-Pak dosti-dosti symbolism coming up. The green I refer to is the green of the cricket field in front of me. It's not all lush green, but it's deep enough for enjoyment, and the whole scene is spoilt by the ugly blue of the advertising logos at each end on the grass, behind the bowlers. (There's some white also, but the blue, a faded greyish blue, stands out more.) At the end near me, there's Videocon; at the other end, there's TVS Victor. And there's another ugly one near cover (or square leg, if you're bowling towards me), but I can't make out what the brand is question is there.

Now, I have nothing against commercialisation. In fact, I am ardent supporter of it, because it helps the game flourish and reach larger audiences. But the beauty of a cricket field is marred by these logs, and I think some places need to be out of bounds. Who would want to climb or gaze upon a snow-capped mountain with giant logos all across it? Would you want to see Stonehenge with banners slung across the stone columns there?

I suppose the television version of this would be those ugly advertising scrolls and logos that wipe out a fifth of the screen when wickets fall or boundaries are hit. But those, at least, are not there all the time.
amit varma, 12:53 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Unvivid

For all the advantages of this press box, the one thing it doesn't have is enough televisions. From where I'm sitting, for example, I cannot see any TVs at all, and the big screen for the ground shows only random replays, and a lot of commercials, and the scorecard. That means we have to be more alert than at other press boxes, where if we miss a ball live, we can always catch it on TV.

It also makes it especially difficult to observe someone like Anil Kumble closely, with the complexities and subtleties of his bowling. Reporters of the past, relying on just what their eyes could see from a distance, must have had a hard time getting into the minute details of what was happening out there. That might explain, I think, the excessively poetic flourishes of Neville Cardus; when reality isn't vivid enough, imagination must be brought into play.
amit varma, 11:19 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 31

A Batting (or bowling, or spinner's) Paradise.

Bob Woolmer, Pakistan's coach, had referred to this pitch as "a batting paradise", and it does, indeed, look like it will offer little assistance to the bowlers. Inzamam-ul-Haq and Younis Khan are playing with complete ease, and unless they (cliche coming up) play a rash shot, they could just go on and on and on, like a battery or a blog. This seems a perfect pitch for a high-scoring draw (and what is a low-scoring draw, someone tell me), with only Pakistan's propensity to collapse and the quality of India's spinners coming in the way of that. If Pakistan make 450 or more in this innings, though, they should be safe. And they only have to (another cliche) keep their heads for that.

Well, yes, but keep them where?
amit varma, 10:57 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Catching sixes

The press box at Eden Gardens was really far from the action, high above the field and far from it, enclosed in an allegedly airconditioned glass-fronted cabin. The one here is quite different, though. It's open air, and just above the sightscreen at the Pavilion End. Where I am sitting, in fact, is just above a right-hander's straightish long-on when a bowler is bowling from this end. It's close to the action, the noise is fabulous, and the breeze is superb – I've already lost one pen, kept on the table, blown away. There's just one problem: the press box is in the six-hitting zone of a number of the strokeplayers in these sides.

Shahid Afridi and Virender Sehwag could go over long-on, and Sourav Ganguly could hit it over long-off, which would be especially ironic given the criticism he's got from the media – including me, I admit – about his batting form. "So you think Kaif should be in the team in place of me," one can imagine him saying. "Ok, take this." Thwack. One journalist carried away in a pool of blood. Thwack again. One more gone.

"I don't play for records," he could say later at the press conference. "I play for revenge."
amit varma, 10:26 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Eagles circling overhead

I'm sitting at the press box at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, and it's a fairly surreal scene out in front of me, though I'm not sure TV audiences will see the same thing. A vast number of eagles are circling the ground, some swooping down dangerously close to the ground. It isn't so much the eagles as their shadows which have an impact, the bird-shaped specks of fluttering black which move around furiously, as if this is the negative of a laser show. To add to that, the crowd is screaming, and all of that must make it pretty ominous for the batsmen. The likes of Marshall and Thompson and Wasim and Waqar bowling to batsmen in this kind of intimidating environment would be quite something to watch.

Shahid Afridi and Yasir Hameed don't need that lot, though. They've been dismissed cheaply by Lakhsmipathy Balaji and Irfan Pathan respectively, and Younis Khan just played and missed at a ball from Balaji. An awful start on a pitch that Bob Woolmer had described as "a batting paradise". The eagles are circling.
amit varma, 10:12 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Blogacity postponed

I had a marvellous dinner a short while back at Shiok, Madhu Menon's restaurant in Bangalore. The food was great, and the company was excellent. I have that to blog about, and eight other things in my notebook, including the cops who took me out of the press box in Kolkata for mysterious reasons I shall reveal, the haunted colonial hotel I stayed at in Kolkata, the tailor who wanted to cut my nosehair with a pair of scissors the size of my arm, and the cops in Bangalore who show more anger at people who can't speak Kannada than at rapists.

Yes, quite a lot to blog about.

But I still have that splitting headache from my Sunday illness, and I need to get up early tomorrow (today!) to go to the stadium where the players will practice. Then I have to file two pieces, and I'm not yet sure what one of them is supposed to be about.

When all that is done, I shall blog. As the doctor's secretary used to say to visitors in a hurry, please be patients.
amit varma, 1:08 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Monday, March 21, 2005

In transit

I just arrived in Chennai via an Air Deccan flight from Kolkata, and tomorrow morning I have a train to Bangalore. Why this circuitous route, you ask? Well, it was cheaper. A flight from Kolkata to Bangalore cost almost 10k, and this works out to less than a third of that. Air Deccan service is non-existant, and the check-in took ages, but when for two-and-something thousand, I'll take it.

One doesn't have to bother with all this when company pays, of course, but I get paid per piece by the Guardian, and have to take care of my own travel and hotel. From Cricinfo I get the laptop and the monthly thingie. All in all, it's a good deal, though I rather like Chennai and I feel bad moving through it so quickly.

I have a few posts planned in my notebook, but they will take some writing, and I still have a headache from that stomach upset I'd had yesterday. So more later.
amit varma, 10:54 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Retired hurt, but returning

I had a fairly lousy day, getting a bad stomach upset in the morning, that stopped me from going to the stadium. I watched the game on TV from my hotel room, and after my lunch bulletin from Cricinfo I got a really bad headache, along with weakness, bodyache and all the usual. I had to pass on the bulletin to young Anand Vasu, who did a fine job of it. I managed to stay awake and take notes until India won, then I crashed out till evening. Despite the remnants of a headache, I then did my Guardian report ok. I'm much better now, though still rather weak.

I shall be blogging at full strength during the Bangalore Test. I don't have to do the Cricinfo bulletin for that, and other things I write for Cricinfo will be sporadic, as Sambit, Dileep and Osman will all be there. So watch this space.
amit varma, 10:54 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

The snarl

It is often said about spinners that they "tease" the batsman. Well, Anil Kumble doesn't do that; he snarls at them.

Kumble's bowling a lethal spell here, and he's just got rid of Inzamam-ul-Haq, who was playing him with some discomfort. The bounce, the pace, the rip off the wicket: the snarl. Outstanding bowling.
amit varma, 10:11 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Dosti dosti

This series, it will later be said, was played in an atmosphere of fabulous goodwill, just like last year's. The Pakistan side certainly seems to be taking that seriously, if one goes by all the gifts they are giving the Indians in the field. Many of their first-innings wickets were thrown away, and Shahid Afridi was pretty benevolent yesterday, playing a ludicrously loose shot with minutes left for the end of play.

Well, Younis Khan gave India a morning present a short while back, getting himself stumped off the first ball of the day, from Anil Kumble. Dinesh Karthik did a great job behind the stumps, but it is baffling how Younis could leave his crease like that. The pitch hasn't deteriorated much, but could the cracks in the Pakistan pysche win India this game? It will be a shame if it does. I'd like to see every wicket earned.
amit varma, 9:41 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Loose deliveries

The occupational hazard of a travelling journalist has struck me down, and I'm sitting in my hotel room with a virulent stomach upset. I can't go to the ground, obviously, because there is just one filthy Indian commode for a few thousand people in the stands where the press box is located (thank you Mr Dalmiya), and I'm feeling too weak to climb the stairs anyway. It's a bummer, being here on what could be a great final day, and having to watch it on TV at the hotel. The service here is so marvellous that these guys have refused to get me medicine because "we don't have manpower, sir". So if my bulletins suddenly stop appearing today, you know why.
amit varma, 9:24 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Nightwatchman

Everyone in the press box, barring the Politburo, has been talking about a certain Indian batsman they refer to only as "Nightwatchman". Ah, you wonder who this is. Well, he came out as a nightwatchman yesterday when Sachin Tendulkar was out. That's right, it's Sourav Ganguly.

Ganguly's batting has fallen to such abysmal levels that it's sad for someone who was a fan of his, as I was, to see him poke around the way he does. I believe his captaincy has affected his batting; and now his batting is affecting his captaincy. He was India's finest captain, and a beautiful batsman to watch, but that's all past tense now.

As a colleague and friend put it about today's play: "When players like Pathan and Karthik were batting so well, Nightwatchman was dancing as if he was on a Pol Pot minefield." So there is, you see, a future for Dada in the performing arts.
amit varma, 6:39 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Porky Pig goes out to bat

I just thought of the phrase Hindi commentators use so often, "salami ballebaaz", and thought instantly of a pig going out to bat, pink and podgy, wearing slim, made-to-fit pads. Fine image.

Yes, yes, I know "salami ballebaaz" means "opening batsman". But I like salami, and I adore pigs.
amit varma, 3:35 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 30

______ showed a lot of character.

Dinesh Karthik, who made an excellent 93 and was out unselfishly trying to (cliche coming up) up the tempo for his side, "showed a lot of character," it will no doubt be written. Heck, anyone who spends a lot of time at the crease is accused by cricket writers of showing his character. But if you're out early, does that mean you're characterless? I can almost imagine an old Bengali father in a starched dhoti screaming at his plump wife: "I will not let my daughter marry that boy. He has no character. All he makes is quick cameos of 30 and 40."

Karthik batted just like a specialist batsman, and played some lovely strokes. My favourite moment of his, though, was when he bumped into Steve Bucknor while completing a run. He could so easily have disabled Bucknor with a flick of his wrists and everyone would have called it an accident. But he didn't. Now, that's character.
amit varma, 3:19 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Danish pastry

India have always enjoyed playing legspinners, so it was a bit of a surprise when Danish Kaneria troubled some of the Indian batsmen at Mohali. Well, no more. He's been sorted out now, and all the Indian batsmen played him comfortably at Kolkata. Kaneria was eventually reduced to bowling a negative line down the leg stump from round the wicket, which at least kept his figures reasonably economical. Many of the wickets he's got have been of batsmen in a hurry, and he's looked about as lethal as a baby with a water-pistol. Tasty.
amit varma, 2:52 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 29

_____ have their work cut out for them.

India are 360 ahead at the time of writing, and commentators are no doubt saying, and writers writing, that Pakistan "have their work cut out for them". It is (cliche coming up) an uphill task, and they will have to (one more) grit it out to draw the game. India are in (more) command of the game, in the driver's seat, though it's not yet all over bar the shouting.

Shravan Enaganti suggested "work cut out".
amit varma, 2:38 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Sourav Ganguly and the Politburo

As with professionals of any sort, there are groups and sub-groups within the community of cricket journalists. And one of the most prominent groups is known as the Politburo.

The Politburo is a group of Bengali journalists, who work mostly for Kolkata-based newspapers, who have unhindered access to Sourav Ganguly. This makes them a powerful clique, for they can get exclusive quotes and interviews from him at any time they want. They are also used by him to plant stories in the press, and they are fierce defenders of him. At Ganguly press conferences, they often bother not to show up. They know they can get better quotes from his hotel room. In fact, when Ganguly misses a Test, they sometimes bother not to turn up at all.

Well, the Politburo is a worried lot these days. Ganguly has declined as a batsman alarmingly, and his captaincy seems to be winding down as well. And with every poor stroke he plays out of his dazzling arsenal of bad shots, the politburo gets worried. Ganguly gone means no access to the captain, or, in fact, to anyone in the team. The glory days will be over.

So here's their tactical ploy: Every time Ganguly fails, they all write acrid comment pieces about how VVS Laxman no longer deserves his place in the side. Constantly, over the last year, they have carried out a campaign against Laxman, so that the attention is deflected off Ganguly. It is a cunning ploy. But will it work? I hope not.
amit varma, 10:08 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

That notional Eden Gardens

I have never been to Eden Gardens before this trip, and I was looking forward to seeing it. I had heard so much about this place: the massive arena, the 100,000 screaming people, the amazing ambience. But what an underwhelming experience it turned out to be.

When I first entered the stadium the day before the Test, I was astonished at how much smaller the stands were than in my imagination. It looks more substantial from the press box, which is located at the highest and furthest end of the ground, but still short of what I'd expected. And the crowds haven't poured in.

Of the seats that I can see from here two-thirds are unoccupied. (It might go up as the day goes on, but will not go below half.) Locals tell me that this is because of the examination season, but that surely can't account for all of it. After all, there wouldn't be so many kids in the stadium at normal times, would there?

For an association with so much money, Bengal's cricket board maintains this stadium really badly. It is spectator-unfriendly and shockingly filthy. It is a massive contrast to Mohali, where the first Test was, and Bangalore, where the next Test will be held. And it lends weight to a point IS Bindra made when I chatted with him in Mohali.

I asked him, pointedly, on what he felt about Jagmohan Dalmiya being given credit for bringing money into Indian cricket and being a good administrator. Without criticising Dalmiya, he made two points: one, Mohali is a far better ground for spectators, players and the press than any other in the country; two, it also makes more money than any other association. The subtext of that was: you tell me who's the better administrator.

Looking at the real Eden Gardens, so disappointing when compared to my cherished notional Eden Gardens, I am in no doubt about the answer to that question.
amit varma, 9:41 AM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Friday, March 18, 2005

The heart of greatness

What makes an innings great? Is it context: the situation of a match, the quality of the bowling etc? Or is it the control that a batsman demonstrates during the course of his innings, the matching of intent with execution?

Don Bradman often said that his 254 at Lord's was a greater innings than the 334 at Leeds that came later in that series, because every ball went just where he intended. So it was in Rahul Dravid's first-innings 110 in this Test. "I got into my rhythm quickly," he told reporters after the game. "I was in complete control all through. It was one of my better innings."

How did it compare to the 180 he had made at this ground during that classic comeback Test against Australia in 2001? "I wasn't in control for the first 50 runs of that innings," he said. Which was greater? Looking at context, I would opt for the 180. But for the sheer pleasure of watching a master at his peak, I'd pick the 110.

He's in lovely touch now, and so is Sachin Tendulkar, as I type these words. Must I keep typing. No, I shall watch.
amit varma, 2:47 PM| email this to a friend | permalink | homepage |

Cricketing Cliche 28

It's all happening here.

Pakistan all out after lunch, Virender Sehwag hitting Mohammad Khalil for three fours in his first over, Gautam Gambhir yorked by Mohammad Sami; as so many commentators would gleefully bark, "It's all happening here".

Dileep pointed out during lunch that I was amiss in not talking about this cliche so far. But it wasn't all happening here until now. Now it is.
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