Cricket Uncut

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

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, 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, 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 |


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 |