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Clouds and silver linings

August 5, 2008

I’m a cricket fan, have been one for a large part of my life. So anytime there was some form of international cricket on, acquaintances would raise their eyebrows in surprise when, let alone the ball-by-ball score, I expressed ingnorance about which team was batting. The reason – All cricket is not equal. My interest in any international cricket game would be classified based on three factors; format, teams and venue, not necessarily in that order or even mutually exclusive. For example; Test cricket won over ODIs provided the venue was not the subcontinent. Similarly, a game featuring India usually had an upper hand except when it was an ODI in the subcontinent. The top of the tree on those factors are: Test Cricket, Australia and Australia/ South Africa. This means a test series South Africa V  Australia is a must-see while anyone featuring Sri Lanka is a must-avoid. The reasons stem from style/ability of play and nature of surfaces. While the Australians play aggressive, must-win cricket, the islanders play to bore the opposition into submission. Not to say that the Indians play enthralling cricket themselves, but their style of play syncs with that of the opposition which explains a frequent inability to beat Sri Lanka/New Zealand but the odd masterpiece against Australia.

However, owing to the overdose of the ‘swishathon’ that is twenty-twenty cricket and the crass spectacle that is the IPL, I watched some of the India-SL series, just to let my pupils adjust to the somber whites after the fluorescent of the IPL pajamas. The Indian team showed its characteristic unpredictability in their tendency to look like a competent side one day and a club side the next. Sri Lanka on the other hand are rejoicing in the feeling, for the first time in their history, of having more than 1 bowler capable of taking wickets. Most games in Sri Lanka are wars of attrition on slow, low surfaces where teams have to do a lot wrong to be beaten and a lot right to win, draws being the nom de rigeur.

From India’s point of view, there have been some significant instances over the 2 test matches.

1. Test cricket no longer at the front of the line:

Its only logical that the country that has first taken to monetizing the game with the IPL would see its test cricketing ability decline the fastest. Dhoni’s decision to withdraw from the test series was hailed by some as a brave decision. More than brave, it is an honest statement by the player who not only played the 16 or so games in the IPL, but also a handful of meaningless ODIs against the likes of Hong Kong but chose to miss the 5 day games. Why bother testing your fitness and technique by way of 2-3 long days in the field followed by batting rearguards that need to last longer than 4 commercial breaks put together? Young cricketers do not need to see the writing any plainer on the wall.

2. Curtain calls for ‘the Big 3’?

Rahul Dravid’s struggle has been evident for all to see. His batting has always oscillated between being self-destructively turgid to being pivotal for the team. Having conquered many of his hangups about opening his shoulders and following through on his shots in the shorter version, the IPL, resignation from test captaincy and being dropped from the ODI squad seem to have wreaked havoc with his mental setup.
While Rahul Dravid has looked like someone struggling against an invisible strait-jacket, Saurav Ganguly has looked like a guest who has accidentally gate-crashed someone’s party and now is looking for the right moment to leave inconspicuously. His listlessness against the spinners was highlighted in the way he wandered down the track to Murali only to be short of the length by several feet ending up being comprehensively stumped. How many times do you recall Ganguly being beaten in flight by a slow-bowler?
Sachin’s statistics even today in all forms of the game pass muster for most international batsmen. But the bar has never been in the standard places for him and his current performances fall significantly short.

3. The brilliance of Sehwag

Over the years, I have undertaken the Tendulkar v Lara debate multiple times. Those who failed, rattled off figures, averages and highest scores. Those who succeeded spoke of his game-changing innings in Sydney. Similar to Lara, Sehwag’s strength has always been a free-spirited abandon in his shot-selection that enabled him to make a mockery of match situations, fielding sides and of batsmen at the other end. I however have had reservations about the true value of his runs, especially on difficult surfaces and situations. His repeated double and triple tons in the most unlikely situations however cause me to put up my hand and acknowledge the brilliance of the man. Those who won the Lara debate on the grounds of mercurial performances, would lose the ‘ABC’ v Sehwag debate on the same grounds. Blasphemous as it may sound, I cannot think of any other situation player today, than maybe Pietersen whose performance has no bearing on the nature of the attack or the situation of the match. The moment of the match for me was when, on 299, batting with the number 11, he refused a single on the 3rd ball of the over to not expose the tail-ender and followed that up with a reverse-sweep! That is brilliance.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 7, 2008 3:40 pm

    Spot on.
    And hard hitting as ever.

    I totally agree that test cricket is no longer our frontline, everything else becomes scriptwritten from there on.

    BCCI has to have a test team only to maintain our ‘test playing nation’ status. If there is a way, or a choice, they will happily do away with Test cricket.

    Our test team will be a team of seniors whose face does not fit the image of the 20/20 youth. Where our once race horses will be put out to pasture – even if there still are miles left in them.

    I have pinched this for our blog as a continuation of your previous logs.

  2. nestaquin permalink
    August 25, 2008 9:53 pm

    It would be a shame if India abandoned their ambition to be the best Test playing nation.

    History shows that the best Test playing nation are also the best at playing limited overs cricket.

    It toughens players up and demands that they are fit and also allows them to compete in many different situations. T20, however enjoyable, is one dimensional cricket and India will be the poorer for not taking Test cricket seriously.

  3. August 26, 2008 10:50 am

    I agree nestaquin, that the best ODI teams are also good test teams. However, the same does not apply to 20-20 cricket where all a team needs is a combination of big hits and inside/outside edges.

    And because 20-20 lets cricket to be packaged as a primetime event, its likely to gain ground over the next few years, leaving test cricket way behind.

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