Cricket and Chai

Ab humse kaun poochega ki – bhaiya score kya hua hain?

That’s what the chai-walla said on a news channel a few days ago, after it was announced that All India Radio was not going to broadcast the India-Pakistan series, the first test match of which begins tomorrow at Lahore. Chai-stalls and chai are to Indian Cricket what Pubs and Beer are to English Football. Well, almost.

When I was in Pune, hostels did not have TV’s and it became difficult to keep track of cricket. Most mornings began by pouring over cricket news (heh), over a cup or two of chai at one of the 12 chai-stalls I frequented. (Yeah, I just counted) One got used to not watching TV, but we felt deprived when some teachers dismissed the class early so that everyone could go home and watch the match. Sometimes we got lucky and everyone trooped over to a benevolent localites home, but more often than not, we stood for a few hours around one chai-walla or the other, listened to the radio, and sipped tea and ate sugary cream rolls or vada-pavs. We rarely got a place to sit.

Most of the chai-stalls around my hostel had only a radio. People who knew each other only by face would debate Dravid’s position in the team and whether Azhar should still be captain, given his consistently bad form. Sometimes my opinion was sought on a particular point being debated by someone I had never spoken to. Often it would become a free-for-all debate, before someone else would tell everyone to shut up and listen to the commentary. Thirty of the forty people there would respond to a loud “Score kya hua hain?” query from a passerby.

The family who ran a chai-stall outside their home once allowed forty of us into their small living room (no more could fit in), to watch Tendulkar make a hundred during the 1999 World Cup. Tendulkar had just returned from his fathers funeral, and we all cheered and clapped, moist-eyed. That was, however, all the cricket I got to see during that World Cup, though I heard enough on radio at the chai-stalls to debate cricket with others in the hostel.

In my last couple of years in Pune, a new apartment-block came up, and on the ground floor, three new chai-spots opened: two were messes and had TV’s. Whenever India was playing a match, close to a hundred people would be standing around the TV placed on a drum outside each mess, for almost the entire match. There were always more people watching when India was batting, than when fielding.

I remember watching Sehwag slam a ton while standing on my toes outside one of the messes, when England toured India last. On another occasion, the TV was inside the mess and one had to order something to remain seated inside. I sipped eight cups of chai during that innings, and skipped dinner.

After Tendulkar got out during the (famous) Natwest final, I’d gone to a cybercafe. An hour and a half later, I overheard someone talking about how Yuvraj and Kaif were still batting, and rushed to the mess. There was, unfortunately, no place to sit and one could barely see the TV; it was a chilly, breezy evening and I couldn’t even reach the counter to order my cuppa. India won and the resulting cheers were deafening.

And now we hear that there will be no commentary on the radio, and no telecast on DD. Spare a thought for the innumerable cricket-crazy hostelites who won’t be able to watch or hear the series, and the chai-wallas who’ll lose out on business.

You know how people ask you “What were you doing when…” and then proceed to tell you what they were doing? Well, whenever I was asked this question in the context of a match then , I said that I was at a chai-stall.

Crossposted at The Prempanix Discussion Group

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On Ganguly’s contribution and subsequent dismissal

Before I get to the conspiracy theory, lets just compare Yuvraj’s contribution to that of Ganguly in the Delhi test. I assess test match performances in a manner that is unconventional: I believe Test cricket is about contributing to the teams cause, and that individual brilliance, though ‘pretty’, should only be seen in the context of the match. I don’t rate either of Brian Lara’s world record scores, because they weren’t result oriented. On to the numbers, then:

Individual contributions (total)
Saurav Ganguly: 79 runs, 348 min, 244 balls
Yuvraj Singh: 77 runs, 230 min, 173 balls

Contribution to the team:
Ganguly: 214 runs (121 runs with Tendulkar, 12 runs with Dravid, 81 runs with Yuvraj)
Yuvraj: 183 runs (1 with Tendulkar, 81 with Ganguly, 101 with Dhoni)

Now, Ganguly’s done much better than Yuvraj if you look at it in the context of the game – he was involved in important partnerships in both innings, and probably prevented a collapse. He gave support to Tendulkar in the first, and collaborated well with Yuvraj in the second. India was placed rather precariously when he came to bat in both innings (133/3 and 190/5 respectively).

By the time Dhoni came to bat in the second innings, India were in a comfortable position – which allowed Yuvraj to play freely. Before you think I’m going overboard, I’m not a Ganguly fan. If anything, I harbour a slight bias against Ganguly, but I give credit where it is due: he didn’t deserve to be dropped. Yuvraj, though, did himself a lot of good in the second innings and remained not out, which meant that he could have scored more runs.

Why, then, was Ganguly dropped?

One is the Maharashtra lobby theory, which does hold some water, given that Ajit “one boundary ball an over” Agarkar keeps getting picked ahead of an in-form Zaheer Khan and a supposedly forgotten L.Balaji. Wasim Jaffer plays for Maharashtra or Mumbai?

It could also be that Ganguly’s selection was not credible (I didn’t agree with it), and hence they tried to undo a wrong by axeing him; thats a case of two wrongs not making a right.

I think that it’s a combination of Gambhir’s failure, Yuvraj’s 77* and Sehwag’s return that led to Ganguly being dropped: An opener to partner Sehwag was necessary, and asking Yuvraj/Ganguly to open would he unfair. Viewing Yuvraj’s 77* as more important than Ganguly’s contributions (not correct, as previously explained), they could not exclude him from the team if included in the squad. So, they kept Gambhir and dropped Ganguly.

I believe Ganguly should have been asked to open with Sehwag, and the same team should have been fielded. If the management has shown the willingness to experiment, then why shy away from this one? Ganguly, incidentally, has contributed on field in terms on advise to Irfan and
field placement suggestions. In a test match, experience counts.

Of course, a few people have said that his fielding has improved, but that doesn’t amount to much: the only thing that has changed is his willingness to field. He’s not quite a Jonty dada yet.

(Remember Jonty Singh? Siddhu’s return to ODI’s was particularly noticeable for the marked improvement in his fielding. He said his son urged him to work on his fielding. Gavaskar had rechristened him Jonty Singh)

P.s.: I’d cross-posted this on the Prempanix Discussion Group. Prem has cross-posted it on his blog, since. 🙂

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An events tip

AZS has three tickets for the match today – Rs.5000 tickets that he bought for Rs.500 bucks. We’re probably going tomorrow. MSA gets a complimentary ticket everytime there’s a match in Delhi, and goes everytime too. He doesn’t have a ticket for tomorrow, and will probably go to work. It was almost lunch when they called me, so I declined. MSA, incidentally, told me that you could hear Dravid’s forward defensive shot in the stands. He claims that he goes for the cricket and the crowd. Day three, for me. That’s when the cricket will be at its best. I hope so.

Most of the events in Delhi are overpriced. The Sting concert (my review here. Some Sideshow Bubba’s there too) was terrible. Tickets were Rs.500, 1500 and 2500. I had Rs. 1500 complimentary tickets, and was half a football field away from the stage. On the other hand, and this two of my friends had bought Rs. 2500 tickets from just Rs.500 each and were right in front. They thought the show was good, but “Shaggy was something else.”

So, the tip:

Wait outside for twenty minutes and ask around for tickets. Most shows really aren’t worth more than a thou, and the staff at the venue gets some tickets for free, that they usually sell. Bargain and get them much much cheaper.

Mum’s suggesting that I skip it. She says that watching the match on TV’s a lot more fun, and you can hardly see anything. And she would know too – she owned a bookshop called ‘Pustika’ in Mumbai, at the then popular The Oberoi’s. Chowpatti, I think. The West Indies team used to stay at the Oberoi’s, and some of them would come to Pustika, squat on the carpet and read Archie Comics. They’d thank mum and give her a couple of passes for the match. She went for quite a few matches.

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On Sachins 35th

Confession: I’m hoping for a triple hundred, and I think it is possible.

I haven’t seen all of his 35 hundreds, but the 35th one was special, and not just because it was his 35th: Tendulkar seemed to be in control throughout the innings, and was doing things at will – the three consecutive boundaries off Murali, followed by three exaggerated forward defence strokes afterwards just showed that if he was taking his time to get to a hundred, it was merely because he didn’t want to take any risks. He’d walked out to get a hundred, and he didn’t want to take any chances.

The wicket seems a little slow at times, and the bounce is occasionally uneven, so the Indians might consider themselves lucky that those that kept low weren’t pitched in line with the stumps. One ball from Fernando reared up and that was probably one of the few wherein Tendulkar was not in control. Tendulkar seemed to be in the zone, and uhh…at times almost indifferent to the Sri Lankan bowling. Sachins innings was a combination of Dravids and Laxmans – he played with the control that Dravid exhibited when he came out to open, and the shotmaking had the finesse of Laxman’s touch. But it had the control that only Sachin can exercise over the bowling. I reckon he can make a treble if he bats all day today.

This innings was in contrast to my favourite Tendulkar innings – the fighting double hundred in Sydney. I loved the way he reigned in his attacking instincts and cut out almost all off side play in that innings. He had be snicking ’em to the keeper/slips before that, so to patiently wait, and force the bowlers to bowl at the stumps takes some doing. Similarly, I rate Sehwags hundred in England (Northampton?), where he (with Bangar) survived the initial swing and bounce to reach a uncharacteristically careful hundred. I never saw the innings at Perth, which Sachin rates as his highest, so the innings at Sydney will be my favourite.

Ganguly also seemed to be pacing himself well. He didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry, and there were very few occasions where a rush of blood put him a risk. I think a stint in domestic cricket did his head a lot of good, he can now focus on his batting. If the pitch plays like this on days two and three, we might expect a draw. I’m very pleased by the fact that Kumble’s back in the side, so we can probably still win. The Kotla pitch can crumble on days four and five. It’s a small ground, I think, so Sehwag was missed.

Incidentally, I find it interesting that Ganguly, Sehwag and Dhoni – big hitters, all three – are all uncomfortable against the short stuff.

I might go to the ground tomorrow. Switched on the teevee to see M’s face on screen. Messages:

“Smile, fucker. Just saw you on TV. Sitting in the sun, kya?”
“Yo. How was it. Thanks. Wanna come for the match”
“You looked ugly, as usual. On monday, for sure. Day three is most interesting. Have fun.:)”

Day three, then.

(Ganguly just got out; I thought he played exceptionally well. When watching test matches, I tend to look at ‘balls survived’, and in particular – partnerships.)

Bah
spoke too soon. going down leg, imho.

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Stating the obvious

Waqar Younis after Pakistan’s victory over England: “I really don’t have the words to describe this victory.”

We know, Waqar. We know.

(Note: Waqar gives competition to Srikanth and Siva for the worst Cricketer-Turned-Commentator award. Atul Wassan also in the running. Arun Lal too. Kapil Dev…Damn. There are so many of them, it’s not fair)

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On Ganguly playing under Dravid

This is a situation that could have been avoided, but strangely enough, the Indian Board has actually fought for it. I’ve been speculating for the past few weeks, on how things would be with Sourav playing under Dravid, if the ban was revoked. Now that it’s happened, the dynamics on the field will be interesting to watch, I think.

From Dravid’s perspective, if Sourav calls the shots on the field, Dravid will be perceived at worst – a weak captain, or at best – a subordinate; nonetheless, as being “not assertive enough a leader”, a tag that his comparitive lack of aggression has earned him. This might mar his chances as a future captain if Sourav ever be dropped. Sourav’s presence on the field and his manner of commandeering of his troops is seen to have been most effective, and I feel Dravid’s aggression has always seemed more of a put-on than natural. He’s always allowed his performance to speak for him.

On the other hand if Sourav allows Dravid to lead him and call the shots on the field, and Dravid succeeds, it might spell doom for Sourav. Given the criticism that Sourav has had to face in the recent past for an apparent dip in his performance as a batsman, he would need to assert his authority.

It would be interesting to see if this change of roles has an impact on the relationship between the two. I can’t imagine that it wont. Prem Panicker of Sightscreen it was, I think, who had mentioned that Dravid is the first vice-captain who hasn’t plotted to become the captain. Perhaps this team would have been best served had either the ban not been reduced, or Dravid not been made captain for the entire series.

Either way, Dravid has something to lose.

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Courting controversy (Cricket)

Two questions came to mind when I read Sunil Gavaskar’s article on John Wright not having renewed his contract because of abuse from some players.

Firstly – what was he thinking?
Secondly – was he thinking?

Much has been said since then, including an article in the Asian Age today that adds another incident to the list being compiled. About a player (one would infer from the information provided that Virender Sehwag is being referred to) sent a cuss-filled message back with the twelfth man for Wright.

I just learnt of Prem Panicker’s blog today, and it has been wonderful reading. If you enjoyed Amit Verma’s posts on cricket, when he wasn’t doubling as an online newspaper (and not much more), you’ll love this. Particularly interesting are Panicker’s comments about Saurav Ganguly not being arrogant. He also links to this cricinfo article about what some players remembered about John Wright. Particularly interesting are Harbhajan’s comments. For me, Wright has been the best coach since Anshuman Gaekwad. He seemed just as passionate about the team, if not more, and his commitment was quite obvious. The instances mentioned in Panicker’s blog post confirm the same. I still remember seeing tears in Gaekwad’s eyes at the end of his final match as coach, and the respect and love the team had for him. Not too different in John Wright’s case, I’m sure.
Unfortunately, Panicker’s blog doesn’t have an RSS feed. 🙁

Of those who were in contention for the post of coach, the one who irritated me most was Mohinder Amarnath. While I do agree that the half baked behaviour on ‘Fourth Umpire’ on DD biased me against him, what I found worse was sentimental appeal to people that he should be chosen because he is an Indian. Hogwash. If anything, that sort of positioning actually dilutes whatever impact his credentials as an accomplished all rounder and a coach might have had.
Greg Chappel’s selection was not surprising, though I did feel that Tom Moody might also have been a good choice. Moody’s always been a fighter, and pretty effective with both bat and ball. He bowled within his limitations in the world cup in England and was among Australia’s most effective bowlers then. As a coach and a tactician – I’m not sure. Greg Chappel’s a master tactician. While some might criticise him for that underarm ball decision, I thought it was brilliant. It wasn’t illegal, and it got the team the result they needed. I’m sure he’s still got quite a few tricks up his sleeve. If the rules of cricket are changed to allow substitutes, the coach will have more of a role, ala football.

Addendum

Prem Panicker’s blog *does* have RSS syndication. Somehow, bloglines wasn’t able to fetch it initially. Secondly, he’s a prolific poster. So, if you like reading about, and discussing cricket as much as I do – Yay!

Furthermore
Found this post on Ubersportingpundit

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