Friday, November 27, 2009

A well deserved Test century for Team India in Kanpur

By John Cheeran
Team India completed a century of Test wins on Friday in Kanpur. India defeated Sri Lanka by an innings and 144 runs to take a 1-0 lead in the three-Test series. The third Test will start in Mumbai on December 2.
All wins are sweet. Let's not forget that Sri Lanka is the No.2 side in ICC's Test rankings. Sri Lankans are not merely our neighbours, but a significant power in world cricket. So there is no reason to be dismissive about the victory at Green Park.
It is quite interesting to note how skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni fashioned the Kanpur win. Some of the tactics were quite traditional. Win the toss, put on a huge first innings score with a couple of centuries from the batsmen and put the opposition under pressure. Normally, then spinners take over the match.
Here in Kanpur, the significant departure was the role of pace bowling. Yes, turn did come, and Harbhajan Singh and rest of the spin gang got wickets. But it was fast bowler S Sreesanth who wrecked the Sri Lankan will and willow. That India does not have to rely on a deteriorating wicket and tweakers for the victory augur well for Indian cricket.
As Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara pointed out during the post-match briefing, the wicket was not the villain in the plot. It was some good bowling, and then the pressure of climbing the huge mountain of runs that turned things in India's favour.
Yes, Sreesanth has proved his worth by bowling India to victory. The man of the match award is just reward for the youngster.
The question, however, remains unanswered why the Indian selectors overlooked the claims of a fit fast bowler for so long.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sreesanth leads India’s march to victory

By John Cheeran
Ah, Sri Lanka is in troubled waters in Kanpur. After having made to follow-on by India, Sri Lanka has lost four wickets for 57; and those who were dismissed include captain Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena.
The end is near.
Pitch in Kanpur has played its own part in making batting difficult for Sri Lankans. You cannot deny that. But more than that one has to admit that S Sreesanth's brilliant bowling unhinged the Sri Lankan first innings.
Sreesanth, so far, has picked up six wickets (5/75 in the first innings and 1/10 in the second innings) in this Test. And what a glorious comeback this one has been.
Hunted and hounded by a string of injuries and bad PR, Sreesanth was on the verge of being shunned even by his own Kerala Cricket Association only a few weeks ago.
For a long time it remained inexplicable why national selectors were overlooking the claims of a fit Sreesanth.
But all that cloudy days now seem far away, with this iridescent display of incisive fast bowling. Sreesanth bowled with a degree of purpose and determination, qualities rarely associated with Indian bowling. A quick look at the mode of the six dismissals by Sreesanth reveals the quality of his disciplined bowling. Three batsmen were bowled while the other three were caught by wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. All a reward for bowling in the corridor of uncertainty. Throughout the day Sreesanth troubled the Sri Lankan batsmen, giving little room for them to indulge in strokeplay.
Yes, there is no doubt, Sreesanth is a changed man. And a changed bowler too. The time spent away from the Indian dressing room has had its effect on the young, inflammable man. Sreesanth not only has sharpened his outswingers at the nets, better still, he has learnt to control his aggressive urge. The fire is still there, but now he is taking care to see that he does not singe himself. Sreesanth's joy in sending back a batsman is still palpable but does not degenerate into churlishness. It's a more a prayer, for the blessing of the second chance.
For India, too, it is important that it does not let go of this natural talent. As a captain Dhoni has the responsibility to guide the youngster on and off the field. And back the man with the outswinger and outrageous temper when the times get tougher in the days ahead.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dravid and stray thoughts on luck

By John Cheeran
What's luck? Or, what's lack of luck?
When you become a victim for no action of yours, you may call yourself being unlucky. Rahul Dravid, who scored his 28th Test century (144) in Kanpur on Wednesday, is familiar with the wanton nature of luck through a career spanning 13 years.
While watching VVS Laxman playing Sri Lankan spinner Herath from non-striker's end, Dravid would have been thinking in terms of a double century to make up for those missed opportunities in his career. Dravid was batting brilliantly, often playing bold strokes, and relishing his stay at the crease with each ball. But as luck would have it, Dravid had stepped a few paces forward, and Laxman's straight drive was deflected off the hands of bowler Herath to the non-striker's stumps. Dravid was run out.
An innings cut short, and who was at fault?
Dravid, of course, should have been watchful and not have left his crease until Laxman called for the run. But, then, you cannot plan every step you take on the field.
Having said that, Dravid himself would not have felt too bad about his dismissal, for India, by that time, had crossed 500 runs. There were skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh too continue India's onslaught on Sri Lankan bowlers.
That India, eventually, fell 150 runs short of its first innings total of 642 is another matter. With the pitch expected to make batting difficult in the remaining sessions of the Test, India could have done with more. It is worth noting that all of India's wickets were taken by Sri Lanka's spin trio.
For all that Sri Lanka has picked up the gauntlet pretty well after losing opener Tillakaratne Dilshan off the very first ball of its innings. It's a long road indeed towards a result.
Let's wait for the twist in the tale.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gambhir, Sehwag and Dravid lead run riot in Kanpur

By John Cheeran
India got a few things right at Green Park in Kanpur on Tuesday. First, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni won the toss.
Green Park pitch looks like a treat for batsmen and what good would have come out of it had Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara won the toss and decided to bat?
Losing the toss would hurt Sangakkara all the more since he picked three spinners – Ajantha Mendis is in the XI—and Welegedara as the lone pacer.
So winning the toss and batting on a placid track were definitely to India's advantage.
And then Virender Sehwag survived the initial hour to unfurl a stream of strokes that left the opposition rattled. Meanwhile, Gautam Gambhir did his job to perfection. Sehwag scored 131 off 122 balls, an audacious effort, on the first day of the Test, after getting dropped on zero. Gambhir played a more responsible innings (167) that ensured that Indian openers put on 233 runs for the first wicket.
At the end of the first day, India had scored 417 for 2 with Rahul Dravid (85 not out) and Sachin Tendulkar (20 not out). It is India's highest score in a day in a Test in India.
Of course, the pace of Indian batsmen’s scoring and the whole positive approach was a direct result of the nature of the track. Most of the day, India scored five runs per over.
There is no doubt that now MS Dhoni would not like to declare India’s first innings but score as many runs as possible. If the rest of the famed Indian batsmen could join the run feast at Green Park, a total of 800 would not be impossible.
If one man can prevent that it is world's highest wicket taker in Tests -- Muttaih Muralitharan. It is not fortuitous
that Muralitharan dismissed both Sehwag and Gambhir. As the Test progresses, spinners are likely to play a central role in Kanpur and if anyone could exploit the conditions, think of Muralitharan first.
In conditions such as this, bowlers can get easily frustrated. Sri Lankan bowlers are going through a tough phase but sticking to the basics would be the best course of action.
It appears that Indian team management is keen to win the series and that is reflected in the changes in the bowling combination. S Sreesanth has come in place of Ishant Sharma and Prgyan Ojha pushed out Amit Mishra. But, then, it remains to be seen whether these two could pitch in India's push for victory.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Kanpur’s pitch: It’s time to rise above it

By John Cheeran
Those who overcome the conditions in which they are pitted against can lay claims to be heroes.
As the second Test between India and Sri Lanka begins in Kanpur on Tuesday the focus is neither on Sachin Tendulkar, the highest run-getter, nor on Muttaiah Muarlitharan, the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket. It's all about the nature of the pitch.
As it has been widely commented upon, Kanpur has a history of preparing dubious pitches. Well, there is nothing called a level playing field in cricket. But no cricketer would like to play on a wicket that does not honour the basic tenets of the game. That is, a decent chance to score runs, and take wickets, without risking your life and limb.
The excessive focus on the pitch in Green Park also tells a lot about the skills of our cricketers. Now, things have come to such a pass that batsmen can score runs only on sleeping beauties as was the case during the first Test in Ahmedabad. And bowlers cannot take wickets unless the pitch yields disconcerting bounce and turn. So, naturally the question arises. What do these cricketers bring to the pitch?
Hence, you should judge an innings or a haul of wickets in the context of match conditions as well as the status of the pitch.
Having said that, heroic players are those who triumph against insurmountable odds. For they do not dread the pitch. Such batsmen rely on sound technique, their own mind and the willow to tame the demons in the pitch. A batsman's best ally is not helmet, but what's inside it.
Great bowlers do not pray for pitch to crack up but make intelligent use of the ball to rattle stumps.
There is no doubt that Indian and Sri Lankan cricketers would like to have a result, other than a draw, in Kanpur. To make it happen you will have to rise above the pitch.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Who's a true Maharashtrian? Gavaskar or Tendulkar?

By John Cheeran
Now that Shiv Sena finds Sunil Manohar Gavaskar 'a true Maharashtrian' compared to Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, will the original little master, who writes anodyne columns on cricket, spell out where he stands in the Marathi Manoos controversy?
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut wrote in Saamna on Sunday that Gavaskar batted for Bombay and promoted cricketers from the city.
Raut writes: "There has been no instance of Sachin extending a helping hand to other Marathi cricketers. Forget others, he did not even support Vinod Kambli. In contrast, Gavaskar, when he captained India, had half the team drawn from Mumbai and Maharashtra. He gave Test caps to many Marathi players including Suru Naik and Zulphikar Parkar, at least for one match."
Raut adds: "In this context, Gavaskar is a genuine 'Maharashtrian' and the whole country loves him even now in the same way. Players like Sachin have become rich because of game of cricket. Sachin's wealth has crossed Rs 200-crore mark. We expect Sachin to be as 'proud' of Maharashtra as Saurav Ganguly is of Bengal. Rahul Dravid too is a Marathi player but he is loyal to Karnataka."
So was Gavaskar parochial during his career?
Did Gavaskar have the best interests of the nation when he pushed for players from Bombay and Maharashtra into the side?
I consider it is Gavaskar's responsibility to break his silence and explain whether he played his cricket as an Indian first, or a Bombaywallah.
And as for Tendulkar not helping fellow Mumbaikars, Raut is far from truth. Tendulkar, when he was captaining the side, did bring in cricketers from Bombay to Indian dressing room. Remember Abhay Kuruvila, Nilesh Kulkarni, Salil Ankola, Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Sairaj Bahutule. And even Vinod Kambli got a second look when Tendulkar was captain during 1996-98.
And unlike Bollywood, in cricket, you can only give people opportunities. Even a Tendulkar cannot script a Test and ODI. Every cricketer has to stand up and deliver. You can have quotas only up to the playing XI, but out there in the field, you got to earn runs and wickets on your own.
But coming back to the point, what’s Gavaskar’s take on this?
Gavaskar, I’m sure, will let this bouncer alone.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sachin, Gambhir shore up India

By John Cheeran
India should be happy that it managed a draw in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Ahmedabad. After frittering away the advantage of winning the toss in the first hour, Mahendra Singh Dhoni could not have wished for a better outcome.
Now what would you call the pitch at Ahmedabad?
It produced plenty of runs, seven centuries but held little for bowlers. May be that's not the best way to bring spectators into Test match cricket, a point one talked on the eve of the match. For cricket to remain as an exciting sport you need pitches that favour both batsmen and bowlers.
From the Indian perspective, there is not much gain.
We all know that our batsmen score big when conditions suit them. You cannot deny that Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar played sensibly in the second innings to deny Sri Lanka any undue advantage on the final day. Tendulkar, one must note that, played with admirable application and restraint, fully aware of the situation. And he truly deserved his century.
India's bowling will come for sharp criticism. But, then, even the Sri Lankans did not fare exceptionally well except on the first day. Harbhajan Singh's failure should be put along side the performance of Muttaiah Muralitharan, the world's highest wicket taker in Tests.
If anyone could afford a laugh in the Indian dressing room, that is Sreesanth. For he has received another lease of life when national selectors overlooked him while picking the XI for the Ahmedabad Test.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Test of character for Indian batting

By John Cheeran
The fifth and final day of the Ahmedabad Test will be nothing less than a Test of character for the celebrated Indian batting. Yes, Sri Lanka is getting close to its first Test win on Indian soil. You cannot blame the pitch if Mahendra Singh Dhoni's India eventually runs out of patience and wickets in its effort to deny the Sri Lankans the glory.
To avoid an innings defeat India should get 334 runs. At 190 for two India still requires 144 runs to make Sri Lankan batsmen turn up again.
After losing Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid on the fourth day, India has a much tougher task to salvage a draw. The only bright point remains the pitch, which though offering a bit of turn, is not really assisting spinners.
Indians will have to get the equation of runs and time just right to come out of the Test with their pride intact. Yes, India will wipe off the deficit, but the mastery of Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni will be in leaving too little time for Sri Lankans to rattle off the required runs for victory.
Any score within the range of 150 would be an easy meat for Lankans, thirsting for an opportunity to humble the big brother.
Sri Lankans will be basically trying to get the next five wickets to win the game. And that will include Gambhir, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dhoni and Yuvraj. The rest will follow.
So India must bat deep. Dig in but never let go any opportunity to score.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bal Thackeray's open letter to Sachin Tendulkar

Editor's note: Here is the translated version of Bal Thackeray's open letter to Sachin Tendulkar (Thanks to Indian Express, Bombay)

Dear Sachin,

You have played like a king on the playground. You have got international fame, lots of money. You have not only become a lakhpati or crorepati but also an abjopati (billionaire). But nobody is complaining about it. Instead, we are proud (of you)! On the playground you are shining with a new glow. But before the Marathi mind could come to terms with your straight drive, you made a statement — “Though I am proud of being a Marathi and a Maharashtrian, I am a Hindustani first” — at a press conference, leaving cricket and venturing into politics. You have said something more: “Mumbai is not the monopoly of anyone. All people of Hindustan have an equal right over Mumbai.”
Sachin, the Marathi mind was shattered after hearing this. Was it necessary to say this when everyone is poised to grab Mumbai? Why did you take this ‘cheeky-single’ while talking about your Marathi pride? Here you are ‘run out’ on the pitch of Marathi Manoos. We don’t understand why only the Marathi Manoos get such epileptic fits? (You don’t know) how Marathi Manoos secured Mumbai, as you were not even born then. Maneater Murderji Morarji Desai had gone on a rampage. This rampage resulted in Marathi Manoos bleeding on the streets. Hundred-and-five Marathi people sacrificed their lives for Mumbai. This Mumbai can’t belong to the father of any parprantiya (people belonging to another region)
And if anyone tries to sever it from Maharashtra, the Marathi Manoos will finish him off. We are all proud of our country and one should be so and you sportsmen should play for the country. But what about every cricketer playing only for himself nowadays? The country is going through several crises. Maharashtra is worse. Farmers are committing suicides, people are groping in the dark because of power cuts, prices of vegetables have skyrocketed, and inflation is on the rampage. Drought, Mumbai’s slums and diseases are spreading. Influx of (people from) Uttar Pradesh (and) Bihar is hitting Mumbai, in which Bangladeshi Muslims have spread like a virus. Has a person like you, who thinks about the country, ever thought about it?
Mumbai may be the economic capital of the country, but don’t forget that it is the capital of Maharashtra first. Sachin, remember, when you strike fours and sixes people applaud, but if your tongue continues to bat against the nyaya, hakk (justice and rights) of Marathi Manoos, then the Marathi Manoos will not tolerate it!
Hence, I want to give you an affectionate warning for the moment that don’t lose on the political pitch whatever you have earned on the cricket pitch.
Jai Hind, Jai Maharashtra

India struggles to rein in Sri Lanka

By John Cheeran
Now, this game is slipping away from India's hands.
With 165 runs ahead and both Jayawardenes (Mahela 204 not out and Prasanna 84 not out) determined to frustrate Indian bowlers, Sri Lanka is in a position to dictate terms to Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Indian bowling, both spin and pace, stands exposed thanks to the diligent batting and a passive pitch.
On the fourth day, Sri Lanka look well set to extend their lead well beyond 250, if not to a daunting 300.
There is little doubt that India is getting cooked in the heat.
Indian batsmen will have to ensure in the second innings that they do not repeat the silly mistakes committed during the first essay.
Cockiness alone will not ensure that India will escape from Ahmedabad with an honourable draw.
And to consider that, impatience and impertinence of the top order in the first session is likely to lead to India's downfall is a humbling thought.
Skipper Dhoni cannot expect anything extraordinary from his bowlers now and the responsibility of saving India squarely rests on the shoulders of Virender Sehwag, Gautam gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman. Don’t expect Rahul Dravid to fight it out one more time.
More than the pitch and Muttaiah Muralitharan, the pressure of overcoming the huge Lankan lead will test the temperament of the best among the Indian batting lineup, if they get a chance to bat on Thursday afternoon.
It’s a long road ahead.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sensible Test match cricket from Sri Lanka

By John Cheeran
It now looks certain that Sri Lanka will match India run for run in the first innings of the first Test in Ahmedabad. Indian tail did not wag enough to touch the 500 mark in the first innings, and Sri Lanka, with a sparkling century from opener Tillakaratne Dilshan (112), is playing sensible Test match cricket.
But I'm sure there will be more exciting turns in this match.
Sri Lankans will be planning to bat throughout the third day to take a lead of around 150 runs over India. If Lankans succeed in that, that should set the match up for them.
For all that, Sri Lankan batsman should be in no hurry to score those runs. For playing the fourth innings would not be an easy prospect on this pitch.
Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni has a tough task ahead. He must unsettle Jayawardene and Samaraweera early on to thwart the Lankan bid of gaining a sizeable first innings lead. And that would not be easy, especially when Indian bowling lack the cut and thrust to hustle out these feisty bunch of cricketers.

The silence of cricketers

By John Cheeran
Does it surprise you that Indian cricketers, the current and former lot, have kept their distance from the simmering Bal Thackeray-Sachin Tendulkar controversy on the great divide between Mumbai and India?
I'm not. Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri, who both played their cricket in Bombay and continue to live there, never uttered a word on the Saamna editorial while doing commentary for Neo Cricket in the ongoing three Test series against Sri Lanka.
No player from the current Indian squad came forward to say that though they hail from different regions of the country, for them India comes first and no one should pillory Sachin Tendulkar for saying that "he is an Indian first."
Had this bunch of players were playing for India, and not for the BCCI XI, such a reaction would have been most natural. Nor did the band of former players castigate Thackeray for taking a swipe at Tendulkar. Who are they afraid of?
It is too silly to argue that cricketers are not interested in politics and they should be allowed to remain outside the murky world of politics. All actions are political. From fixing cricket matches to planting stories against a team mate to feigning injuries to playing a cracking cover drive.
Yes, politicians did make some noise about the Thackeray statement. But I'm yet to read a remark from Sharad Pawar, the Maratha chieftain, and union minister for agriculture, who is also the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Pawar, who knows a thing or two about the Marathi Manoos, let his dummy Rajeev Shukla issue a vapid statement.
There is not even a purr from the highly political Sourav Ganguly, who the other day was showering praise on Tendulkar.
So much for the people, who can spot the tricolour fluttering on the shoulders of Sachin Tendulkar, every time he walks out to bat.
Long live India.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rahul Dravid, no God, but an ordinary man trying to achieve extraordinary feats

By John Cheeran
Almost a year ago, one wondered about the future of Rahul Dravid. It was a time when Dravid himself was wondering about what NEXT.
Sourav Ganguly had announced his retirement from international cricket, and released from the burden of expectations, was having a good run of scores against Australia.
Anil Kumble was struggling to get another wicket and eventually stepped down as captain. There was this theory gaining currency that Indian team's doors were shut on seniors. That, then, basically meant Dravid would have to search for the meaning of his life, outside of cricket.
There was no doubt that Dravid, after relinquishing captaincy in the wake of World Cup debacle and the Test series triumph in England, was struggling to reinvent himself as a batsman. The IPL experience with Bangalore Royal Challengers, too, did not make things easier.
With the BCCI firm on its decision not to consider Dravid for limited over matches, it was expected that Dravid would be left with no choice but to go the Ganguly way.
But Dravid persisted. And he succeeded. He even got a recall to the Indian one-day team for Champions Trophy in South Africa. And conveniently cast aside when the time came to select the one-day squad against Ricky Ponting’s Australians, despite a good string of scores, though India tanked in the tournament.
But there is more to Rahul Dravid, the cricketer. There are more bricks in this wall than holes as the Sri Lankans found out on Monday on the first day of the three-Test series in Motera, Ahmedabad.
On Monday yet again Dravid rescued the tottering Indian innings. Dravid played an exhilarating innings of unbeaten 177, after India frittered away the advantage of captain Mahendra Singh winning the toss, by losing the wickets of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, all for 32 runs.
Dravid, if you remember, walks in at the crucial position of No.3. It's as tough a spot to be that of an opening batsman.
With Sri Lankan seamers moving the ball around in the first hour, Dravid watched the ball keenly, tightened his defence and let his natural temperament take over.
By now, we all know, Indian batsmen have the habit of burying themselves in the pitch if the wind favours the bowler. Dravid's impeccable shot selection and ability to eschew flamboyance ensured that he remain unscathed during the difficult hour and was free to exploit the favourbale batting conditions, later on.
And silencing his critics, Dravid calmly scored his 27th Test century, an innings that India would be grateful for, for it came when the chips were down.
Yes, I acknowledge that conditions were not difficult for scoring runs, after the first session. Dravid played his strokes freely but kept the big picture in his mind, a crucial difference, compared to the Yuvraj Singhs of this world. He never let go of any opportunity to whip bowlers and his strike rate of 70.51 is something that should be lauded in the course of a long innings.
Why is it that Dravid, most often, scores runs when India needs them the most?
May be, despite playing for India for the last 13 years, often fighting against the odds, we have not yet labelled Dravid of carrying the burden of a nation of one billion people.
So, his shoulders are free to carry the burden of the moment, the burden of batting, and the burden of the moment.
Or is it because Dravid is no God, but a mere mortal, an ordinary man struggling to achieve extraordinary feats, just like you and me, praying and toiling for our daily bread, leavened in equal measure with hope and despair?

When Thackeray holds Sach ka Saamna with Sachin Tendulkar

By John Cheeran
All his life, Bal Thackeray has played only one stroke, though his brush strokes were brilliant and varied when he used to be a cartoonist with mordant wit during the great days of Free Press Journal.
Thackeray has perfected the daring hook shot of identity politics into the Marathi Manoos gallery, giving excitement to his diehard followers, and in the process, terribly fraying the many-coloured national fabric.
On the other hand, Sachin Tendulkar, one of India's finest cricketers, has dominated international cricket for the last 20 years precisely because he can play more than one stroke to any given ball. Tendulkar is a many-splendoured wonder.
So it does not come as a surprise that Bal Thackeray has censured Tendulkar for saying "I'm extremely proud to be a Marathi, but an Indian first," at a press conference last week in Bombay.
To a certain degree, the great PR exercise unleashed by Tendulkar's image consultants on the occasion of the batsman having completed 20 years of international cricket has been quite unnerving. At least, for me.
And, now comes this jarring note from his home turf. Tendulkar's spin doctors would not have expected such a googly from Thackeray when Shiv Sena is licking its electoral wounds.
Indian cricketers, though when it is convenient for them remind us that they are greatly honoured to serve the nation, always sidestep political bouncers. Remember, Sunil Gavaskar kept his mouth shut when Shiv Sainiks vandalised the Bombay office of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
The problem with Tendulkar is that he is too naive to understand the many layers of sub-nationalism in India, though Ranji Trophy matches should have been a primer in such matters.
Well, now that Tendulkar has put his Marathi Manoos behind the Idea of India, though unwittingly, I stand with him. People all over India embraced The Idea of Tendulkar, precisely because it has been pan-Indian in its appeal. And quite importantly, Tendulkar did not play for a generation that shed blood for the formation of linguistic states. Tendulkar has played his cricket for a young republic, disdainful towards chauvinism and regional boundaries.
It is important to note in this context that Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) chairman Mukesh Ambani was advised by his image consultants to brand his Indian Premier League (IPL) team as Mumbai Indians, and that was a step in the right direction.
It would be interesting to know how Tendulkar would react to Thackeray's uncalled for jibe.
Most certainly, with a forward defensive stroke.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cricket with Sri Lanka not sexy yet

By John Cheeran
So India is playing a Test series against Sri Lanka. Have you noticed?
Indian television channels and newspapers haven't taken the series seriously. The seven-match one-day series between India and Australia was dubbed as the honour series by a channel, whereas when the No:2 (Sri Lanka) and No.3 (India) in Test cricket are clashing, there is only muted interest at best.
Why? A fight against neighbourhood Sri Lankans has not become sexy yet for media mavens. Much in the manner of Sanat Jayasuriya not being sexy enough for brand promotion for Indian brands, even though the Man From Matara redefined the grammar and idiom of batting.
After all, it is only Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has had a rich tradition of cricket even before it played its first Test in Madras but India used to fancy its chances against the island nation for a long time. Not anymore.
The fact, however, remains that Sri Lanka is yet to win a Test in India, South Africa and Australia. Well, even India's Test record in Sri Lanka is not enviable. India has always struggled to beat Lankans at their own turf.
The current series, and the first Test starting on Monday at Ahmedabad, will be significant in one aspect. How many spectators will turn up to watch these games?
The series will be a barometer of the popularity of Test cricket in India. Sri Lankans are gritty cricketers and will spare no effort to win their first Test in Indian soil.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni will have an opportunity to think cricket and ensure that things do not slip from his hand while looking ahead, for 2011.
Certainly, it will be a treat to watch some of the greatest batting talent in this series. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman all are aware that they are in the last phase of their maha yatra. We will not get many chances to watch these masters in action. And the same holds true for the wily spinner Muttaiah Muralitharan.
If only Sanat Jayasuriya were there.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Why does Indian Middle Class adore Sachin Tendulkar?

By John Cheeran
Sachin Tendulkar, definitely, is a great batsman.
For any athlete to remain top of his craft for 20 years, takes enormous amounts of talent and effort. For 20 years Tendulkar has dominated international cricket, scored the most number of runs in Test cricket and one-dayers, scored the maximum number of centuries in both forms of the game.
And that, he has played all his cricket for India, a nation that has been starving for sporting glory since the times of Arjuna, makes Tendulkar's job tougher than the most.
I'm, certainly, impressed by the longevity of Tendulkar's cricket career. I'm all the more surprised that Tendulkar has kept himself motivated all through these years.
But the greatest thing about Tendulkar is not his ability to score runs. Tendulkar has not lost his moorings despite the wanton adulation that has come his way, some of which, quite unwarranted, I have felt.
Twenty years.
Why does India love Tendulkar?
Tendulkar has played the role of a middle class hero to perfection. A boy, who graduated to manhood, and remains at the pinnacle of the game, without sullying his reputation as a cricketer, or man. Although a few would recollect that bizarre charge of ball tampering against Tendulkar. Was it in South Africa?
Indian middle class adores Tendulkar.
In its hagiography, the great Indian Middle Class gratefully notes that Tendulkar has not uttered a single false line, nor has he played a single false stroke over the last two decades.
For Tendulkar could have married a Bollywood queen, or a Muslim beauty, for that matter. He could have had one-night stands with Bollywood starlets, he could have smoked pot, he could have run over the homeless and vagrant in Bombay in his Ferrari. He could have hunted Black Buck. Or he could have kept AK-47s hidden at his Bandra flat.
He was no Ian Botham, no Imran Khan if you can recall their heydays. Tendulkar lacks sexiness and flamboyance, and these have been his priceless middle class virtues.
Tendulkar only scored runs, calmed the waters when Indian ship was rocking out therein the choppy seas of international cricket.
Above all, Tendulkar's was one name that remained unsullied by the match-fixing scandal that shook India and the game.
Cricketers all over the world have accepted Tendulkar's moral and cricketing superiority.
Tendulkar, no doubt, is a genius. For, I was shocked when years ago, he told Amrit Mathur in an interview that he remembers all his dismissals. That's something incredible for me. Even in a recent interview to India Today, he has said much the same.
How could you keep all your low points in brain and still go ahead and score runs?
But in all these years India has not won the ultimate prize, the World Cup. On a personal note, a triple century remains unattainable for Tendulkar. He has broken all the batting records, but he has broken many Indian hearts too.
I was shocked when BCCI counsel Venugopal argued in the Supreme Court that BCCI selects not the Indian team but Team BCCI.
Tendulkar, being the middle class hero that he is, in his wisdom chose to rise above the politics of the argument and kept his silence.
Now could Tendulkar tell me, has he been playing over the last 20 years for the BCCI, or for India?
It does matter, after all.
In the name of the game, in the name of the land, it does matter after all.
But thanks for the runs, Tendulkar.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Review: A Pack of Lies by Urmilla Deshpande

By John Cheeran
I must say I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Pack of Lies by Urmilla Deshpande. At 46, this is her first novel.
In the last 12 months I have been reading quite a few Indian authors, and I cannot say many of them have managed to impress me with their craft.
A Pack of Lies is chic-lit, but it has an appealing lad-lit approach which wins over the reader. Yes, it’s a coming-of-age novel in the backdrop of Bombay in the early 80s.
Although Urmilla calls the effort a pack of lies, the honesty that informs her writing only falls short of the brutal candour that Kamala Das brought to her poetry and fiction.
You can only read A Pack of Lies aware of the tryst that you missed with the possibilities in your life. As Urmilla’s Virginia (Ginny) calls it, a colliding with possibilities.
As you flip the pages, you are not particularly looking for any denouement. For, there is not one. Except for Urmilla’s telling punch line, “I had told the truth, for once.”
It’s another point that whether lacking a beginning, middle, and end in the conventional sense, denies A Pack of Lies a status anything better than an intimate personal history.
Urmilla’s teenage heroine Virginia lives an independent life which, even today, remains unattainable for an average Indian urban girl. In Virginia’s world she makes all her decisions for herself, and though men have a role in that, but not one that leaves her feeling strangled all the time.
Yes, I guess, Urmilla has shed the last shred of inhibition to tell it like it is, stood before the reader as a model for a nude photo-shoot, as Virginia herself enjoyed to find herself in an avatar quite different and defiant, and even it is all a pack of lies, it takes courage.
And the most redeeming aspect of A Pack of Lies is that Virgina has no need to confess to the reader. She gets a grip on her life by spending time with the shrink, aptly named as angel Gabriel, and finally paying tribute to her mother, who was at times cold and acerbic, but eventually making peace with herself and her daughter.
In the end, the kind of choices that Urmilla offers Virginia makes you realize that power has shifted from man to woman. But then, Virginia, is no ordinary woman. She lets her lovers walk free, starting from her step-father, college-kid Roy, Jihadi Jamal, photographer Kamal, and even father of her baby, without a trace of bitterness.
I’m ready to embrace such a woman, if there is anyone round the corner.

Excerpts from A Pack of Lies
“But I had never known a love, new or otherwise. All I knew, as Gabriel had told me, were ways to find a reflection of myself that I could live with. And sometimes the only way had been physical. I offered my cunt and all its accoutrements – my brain, my apartment, my cooking skill—to all who happened to glance at me, and hoped that what I offered was enough to make them love.”

And what the hell you want?
“I want to be with a man who will be my bra and tampon and credit card and cook and pedicurist and masseuse and driver and muse, vibrator, comb, gardener and pilot. And I will be everything for him.”

Urmilla Deshpande, 46, lives in Tallahassee, Florida with her family. Modelling, photography, editing and motherhood prepared her to write. She never thought she would follow in the footsteps of her mother, gauri Deshpande, and her grandmother, Irawati Karve.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Welcome home, Sreesanth

By John Cheeran
Welcome home, Sreesanth.
This could well be your last chance to play for India, and redeem yourself as a bowler and a man.
An opportunity to share the new ball with Zaheer Khan could be his, in the three-Test home series against Sri Lanka. Grab it.
By now, the slings and arrows of discipline should have chastened the mercurial fast bowler from Kerala. Strangely, Sreesanth has more detractors in Kerala, and that includes, the Kerala Cricket Association, than outside of it.
There is no denying the fact that the aggression that Sreesanth brings to his bowling unsettles batsmen. Wickets, after all, were not gifts from the rival teams.
In Indian cricket, being a bowler has many advantages. Yes, you get dumped often, but the chances to come back are many since our bowling often falls short of international standards.
Sreesanth was not the first cricketer from Kerala to play for India. Tinu Yohannan, after promising much, fizzled out from the scene. May be there is a lesson for Sreesanth. Sreesanth has the ability to irk batsmen, but it is important that he improves his PR within the dressing room, and on the field, start to enjoy his game, rather than suffer the vicissitudes of the game.
And remember, cricket always offers you a second innings. Life, often, does not.

India squad: MS Dhoni (captain), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, M Vijay, S Badrinath, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth, Pragyan Ojha, Amit Mishra.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

India's misery in Guwahati. A tale of 170 all out vs 175

By John Cheeran
So much for India's batting strength. It caved in Guwahati (170 all out, 27 for five, 75 for six at one stage of the innings), and if not for the carefree innings of fast bowler Praveen Kumar (54 off 51 balls), Mahendra Singh Dhoni's India would not have crossed 100 runs.
This is what I call as context. On a merry batting track, anyone can score. But your character and temperament are revealed when you are tested by a surface that offers some bounce and turn to bowlers.
Virender Sehwag 6, Sachin Tendulkar 10, Gautam Gambhir 0, Yuvraj Singh 6, Suresh Raina 0 and you want to win a match and the series?
We have seen this kind of inexplicable batting displays from Indian sides over the years. And again I'm not surprised by the abject display of Indian top order. As Sachin Tendulkar himself said the other night in Hyderabad, everyone cannot score on every day.
But what, then, about consistency?
Pundits and former players who have raved about Tendulkar's 175 should have reserved their encomiums for an innings that would be played in conditions that are challenging to batsman.
You are nothing but a statistician when you cannot appreciate the context of an innings. A batsman becomes great only when he towers over adverse circumstances. And again, you have to get out of the rut of calling every second innings played by batsmen, the best.
Well, I have taken note of the fact that Kapil Dev himself has rated Sachin Tendulkar's Hyderabad 175 better than his own stupendous effort of 175 not out in the 1983 World Cup. But I have never taken Kapil's comments on cricket seriously. A natural cricketer he is, but not the best of minds that can bring in a sense of dispassionate analysis to the game.
Now look at Ricky Ponting. Full credit to him for securing the series win against heavy odds. The way Australian batsmen handled the chase of 170 runs on a tricky pitch reveals their ingrained professionalism. It was a chase that could have gone wrong, had they lost a few early wickets. Not only did they not lose wickets but Shane Watson's positive approach to run gathering ensured that the innings never got bogged down.
Winning the toss did not help India and Dhoni. May be Dhoni wanted to unleash his spinners on a track that tended to break in the afternoon. But for all that, without posting a decent total, you could not expect bowlers to run through the innings.
Now there are legions of fans who will absolve the stars of the Indian side of the responsibility of losing this match, the one before and the one before that and the series.
And that is cricket for you in India.

Friday, November 06, 2009

175 vs 175? Did Tendulkar play his finest innings (175) in Hyderabad?

By John Cheeran
India lost.
Again, the winner was Sachin Tendulkar, arguably the greatest batsman in modern era. Tendulkar not only completed 17,000 runs in One-Day internationals, but played a truly magnificent innings of 175 (141 balls) in Hyderabad against Australia.
Now that we cannot debate about the outcome of the match, we are left with discussing whether the innings Tendulkar played in Hyderabad on Thursday night was his best effort in 20 years of international cricket.
Let's look at a few things.
First, let's take Tendulkar's reaction. Last night he said the knock was one of his best innings. Yes, it was. One of his best, I agree.
There are people, including Sunil Gavaskar, who, I believe, knows a thing or two about cricket, comparing Tendulkar's 175 to his 136 against in the fourth innings of a Test against Pakistan, which India lost after the great man fell.
And then there are pundits who compare Tendulkar's 175 with Kapil Dev's 175 against Zimbabwe in the 1983 World Cup, an innings that few have seen.
Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but while putting an innings in context you have to look at the conditions in which it was played.
Why is it that no one is talking about how weak the Australian bowling attack was in Hyderabad? Without Brett Lee, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson, this attack was far from penetrating. Clint McKay, the man who took three Indian wickets, was playing his first ODI. And over and above, pitch was perfect for batting, a fact that has been underlined by the mere fact that Aussies posted a total of 350 in the first place. When you look at the Australian scorecard, you immediately notice that each one of the batsman -- Shane Watson (93), Shaun Marsh (112), Ricky Ponting (45) and Cameron White (57) excelled with the bat.
And about the consequence of India losing this match?
The seven-match series is still alive, though India trails 2-3.
So, the impact of Tendulkar's innings, assuming that he had taken India to victory, would have been hardly unsurpassable.
But Tendulkar played his role well, though not to perfection. I would have used the word perfection, had he remained there till the end, and struck home the winning run. Yes, cricket is a team game, others too have a role to play but we venerate Tendulkar for his innate genius and for the fact that at five feet two (5ft 5in) inches, he towers above the rest.
Regrets will be a few when Tendulkar finally walks into twilight, and not having won the fifth one-dayer against Australia in Hyderabad would not be among that list.
Yes, not having scored a triple hundred in Test cricket will rankle, though having played the most number of Test innings ever. Not having won a World Cup will blot his reputation, something that Tendulkar seems to be determined to achieve in 2011, in front of his adoring home crowd.
But 175 in Hyderabad, his greatest knock?
It was, no doubt, great entertainment. But not the best of the master batsman.
And I'm outraged when Gavaskar entertains thoughts of comparing Tendulkar's 136 against Pakistan in Chennai with the 175 in Hyderabad.
You cannot compare the oranges of one-dayers with the apples of Test cricket. By now we should realise that Test cricket, one-dayers and Twenty20 are different songs requiring different timbres, though some sing all three of them with ease and elan.
And now, the question of 175 vs 175.
Kapil Dev's 175 was not just Kapil's best innings in a long career but when it was played (1983) it stretched the possibilities of counter attack in a 60-over one-day international. For sheer impact, no innings in international cricket comes closer to Kapil's 175, since that innings led to India's World Cup triumph, an achievement unparalleled in Indian cricket.
And to know that Tendulkar would have quit playing the game by now, had he lifted a World Cup to kiss!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Partnership is the big word in Hyderabad

By John Cheeran
Now Indian batsmen have a wonderful opportunity at Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Uppal, Hyderabad, to justify their star status. Australia has set India a target that would satisfy the appetite of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Sachn Tendulkar.
Batting is easy in the given conditions, and 350 is not a daunting target, when you have a deep batting lineup. Though hobbled by injuries, this Australian side has thrown down the gauntlet to the host. Pick it up, Dhoni.
Ricky Ponting did the sensible thing after winning the toss yet again. That the Indian bowlers could not get an early wicket helped a great deal in Aussies scoring seven runs per over. All batting efforts have to be measured against the nature of the wicket but Shuan Marsh (112 off 112 balls) and Shane Watson (93 off 89 balls) deserve fulsome praise for making the best use of their opportunity.
Harbhajn Singh was unlucky when skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni falied to latch onto a thick edge offered by Shane Watson when he came on to bowl. And only Harbhajan escaped unscathed from the Aussie onslaught.
But, again, India need not worry. Australia's bowling does not have its lethal edge.
It's a score that can be overcome, provided that each batsman steps out with a purpose, instead of coming up with a few cameos. Partnership is the big word. There has to be a steadying hand on Indian innings and that, ideally has to come either from Sachin Tendulkar or Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Let the chase begin.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Vande Mataram...let's write new songs for an India where nights without darkness prevail

By John Cheeran
Should an Indian sing Vande Mataram?
If you know the lyrics, please go ahead.
Like many, I know only the first two stanzas of India's national song.
Do I know Jana Gana Mana, the national anthem, better?
I doubt.
I appreciate the poetry of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay's in those early lines of Vande Mataram. As for my religious beliefs clashing with poetry, I know better.
Much of the Indian poetry in vernacular languages is a paean to Hindu gods and goddesses. You fall in love with a language, its beauty and cadences. And as for its meaning, you read between the lines.
And what about the meaning? What about it?
Do you care for your own mother? Or father? Or blood brothers?
Let's not worry about who wants to sing our songs, songs of yesteryears.
Allama Iqbal who wrote in 1904 to say that Saare Jahan Se Acha
maz'hab nahīn sikhātā āpas men bayr rakhnā
hindvi hai ham, vatan hai hindostān hamārā

changed his stanza and stand six years later in 1910 to write
chīn-o-arab hamārā, hindostān hamārā
muslim hain ham, vatan hai sārā jahān hamārā.

May be, it is time for us to write new songs for an India where nights without darkness prevail.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Should we blame Asoka de Silva for Mohali defeat?

By John Cheeran
Who defeated India in the fourth one-dayer against Australia in Mohali?
Ricky Ponting or Asoka de Silva?
If Sourav Ganguly is to be believed, Asoka de Silva was the man behind India's 24-run defeat. De Silva's LBW verdict against India's well-set batsman Sachin Tendulkar (40 off 68 balls) was unpardonable, says Ganguly while giving his exclusive thoughts to an Indian television channel.
I thought there were others in the Indian batting lineup who could have met the challenge head on.
Yes, umpire De Silva made a mistake in giving Tendulkar out. But Tendulkar himself has said recently he is not in favour of carrying on with the referral system and umpires should be left with the powers to make LBW decisions. So?
You got to live with such decisions and still make a fight out of it. After all, cricket is a team sport and you cannot bemoan the loss of a wicket beyond a point and get befuddled.
You cannot turn your gaze away from reality. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli all failed to put their head down and chase down a modest target of 250. There was not a single legitimate partnership in the Indian innings. India's top individual score was Tendulkar's 40.
What's coach Gary Kirsten up to?
But, then, nothing is lost if Team India realises its shortcomings, especially the inability of its young batsmen to play shots when wicket offers a bit of bounce.
Any match in Mohali has its own twists and turns, and Australians showed a lot of character to bounce back when it all seemed a lost cause.
Sponsors Hero Honda should be the happiest lot, since the outcome in Mohali keeps the seven-match series alive.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Where did Dhoni, Yuvraj and Harbhajan go on Sunday night?

John Cheeran
Where did Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, star batsman Yuvraj Singh and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh go out on Sunday night?
For some match practice?
May be the trio is taking Indian coach Gary Kirsten's advice seriously. To channelise their creative energies and attain the blissful state of nirvana, on the eve of the match against Australia.
May be these three were off to discuss strategy in the cover of night because these days you cannot trust anyone in the dressing room. Some of the newbies and veterans in the team are a naughty lot and may leak inside information to our rivals.
The tricky thing is that you cannot even trust the cops these days. Their knowledge of cricket tactics is poor at the best. They are nothing but irritant fleas. Since Yuvi and Bhajji know Chandigarh inside out, and know all the dark alleys of Sector 16 and 17, there is no need to inform the security personnel when they are going out.
And just consider the reputation of Yuvraj and Harbhajan. Lions of Punjab. These two cricketers can handle any security threat. Ask S Sreesanth.
Not even gun-toting Kasabs could stop them in their tracks.
After all, these days, matches are all day and night affairs.
A bit of nightout should do Team India just fine.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Ponting has to win more than mere tosses

By John Cheeran
Despite Australia's apparent lack of bowling resources what made things easier for India in the third one-dayer at Feroze Shah Kotla was Ricky Ponting's too careful an approach while batting.
Now with the tide in the series turning in favour of Mahendra Singh Dhoni's India 2-1, Ponting has to do more than merely win the toss at Mohali. With former foe Sourav Ganguly offering unsolicited advice to bat first, things are not looking pretty for the Aussie.
Yes, the wicket at Kotla did not encourage shot-making, but Australians could have taken their chances against Indian spinners to put on at least another 50-odd runs. That, they failed to do so, handing over the advantage to the Indians. But, then, though they had five wickets in hand Australia was handicapped by the absence of wicketkeeper-batsman Tim Paine.
That wicket did not turn treacherous was evident when Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni were batting together. A missed opportunity, especially for Michael Hussey, Shane Watson and Ponting. As things stand, Aussies are far from winning the game in the mind.
John Cheeran at Blogged