Thursday, March 23, 2006

Overpaid Stars?

I imagine there's no point, and no thrill, in flogging a dead horse, but I'll do it anyway. For ridiculous situations call for ridiculous reactions. In losing to a second string English team, most of whose members were alien to the conditions they were playing in, the Indian cricket team thoroughly disgraced itself. I do not, for a minute, intend to take away any credit from Andrew Flintoff and his gallant side. Their discipline and perseverance were admirable, and their belief in their abilities was palpable. But what do we make of an Indian side that was bowled out for 100 on Wankhede? In the end, the manner in which it was lost was galling. As many have noted, Indian cricket took a step forward and then two back under Ganguly, whose desperation to hold on tarnished all the good work he had done. The whole Ganguly episode and now the endless debate over whether Tendulkar is the greatest ever, or if it was wrong to boo him are symptomatic of misplaced focus in our cricket, and in our sport in general. So it is in our public life, but I'd rather not discuss that bunch of species or lest my article may carry a stench with it. In the process, the most important aspects are either glossed over or not given the attention they deserve. Who cares if X or Y or Z scores runs or takes a dozen wickets if the team loses? I'm all for treating the game like one, and generally don't tie myself into knots over a lost game of cricket, but when we have professional athletes making decent sums of money, surely we can expect them to deliver? I think it's time to call the bluff. Of our cricketers and our cricketing institutions, that is. They have never delivered consistently, but the cricketers continue to be the subject of much adoration and people continue to flock to stadiums and turn on TV sets irrespective of results. In a way, our cricketing culture is very similar to the English football system, which generates the most money and headlines and has many of the world's best players but England itself has rarely done anything of note before or since the 1966 World Cup. The difference, of course, is that England does make the World and European cups almost every time and does creditably, considering it has to compete practically against the rest of the world. Contrast that with cricket, where less than dozen nations play and even with all the money that the game generates, we are still aiming to become "No.2" and miserably failing at that! For all the grandiose announcements made by Lalit Modi and company, I'm yet to hear anyone say they want to see India calling the shots on the field, in cricketing terms and be the top dog. Instead, we have to be content with watching Modi, Bindra and the rest of the BCCI getting orgasms out of deals they close. I'm sorry, but I don't get off to that stuff, man. - NK
PS: While we're at it, may be it's time for Chappell to stop experimenting in test cricket.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


There are times when you feel like waxing eloquent about something of grand proportions. At other times, like on this occasion, there's no bloody words that can describe what transpired. Unreal. Surreal. Greatest...oh, bugger it. Sorry, but that's the only way - using all the oaths I can muster - that I can convey my sense of what happened during the carnage at the Wanderers on Sunday night. Guess what? I didn't even get to watch it. Add that to Kapil's 175 (ok, bad example), Richards' 189 (another one), Azhar's then fastest hundred, Jayasuriya's fastest, Afridi's fastest etc etc. None of that matters though. This one will take in a while to sink in, if it ever will. - NK

The obligatory Commonwealth Games post

The ticket prices for the opening ceremony at the Commonwealth Games here in Melbourne are steep, to put it midly - in the AUD $420-590 range. The games kick off on Wednesday in the hallowed precints of MCG, and if the hype in the city is anything to go by, the price may well be worth paying for. To give credit where it's due, Melbourne has prepared (or so it seemed to my beery eyes) pretty well for the games. What's more, Melburnians, so famous (in their own city) for their love of sport, seem to have bought into the concept of the games quite generously. Which doesn't seem all that surprising considering Australia is a bit like the First Lady of the Commonwealth, but when you consider the general lack of enthusiasm about the games elsewhere, that is an achievement. Melbourne hasn't really hosted a sporting event of great magnitude in a while, and one suspects that may have something to do with it. All in all, it is hard to escape the seeming indifference towards the games in the rest of the world, and particuarly in the Commonwealth countries themselves, if the buzz on the web is anything to go by. In India, Rediff is as usual putting in its bit, but it is hardly the same kind of coverage an India-Pak series or even the Asian Games get. A pertinent question may be, are these games still relevant, now that the Commonwealth itself is a largely ineffectual organisation, a relic of the Raj? Even if the Melbourne games are a success, the question still remains relevant in my view. For one, the games do not produce enough world class performances to elevate themselves beyond the small world. Further, there is not much evidence to suggest that the games are a money spinner the way the Olympics or the soccer world cup are - these are admittedly unfair comparisons, but then commercial considerations are inescapable. Lastly, there is the issue of hosting the games - once again, unlike those two other events, countries are not exactly falling over each other to host the commonwealth games. The one reason I do like the games is that India usually performs quite creditably, being quite strong in shooting and weightlifting events at the level. Some of the performances at Manchester were outstanding and came as a pleasant surprise. The most notable was the gold in women's hockey, where India fended off a strong Aussie side. The other factor, of course, is that the next edition will be held in our own New Delhi. I hope the games organising committee (whatever name it goes by) is putting its best foot forward and that infrastructure is getting a serious upgrade. The last time New Delhi had a similar upgrade was in 1982 when the Asian Games were a huge success. Unfortunately, all that work came to nothing in the years later courtsey official apathy of epic proportions. Have our boards/bodies learnt anything? Even before the games officially have kicked off, India has had an inauspicious start, although the latest problem was an off-field affair that athletes had nothing to do. Hopefully there will be a much happier outcome by the end of the games. - NK

Saturday, March 11, 2006

An Evening With Balaji

On at least a couple of occasions, I have made no secret of the fact that I am an admirer of Lakshmipathy Balaji. In addition to his crafty fast-medium stuff, now there's another reason - admittedly Balaji is of Telugu descent who now lives in Tamil Nadu. I jest, of course. Anyhow, that's one of a few aspects of Balaji the person I came across when I had the opportunity to meet the swing and seam bowler when he was down in Melbourne for medical consultation. All thanks to a friend of mine who was most generous in inviting me along for a dinner. Although I have had the pleasure of seeing a few cricketers from up close, thanks mainly to my interest in sports quizzes, this was the first time I actually met someone in the real sense of the word; and loved every minute of it. Not because of the opportunity itself, but because Balaji turned out to be a very affable, polite and most importantly, cool young man. A bloke, if you will, without some of the unpleasant connotations some may associate with that word. I was keen not to come across as a fawning fan (and largely succeeded or at least I think so anyway) and did not want to exasperate him with a myriad cricket questions, but Balaji himself turned out to be a keen follower of many sports, especially tennis and Formula-1. Any mention of the 2004 Pakistan tour brought an apparent gleam to his eyes, understandable considering that has been the high point of his career so far. And by god, did he do well on that tour? His (and Pathan's) bowling in the last test at Rawalpindi will remain in my memory for a long time, as incisive and disciplined as it was. And his sixes off Shoaib and Sami have become the stuff of folklore. As easy going as he seemed, there is an unmistakable hunger in the young man (I can afford to call him that, given Balaji is only 24 and being a thousand years old myself now) to make it back into the national team, a desire to succeed at the highest level. His rehabilitation from a nettlesome injury is not yet complete, and he was keen all through the trip not to disrupt the process in any way, extremely conscious of the reason he was here. The people at the restaurant recognised Balaji after a while, and some Aussies at the table beside wondered what the fuss was about. When someone mentioned 'fast-medium', Balaji's prompt response was 'I got Ponting five out of six' (that got the Aussies' attention), a sure sign that he was ready for a scrap (of the cricketing kind) and of pride. That should serve him well, and one wishes him all the best. - NK Cross-posted on

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Somebody close the door on that joker

After all the hoo-ha, all the cave-ins and compromises, it is amusing to see Kiran More take the high moral ground. When he was pressurised to pick Sourav Ganguly in the test side, first for the series against Sri Lanka and then, after much hand wringing on all sides , for the Pakistan tour, More took it all in his stride. One suspects the job was too important for him, and that all the pressurising, however difficult, was just an occupational hazard. Indeed it has been in the case, for as long as one can remember, in the annals of Indian cricket. The only surprise is all this happened when our cricketing institutions were acquiring a semblance of civility, even if transparency continues to elude them. Monsieur More has just followed precedent, no matter how visionary he is or claims to be in his team selection. Getting back to the issue, should the door be closed on Ganguly? It seems that is exactly what the selectors wanted to do when they first dropped him. Considering he's not getting younger, it may not be entirely unjustified, but what if he has an extraordinary domestic season? Unless there are deeper reasons (attitude to fitness or discipline for example), there is no cricketing reason why the door should be closed (on any proven performer). With all his weaknesses, real and perceived, against fast bowling, Ganguly still managed to be extremely successful, especially in one-day cricket. So should he not be treated as a player that India can call upon and utilise the services of in the next world cup? After all, it is the team that matters, doesn't it? On the other hand, I'm all for closing the door on Ajit Agarkar :) I'm only half-joking, he did perform very well in the one-dayers against Sri Lanka and South Africa. - NK

Jaffer seizes opportunity

By the end of the fourth day of the first test, I had a distinct feeling of deja vu. The English team that visited India in 1984-85 (that last to win here) was called the weakest ever to land on our shores. And promptly handed a humiliating defeat to the home team, the then world champions. India were also thumped in the one-day series 4-1, quite a stunning result for a team that went to win the World Championship of Cricket Down Under not long after. The silver lining in that series, otherwise wracked by the ego clashes between Sunny and Kapil, and marred by the murder of the British Deputy High Commissioner and of course the assassination of Mrs.Gandhi and the aftermath, was the emergence of a toothy, wiry young man named Mohammed Azharuddin (whose name cannot be recalled these days without being rueful), who scored those three fabulous hundreds back-to-back. The cover of The Illustrated Weekly announcing "A Star is Born" remains one of my earliest, vivid cricketing memories. Wasim Jaffer is no Azharuddin - that's what I gather from the limited opportunities I have had of watching him - but he did wonderfully well at Nagpur to give himself and the nation's cricket fans some breathing space. Jaffer's sudden selection in the middle of the Ganguly brouhaha was a bit of surprise (although truth to be told, we're no longer surprised by anything, are we?), and in fact, put the chattering classes to work. I must concede that I viewed the selection with extreme suspicion, and still do. That's not to say Jaffer did not deserve a second look, but the question was, why now? Jaffer acquitted himself reasonably well on the tours of England and West Indies, and in my opinion, should have been on the fringes, not the relative wilderness he found himself in. But then that's how our selection committees seem to function, seemingly without a vision even as they speak about the infusion of youth every now and then. Similar in build to a young Azharuddin, Jaffer is a strong player square of the wicket, particularly on the off-side and is generally sound off the back foot. The one weakness that came to the fore in his previous international stint was the tendency to drive from the crease, neither front nor back. Hopefully he's worked on it. Speaking of technical deficiencies, the man who lost his place to Jaffer, Gautam Gambhir does have a few, but the kid has talent and is not afraid to play his shots. If anything, he played too many shots and that has been the problem throughout his short career. I feel for Gambhir - he was always on tenterhooks, especially when the Ganguly issue was brewing over. He did get a decent run, and I can see people not having much sympathy for him, but I do think he needs to be in the reckoning. He's capable of scoring very quickly and that makes him an asset. I fear, though, that our uncaring system is likely to leave him to his own devices rather than nurture him. Exhibit A: Akash Chopra. Sourav Ganguly must take blame for nipping that young man's career in the bud, eager as he was to propel the prodigiously talented Yuvraj into the test side. In the process, both men suffered, although happily for Yuvraj he's come back stronger. As for Jaffer, he should take heart from that other selection accompanied by whispers - that of Ganguly in '96. When you're picked, your one obligation is to justify your selection. - NK

Back in Blogosphere

It's been a while since I posted anything anywhere. It was one of those times when you have a few things to take care of, and coincidentally manage to find ready excuses not to make the effort. Like not having a broadband connection at home, as if that has ever stopped anyone from blogging (in the office). One of those times when you are more content reading more than posting. God knows there are a few good blogs out there, and scrolling through comments can at times be somewhat addictive. On the odd occasion it can even be educational if the 'commenters' know their stuff (in fact, that's an understatement). Plenty of things have happened in the meantime - India's convincing win in the one-day series in Pakistan, Australia's VB series triumph (yawn), Barcelona trumping arch rivals Chelsea and the whole winter olympics, where in fact, India had four entrants this time. But the most important moment may have been courtesy of a 47-year old athlete - John McEnroe winning a doubles title with Jonas Bjorkman. McEnroe is simply the most gifted tennis player of his generation - may be more - certainly the most talented I have seen. But more importantly, he enjoys the game. Watching people like Pete Sampras play (one can say the same about Rahul Dravid), as much as one admired him, it was easy to forget why we took to a sport in the first place. It should be all about having fun, first and foremost. - NK