February 2010 - Posts
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By Gulu Ezekiel
It is a pity Harbhajan Singh had to spoil the mood of the party after India’s last-gasp win in the Kolkata Test against South Africa last week.
It was silly on his part to lambaste the entire media for a satirical depiction that appeared on a Hindi TV news channel that no one should take seriously in any case.
After being an international player for the last 12 years and now approaching his 30th birthday, it is time the off spinner shed his ‘angry young man’ persona and learned to act his age.
Harbhajan never fails to acknowledge the positive role Anil Kumble played and continues to play in his career. Yet the younger man has failed to imbibe even a drop of the dignity and good grace Kumble displayed over nearly two decades of representing the country.
Despite being India’s greatest match winning bowler of all time, Kumble felt under-appreciated at times. But he never displayed any bitterness towards his critics.
Harbhajan on the other hand has continued taking on coaches, the media, opponents and even his own teammates—the notorious Sreesanth slapping affair of 2008—and this has hardly endeared him to cricket fans around the world despite his sterling bowling feats over the years.
There is no escaping facts and figures and in this regard it is undeniable that Harbhajan has failed to step into Kumble’s shoes as the team’s senior spin bowler. Indeed, his record over the last four years has shown a considerable dip in performance compared to his earlier feats.
While his fighting qualities have often helped dig India out of a hole as it did at Eden Gardens, too often he has let his temper get the better of him.
In American cop parlance, Harbhajan has a rap sheet as long as his arm. And yet it was the ICC’s blunder, deliberate or otherwise, which helped him escape a lengthy ban two years ago after his contretemps with Andrew Symonds in Sydney.
The rights and wrongs of that case can be argued ad nauseum but the damage it did to India-Australia ties is still being felt at the highest levels.
His comments after skipping the Padma Shri awards investiture at Rashtrapati Bhavan last year left a bad taste in the mouth. In fact probably going by his disciplinary record, it was not the BCCI that put his name up for consideration as is the norm. He was directly nominated by Sports Minister MS Gill.
Harbhajan has always been prickly about criticism. Reportedly he calls up ex-players who comment adversely on his bowling on TV and bad-mouths them.
This not only shows bad manners but a streak of paranoia that is unhealthy in anyone, let alone a sportsperson. It is still not too late to shed this attitude as he surely has many years of quality cricket ahead of him.
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By Partab Ramchand
Brett Lee’s retirement announcement did not come as a surprise. Not only because he had been hinting at quitting Test cricket for some time but it was also clear that his body had `had it’. Bowling at express speed consistently does take its toll on the frame however sturdy it might be. One recalls how another famous fast bowler England’s Frank Tyson was plagued by injuries and his career was restricted to 17 Tests between 1954 and 1959. Given that, it is a tribute to Lee that he lasted as long as he did, playing in all the formats of the game. A combined total of 76 Tests, 186 ODIs and 17 Twenty20s in about a decade was obviously more than he could take and, after dealing with long-term foot, ankle, side and elbow injuries over the past 15 months, Lee knew more than anyone else that his body couldn’t take the strain any more.
Yes, there have been fast bowlers who have prolonged their careers by cutting down on pace and concentrating on seam and swing but Lee was always an express fast bowler. He made a name for himself by hurtling down deliveries consistently at over 150 kph and touching 160 on one famous occasion and it was not in his nature to be anything else. He remained a true blood fast bowler till the end. Fortunately, however, both for Australia and cricket fans the world over, Lee will be around to grace the shorter versions of the game and, in this, he has followed the likes of Andrew Flintoff and Shane Bond.
These days Lee has reached the status of elder statesman for there are a number of young pace bowlers who have suddenly cropped up. The bench strength of the team is so strong that even following the departure of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz quality pace bowlers still abound and this is one reason why Australia are still able to maintain their #1 ranking in ODIs.
Lee thus faces the unenviable situation of forcing his way back but then he has always been a fighter and patience is one of his many virtues. He had to spend a lot of time on the reserve bench as the Aussie pace trio led by McGrath was irreplaceable. But even when they were around he made himself a regular in the ODI squad and with 22 wickets played a leading role in Australia emerging triumphant in the World Cup in South Africa in 2003.
His tremendous pace, boyish good looks and gregarious personality made Lee an exciting discovery and he exploded on to the scene with 46 wickets in seven Tests before he required surgery following a severe elbow injury that threatened his career. Following his recovery Lee graduated to first change after McGrath and Gillespie. But with the decline of Gillespie and Kasprowicz in the early years of the new millennium Lee became a first-choice weapon for Australia between 2005 and 2008. He really announced his arrival in the memorable Ashes series in England and from then on there was no looking back. And finally with the departure of McGrath after Australia had regained the Ashes in 2006-07 he finally took over as spearhead guiding young bowlers like Stuart Clark and Mitchell Johnson.
With 310 wickets in 76 matches since making his debut in 1999, Lee is Australia’s fourth most successful Test bowler behind Shane Warne, McGrath and Dennis Lillee. He is also credited with sending down the second quickest recorded delivery when he bowled at 99.9 miles (160.8 kms) per hour in 2003, a speed beaten only by Pakistan’s maverick speedster Shoaib Akhtar.
Lee’s last Test was against South Africa at Melbourne in December 2008 when he suffered a serious foot injury. This kept him out of last year’s Ashes series even as the younger brigade took over.
Ricky Ponting possibly put it best. "If we all just take a minute and think about what he's put himself through in the last 10 or 12 years, running 35 metres to bowl every ball, bowling every ball at around 150kph, and putting his heart on the line every ball he bowls, this bloke deserves a massive pat on the back." And though he will still be around in the shorter versions of the game – he has a particularly splendid record in ODIs - Lee will first and foremost be remembered as a great Test fast bowler.
By Suresh Menon
Not all the lessons from the poorly-hyped South Africa series came from
the field of play. It was good to see Harbhajan Singh return to his
match-winning ways, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni marshal his limited
bowling attack on the final day in Kolkata. With just three bowlers at
his command, Dhoni rotated them well enough for victory with just a few
But I suspect that if the situation had been similar in the first Test
at Nagpur, South Africa might have got away with a draw. The
determination on Hashim Amla’s face (and his bat was as broad as his
heart) was something to see.
What pushed Harbhajan on a still decent track was as much his own
self-belief as the vociferous and unstinted support from a packed Eden
Gardens stadium. It might have only been some forty thousand or so as
the stadium is being renovated for the World Cup, but such support puts
a spring in the bowler’s step, and – dare I say it – an extra spin on
Kolkata have taken Harbhajan to heart in the manner they did Mohammad
Azharuddin earlier and Gundappa Vishwanath and B S Chandrasekhar before
that. Not enough research has been done on the way a crowd energises a
performer, but empirical evidence suggests that crowd support is a
crucial element in taking a bowler or batsman that extra yard. You only
have to look at the statistics of the above players at Eden Gardens.
Harbhajan’s victory lap after the last wicket was to pay a tribute to
the extra bowler in the Indian team – the Kolkata crowd.
And that is why it wouldn’t have happened in Nagpur where empty stands
greeted the players. In fact, it must be depressing for a home side to
get no home support. And the question that asks itself naturally is,
why Nagpur at all? Or Ahmedabad? Or anywhere that India have played
Test cricket watched by three spectators and a dog?
Kolkata haven’t hosted a Test since 2007 because the Cricket
Association of Bengal belongs to the wrong column in the Board
arithmetic. Chennai, which has seen some great Tests, some great
crowds, and a wonderfully festive atmosphere during Pongal in
mid-January, hasn’t had a Pongal Test since 1988 (and only ten Tests
since). That means a whole generation has grown up without the faintest
idea of the Pongal Test tradition.
Why does the Board insist on thrusting Test cricket down the throats of
centres which would rather have one-day or Twenty20 matches? Test
matches have been played on 20 grounds in India, so obviously a certain
amount of give-and-take is necessary. The Board could lay down
guidelines: poor crowds and you lose your status as a Test venue. This
will help the spectators too since there might be an effort to bring
down the often exorbitant price of tickets to pack in the crowds.
Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore and possibly Mumbai guarantee crowds and
knowledgeable ones at that. Test cricket is about tradition, not
politics. The so-called rotation policy ought to be restricted to
centres outside these.
There is also the question of the ridiculous two-match series. Between
top teams, this ought to be banned. Even if the current series was
arranged hurriedly to take advantage of India’s new status at the top
of the table, it left everybody unfulfilled. Two fine matches, and just
when the series was beginning to hit its stride, it is all over. Test
cricket deserves better – especially since Kolkata has shown that it is
alive and well in some parts of India.
By Gulu Ezekiel
India can thank their lucky stars that they have managed to cling onto the world number one Test ranking.
But a mere two-Test series against South Africa has left cricket fans
crying out for just one more match. Nothing less than three Test
matches would have been a true test of the relative strengths of the
Even these two Tests were a late after-thought on the part of the BCCI
who scrambled to alter the visitors’ itinerary from seven ODIs to three
to squeeze in the series. Or else India’s number one ranking would have
been lost due to paucity of matches this year and nothing else.
How much this ranking means to the Indian team was evident by the joy
and relief they showed when Harbhajan Singh claimed the last wicket at
the Eden Gardens with just minutes to go for the end of the match.
Of course it could well have been over midway through the final day if
so much play had not been lost on Wednesday due to the weather. Then
again, the nail-biting finish was a great advertisement for the unique
thrills that only a Test match can produce and the enthusiastic crowds
backing India throughout the match was a joy to witness.
India were also severely handicapped by the absence of spearhead Zaheer
Khan on the final day and the constant fitness issues plaguing the pace
bowlers continues to pose problems for the selectors and team
Even though both the Tests ended in innings wins, they produced plenty of thrills and some outstanding individual performances.
The standout undoubtedly was South Africa’s middle order hero Hashim
Amla. That he was dismissed just once in three innings for 490 runs and
occupied the crease for a shade under 24 hours in all is a tribute to
his powers of concentration and commitment. And how close he came to
denying India victory on the final day in partnership with last man
Despite Harbhajan’s match winning bowling at Kolkata, it was fast
bowler Dale Steyn’s tremendous spell of 7 for 51 in the first Test at
Nagpur that stood out in the short but sweet series.
What an irony it is that in this day and age of 50 and 20-over thrills,
it is the Tests matches that have captured the imagination. And the
three-ODI series that began in Jaipur on Sunday now appears
Then again, that is what makes Test matches so magical to true cricket
lovers. And no amount of hype and hoopla can erase 133 years of history
[This article was originally published on ButJazz.com.]
By Sunil Gavaskar
When Steve Davis raised his finger to signal Morne Morkel’s
dismissal leg-before wicket to Harbhajan Singh, the first reaction was
not just to follow Harbhajan as he made his victory run but also to see
the slow motion action replay. India did not want to win with an
umpiring error with so little time left for the Test to finish. The
decision was spot on again and what Davis and Ian Gould have shown in
this series and in the Kolkata Test in particular, is that they are
among the top umpires in the world. It is never easy to officiate in
India with its noise and crowds and the heat and the dust but these two
have been magnificent.
The Eden Gardens crowd is more noisy than others and the sheer
numbers also help to make it so. It is a tough job anyway and in the
sub-continent even tougher but Davis and Gould were top class. Their
interaction with the players was also great where they were friends but
not necessary pals and the players were comfortable with these two and
it showed in their reactions when a close call went against them.
What the close finish has shown is how crucial it is to continue
having third country umpires officiate in Test matches. There were four
leg-before wicket decisions given on the last day and all of them
absolutely correct as shown on slow motion replays but just think if
those very same correct decisions were given by an Indian umpire. The
hullabaloo that would have been created would have been incredible and
all kinds of allegations of home team bias would have been levelled.
Those decisions made by a third country umpire got the respect it
deserved and there was no overt reactions to them. There have been some
suggestions especially in the media of the old powers that the time has
come to have umpires from a country officiate in their country’s Test
The current system of third country umpires has worked very well and
helped ease tensions between teams when a bad call is occasionally made
by umpires who are human too and it would be a major mistake for that
to be changed just because there is a feeling in some quarters that the
umpires should officiate in their home Tests. If the system has worked
why change it. Even if the referral system is used it still won’t take
away the finger of home team bias especially since only three incorrect
referrals are allowed and so any more than that which could actually
change the course of the game will invite criticism that it was home
team bias that did it. It may not be with other country’s umpires but
you can wager a small fortune that if its umpires from the
sub-continent then the bias angle will be brought out for sure since
any stick to beat the subcontinent is good enough.
What the win at the Eden Gardens also showed is that India does not
need a turning pitch to win Tests. That phobia about hard bouncy
pitches should be done away with forever now that the Indian team has
shown through a superb all round performance that they don’t need help
from a pitch to win matches. The win will also silence all those who
would have been waiting to say that India squared the series by
preparing a turner.
Last time when India had to win the final Test to level the series
against South Africa they got a dry pitch at Kanpur and at the *** end
of the summer it would be pretty much the same all over India and with
the then coach screaming even before a ball had been bowled about the
quality of the pitch the Proteas were demoralized and were out before
even the first ball was bowled. This time around despite the usual
guessing game in the media about what the Eden Gardens pitch would be
like, the Proteas management did not react at all and so they went
in to the Test positively as could be seen by that double century
partnership between Petersen and Amla.
That they collapsed after that is a credit to the manner in which
Harbhajan bowled to snare the solid Kallis into playing a slog sweep
and then getting the out of form left-handers Prince and Duminy off
successive deliveries. It had nothing to do with the pitch but simply
superb spin bowling by the much maligned offie. He just does not get
the credit he deserves despite taking over 350 Test wickets and that is
a pity indeed.
In any other country Bhajju would be hailed as an all time great but
in India he has many who just won’t recognize his deeds and
achievements for his country. Yes he is a bit hot under the collar at
times but that is because he is intensely competitive and wants to
excel for his team. Yes he could do with a bit of mellowing down as is
seen with Sreesanth another competitive player and who knows it may
happen sooner than is believed. Just like Sreesanth has not lost any of
his swing and pace by just turning back on his heels and going to
deliver the next ball instead of wasting his energies giving a lecture
to the batsman, so also Harbhajan will not lose his guile by just
focusing on his bowling and not worrying if the batsman has played a
good shot or a lucky one..â?¨â?
Yes sir, there was plenty that the Eden Gardens Test showed. India
does not need a turning pitch to win. It’s bowlers especially spinners,
can win on any surface and it’s batsmen do not need flat pitches to
score. It also showed some of its fiery characters that patience indeed
has its rewards and losing it only leads to loss of composure
and confidence that only helps the opposition..â?¨â?It was a wonderful
comeback by the number one team in the world and may they stay there
for a long, long time to come.
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By Anand Ramachandran
Indians love cricket. And Indians totally rule at math.
These two facts are related. And the second one isn't even wholly true.
Let me explain. While the creme-de-la-creme of Indian engineers and students may indeed be capable of mighty feats of mathematical magnificience, there are lots of us who still struggle to make our mathematical ends meet. We'd love to be better at balancing equations and deriving proofs and all that jazz, but we're simply not good enough. Like Ian Bell, who would no doubt love to be bracketed with the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Rahul Dravid, but purveys maximum suckage too much and too often for that to happen.
So we turn to cricket, a sport that allows us to flex our math-muscles without the attendant dangers of getting it wrong – which range from failed exams and shellackings from annoyed parents to entire buildings collapsing in resplendent destructive glory, because some hack engineer miscalculated the value of 'y'. No such risks in cricket. It's safe.
So we boldly and gladly indulge in all manner of delightful mathematical activity while following this wonderful sport.
A favourite exercise is extrapolation. Indian cricket fans love to extrapolate from the sparsest of information to arrive at reasonably complex conclusions. Based on a single dropped catch, we'll proclaim “Badrinath isn't fit for international cricket”. One sluggish innings from Rahul Dravid will supply enough input for us to conclude with authority that it is time for Dravid to retire, make a speech, and open up a pastry shop on Brigade Road. And three successive boundaries by Manish Pandey against the bowling of Sanjay Bangar will instantly mean that Pandey should captain India to certain victory at the next world cup, no doubt smashing an unbeaten 134 against Dale Steyn, Wayne Parnell and co. in the final.
Such flamboyant and swashbuckling extrapolation is akin to attempting to discover the next Mersenne Prime number by fixedly staring at the numeral '7' for a few minutes and following up with a hopeful guess. But while this approach, in actual academic pursuit, will likely lead to ridicule from your peers and a sharp cut in research funding, in cricketing circles the worst thing that can happen is a pleasant and invigorating drunken brawl. What could be better?
Similarly, in the fine art of balancing equations, cricket offers us a leeway that mathematics simply does not. For instance, if you attempted to solve f(x)=y^2-6x+9 by freely ignoring the presence of 'y' altogether and nonchalantly replacing the '6' with a '2', you would be the laughing stock of your IIT coaching class, and probably be publicly humiliated by Prof. V. Gosakan or Dr.R.Krishnaswamy (Hons.) or whichever frightening Tam-Brahm professor had undertaken the futile challenge of prepping you for an IIT entrance exam. But miraculously, the very same professors would have absolutely no problem if, when evaluating India's chances of winning a test series in South Africa, you completely ignored factors such as our overseas record, Dale Steyn, and the minor inconvenience posed by the fact that the South African team would also like to win the series, if we don't mind. See? Cricket – easier than math.
Cricket is also great for risk-free exercises in permutations and combinations. In practically every multi-nation tournament, we will see a situation where Indian fans get the opportunity to test their skills in this area. “India can still qualify for the semi-finals if Australia lose to the Maldives, England beat New Zealand by more than 322 runs, Shane Warne and Kevin Pietersen have a baby before Tuesday and J.P.Duminy changes his name to M.L.Weinstein.”, we'll say, disguising irrational hope as mathematical probability. In fact, our permutation skills in cricket often allow us to construct mathematical impossibilities such as an eleven man team that has nine batsmen, seventeen spinners and twenty-two new-ball bowlers.
The advantages of cricket over mathematics are numerous indeed. Insisting that 4 > 203 will ensure that you are mocked even by eight-year-olds. But insist that Yuvraj Singh is better than Ricky Ponting, and you might get an extra chicken leg, several shots of whisky, and be elected president of the nearest Punjab association. In math, zero is always equal to zero. In cricket, a zero for Sachin Tendulkar is equal to a blind umpire, racism, or the end of the world.
So there it is. Indians love cricket so much because it allows us to display our mathematical mojo without having to actually do any real math (which, as everyone knows, is hard work best left to CBSE students). Hence proved.
Now, bring on the IPL. I want to prove that Keiron Pollard + Sachin Tendulkar – (Ajit Agarkar)2 = victory over KKR in the finals.
By Suresh Menon
Even the casual cricket-watcher is willing to admit that the game
needs specialists. Unlike a rowing team, as Mike Brearley has pointed
out, a cricket team works only by dint of differentiation. The skill
set of an opening batsman is different from that of a middle order
player; that of a spinner different from a fast bowler’s. The all
rounder is a wonderful animal, the great one even more so. Teams are
lucky if they have someone in the eleven who can adequately keep
wickets in an emergency when the regular keeper is injured, for that is
a highly specialized job.
Yet one position that has not been given its due is that of the
batsman at number three. Usually the man who comes in at the fall of
the first wicket is the most crucial in a batting line-up. His job
description covers a wide range. If a wicket falls early, he is
expected to hold the fort, and show a broad blade and a stout heart –
one without the other is ineffective. If the openers have got off to a
good start, he is expected to continue the good work, attack more and
ensure that the bowler is brought down from the temporary high that
A good description of a number three batsman would be: “A defensive
player who attacks (or vice versa), someone who can both be the pillar
around which the batting builds itself as well as the building itself.”
It calls for the ability to switch gears depending on the state of the
game. And that is why the side’s best all round batsman usually bats at
number three. The top three slots in the batting order are best left to
Of the ten batsmen who have held the world record for the highest
score in an innings – from opener Charles Bannerman to Brian Lara – six
have batted at number three. Don Bradman averaged over 100 runs and
scored over five thousand in that position. Two of the greatest number
threes in the game, Ricky Ponting and Rahul Dravid, are currently
expanding the possibilities of their role. They have scored over 8500
runs from there, and carried their team’s batting on their shoulders
for a decade and a half. It has allowed the middle order to play its
natural game, and that is an important service a great number three
performs in the team.
When V V S Laxman put India on the road to becoming the number one
team in the world, he made his then Indian record of 281 batting at
number three against Australia at Eden Gardens. The victory after
following on signalled the start of the 21st century and a new era for
Indian cricket. But Laxman was soon back at number six, and the man
with whom he rescued India, Dravid, made that slot his own.
Dravid’s recent injury in Bangladesh came after 179 innings in that
position, more than any other batsman in the game. Twenty three of his
29 centuries were made from there. His 8970 runs have come at an
average of 55.71.
Of India’s last 142 Tests, Dravid has played 139, and in the last
decade has done so remarkably well that we have taken him for granted.
“Dravid’s at number three, all’s right with the world,” we tell
ourselves if we remember that line from the Browning poem we did at
school. The defeat in Nagpur showed just how much the team missed his
combination of big heart and cool head at the crucial number three slot.
By Partab Ramchand
With the South African team currently in India I thought it would be a
good idea to come up with the greatest South African XI. Picking the
all time best team is a favourite pastime among followers of the game.
And while on the job one thing that stuck me was the number of great
players South Africa have produced over the years. It made my task that
much tougher. After all South Africa played the first Test in 1889 and
even if they were away from the Test scene from 1970 to 1992 the list
of outstanding cricketers was so long that I had to first narrow the
list down to about 20. This itself gave me a harrowing time. Pruning it
down to eleven presented a Herculean effort. And after finalizing the
team when I looked at the players left out I reckoned that I could come
up with a South African second XI that would be almost as good as the
first XI. I shall elaborate as I go on.
Opening the innings would be Barry Richards and Graeme Smith. The right
and left combination was one factor that got Smith the nod for I was
almost inclined to go in for Herbie Taylor the man who made SF Barnes
throw the ball to the ground in frustration by defying him time and
again during the 1913-14 series. I shall not say anything about
Richards except to say that he was an automatic choice.
The surfeit of opening batsmen means that Gary Kirsten has to come in
at No 3 a position he would be familiar with. And to make it three
left-handers in the first four we have the peerless Graeme Pollock
walking in next. I am sure he would be as automatic a choice as
Richards to most cricket followers. Next in the order is Dudley Nourse
whose stroke filled batting and a Test average of almost 54 guarantees
him a place as the last specialist batsman in the middle order - with
apologies to Bruce Mitchell.
Now it is the turn of all-rounders and South Africa have had an array
of such cricketers through the years as I shall explain by touching
upon the players I had to leave out. But first let us consider those
occupying positions No 6 to No 8. Few will argue against the choice of
Jacques Kallis. What an awesome all-round record! Nor can there be any
doubts as to the choice of Mike Procter at No 7. He was one of the many
outstanding players badly affected by the long period of isolation but
his record and his dynamism speaks for itself. Shaun Pollock (3000 runs
and 400 Test wickets) completes the trio of all-rounders at No 8.
And now a brief note about those utility men who missed out - Aubrey
Faulkner, Jimmy Sinclair and Trevor Goddard. What magnificent players
all! But they just could not be included. They would however
undoubtedly be key members of the second XI and keen to prove a point
Mark Boucher just about scores over John Waite for the side’s wicket
keeper and his coming in at No 9 underscores the depth in the batting.
Allan Donald is comfortably ahead of Neil Adcock and Peter Pollock when
it comes to picking the pace spearhead while the lone specialist spin
bowler was perhaps the easiest choice in the eleven. Hugh Tayfield is
head and shoulders above anyone else and he would come in at No 10
ahead of Donald in the batting order.
A pretty good team then overall but when you think that the second XI
will probably consist of Taylor, Mitchell, Peter Pollock, Adcock,
Waite, Faulkner, Sinclair, Goddard, Eddie Barlow, Herschelle Gibbs and
Jackie McGlew one can conclude that South Africa has indeed had an
embarrassment of riches in their ranks over the years besides producing
some of the greatest players the game has seen.
By Sunil Gavaskar
Federer’s 16th major title win is not only a truly amazing achievement
but it will also silence all those who thought that he was finished. He
was playing in his 22nd major final which in itself is a wonder for
there wouldn’t be anybody who would have come near that and if he had
not lost to Del Porto in the US Open finals last year then he would
have had a 'Federer Slam' like Tiger Woods did when he won all the
four majors consecutively but not in the same year. That achievement in
Golf was referred to as 'The Tiger Slam' and no doubt this would have
been referred to as the 'Federer Slam'. He still has a chance of doing
the Grand Slam since he has won the first major of the year which
brings us to the subject of why tennis players and followers refer to a
win in the major as a slam. As far as US old timers are concerned, the
Grand Slam is where all four majors in the same year are won by the
same person. So it is really strange to hear a win in a major as being
called a win in a Slam.
Murray who has improved out of sight would have fancied his chances
since he had a pretty good win loss record against Federer but those
wins were invariably in a best of three sets matches and of course as
any top player will tell you, the focus and concentration levels for a
major and for an ATP event will be totally different. The preparation
will be less intense in a ATP event than in a major. Federer by his
own admission is now solely focussed on the majors though he will of
course play in the ATP events to keep up with those chasing him and
because he realises that he owes it to those events that have made him
what he is today. Murray despite being younger and seemingly fitter
than Federer looked so out of breath by the end of the three set finals
that it is doubtful he would have had any energy left if the match had
gone into five sets. Federer on the other hand looked fresh and there
was hardly any sweat showing on his face when he went to receive the
trophy. Even after long rallies in the match he hardly seemed to be
breathing while Murray seemed to be gasping to take in air. It really
would be interseting to find out Federer’s training methods and it
proves once again, if ever proof was needed that each individual is
different and so will have different ways of keeping himself match fit
be it any sport that the champion plays in. Unfortunately too many
believe that the same regimen should be followed by everybody in a team
sport and therein sometimes a problem is created where really none
should exist. The great players know excatly what they need to do to
stay match fit and should be allowed to follow their own routine that
has seen them successful for so many years.
like Federer was written off last year so also was Sachin Tendulkar
especially after India’s early exit in the 2007 ICC World Cup in the
West Indies. There were so many who were advising 'the master' to
retire and give up that it must have taken some doing on the part of
those close to him to actually stop him doing so. He of course has
loads of self-belief and he knew that he was not going to go quietly
like that. He took a break for a while then priorotised his cricket
needs and played some tournaments and opted out of others and has thus
kept himself eager for the big battles. He has one on his hand now with
the South Africans and this time he will be under a teeny bit less
pressure if that is ever possible since the focus of the Proteas will
be more on how to stop Sehwag than 'the master'. It might actually work
to his advantage but he knows that the Indian public still expects him
to score and so will be fully charged up for the series.
Tendulkar and Federer’s success has shown is that writing off great
players is a tricky business and those doing so run the danger of
looking silly as so many have over the last year or so. Many a
renowned person be it former players or administartors have been made
to look that by these great players and hopefully they will have learnt
from that by now. It is better to let the greats decide the time they
want to quit since they invariably want to do so when they know they
are still good enough and not when they are hopeless. Yes, there have
been instances of some who have lost form so badly and so suddenly that
there has been no alternative but to cast them away but the really
sensible ones will always leave at their own choosing and not be shoved
out of the door.
There also has to be some respect
shown to those who have served the sport nobly and give them the chance
to leave when the claps are louder than the boos. This is more true of
a team sport than an individual one like tennis or golf and the
farewell given to Steve Waugh is a prime example. Here was a skipper
who had set many records and looked good for a couple of more years at
the Test level but the selectors felt that it was time to move on and
so gave him the option of going on his own terms. That was the least
that the men in authority could do and let’s hope that when it’s time
for ‘the master’ to lay his bat down for the last time he will ride
into the sunset in a blazing manner.
By Partab Ramchand
Indian pitches have a notorious reputation for being a graveyard for
fast bowlers. And yet the best pace bowlers – as also those who
specialize in seam and swing bowling – have found ways and means to
overcome the conditions and bother the Indian batsmen no end. Over half
a century and more great fast bowlers like Ray Lindwall, Wesley Hall,
Alan Davidson, Graham McKenzie, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Michael
Holding, Bob Willis, Allan Donald, Richard Hadlee and Courtney Walsh
have all had enviable records in this country. And over two visits Dale
Steyn is the latest in the long line of express bowlers who have proved
that it is possible to succeed in unfriendly conditions. Fifteen
wickets in three Tests two years ago allied to his match winning
ten-wicket haul at Nagpur has already given him a record that few fast
bowlers can boast of in India and with a haul of 195 wickets in 37
Tests he bids fair to be among the fastest to the 200-wicket mark
in Test history.
The ranking of No 1 bowler in the game today could not be more
fitting for Steyn has all the qualities of a world class fast bowler.
His performance at Nagpur underlined this and at 26 the South African
pace spearhead is clearly approaching his peak which in other words
means that the strike rate and average which has been improving in the
last couple of years will be even better in the second decade of the
new millennium. More than any other pace bowler Steyn is capable of
sending down the unplayable deliveries even while he is bowling a
devastating spell. Just like when scythed through the Indian batting in
the post-tea session on the third day with a spell of five wickets for
three runs while prior to that he had removed Murali Vijay and Sachin
Tendulkar with dream deliveries. This brought back memories of a
similar feat against the West Indies at Durban two years ago when on a
flat and true surface, his searing pace made all the difference as he
polished off the visitors’ innings with a spell of four for zero off 15
deliveries with the second new ball.
He may be the leading fast bowler in the game today but Steyn did
not burst upon the scene in any dramatic manner. He took time to mature
after being rushed into international cricket. He was picked for the
Test series against England in 2004-05 a little more than a season
after he had made his first class debut during which he had played just
seven such games. But first steadily and then swiftly he made his mark
with a series of match winning performances. Moreover it was not just
his pace that took one’s breath away. It was obvious that here was a
paceman with a surgeon’s touch who bowled with clinical precision and
had the unadulterated skills of a great fast bowler. The control over
line and length, the manner in which he bowled in the corridor of
uncertainty and the judicious use of the bouncer and the yorker made
him a feared opponent. Moreover like the greatest of fast bowlers he
could provide the initial breakthrough time and again and polish off
the tail in next to no time – qualities exhibited in no small measure
at Nagpur. It is a tribute to Steyn that despite the presence of Shaun
Pollock, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel he is firmly
established as the pace spearhead.
Dangerous as he can be Steyn says he hates hitting batsmen. ``I
don’t enjoy hurting any batsman deliberately,’’ he said in an interview
sometime back. He prefers to concentrate on taking the wickets
something that gives him much more pleasure. This attitude perhaps came
about after a vicious lifter laid Craig Cumming low as the Kiwi batsmen
shaped to hook in a Test match at Centurion a couple of years ago. The
impact of the delivery was such that it smashed into his helmet visor
and shattered a cheekbone and jaw necessitating reconstructive surgery
involving several metal plates.
Steyn these days is living out a fairy tale of a career. It is
difficult now to believe that at one time it was feared that he was too
soft to be a world-beater. Now of course he displays the right amount
of aggression while hurling the ball down at around the 140kph mark but
he still remains a smiling assassin. He is all smiles on and off the
field - and he has plenty of reason for it. Steyn has always been
considered an out-and-out strike bowler and Graeme Smith has been happy
to set attacking fields and concede a few runs if it means wickets are
being taken. And the fact that Steyn combines the two elements long
needed in the South African pace attack - genuine, blistering pace and
late, wicked swing - means he is sure to be their key bowler in Test
cricket for a long time to come.
By Gulu Ezekiel
“Everybody does it” is what every crook
down the centuries has whined when caught red-handed. Shahid Afridi is
no different. Except that he must be one of the dumbest crooks of all
To think he can pull off a stunt like
biting into the cricket ball in front of thousands of spectators and 26
cameras as well as millions on the Net just shows how low he can go.
Remember this is the same guy who five
years ago at Faisalabad pirouetted with his spikes on the centre of the
pitch during a Test match against England when he thought everyone had
been distracted by the explosion of a soft drinks gas canister at the
ground. Did he really think the TV cameras too would be distracted?!
Its no wonder controversial Australian
umpire Darrel Hair has dubbed Afridi a “serial cheat.” And the
Pakistanis have been up to their high jinx for years. Former captain
Mushtaq Mohammad admits as much in his autobiography released a couple
of years ago.
But despite his blatant act and
subsequent bleating, the acting Pakistan captain was not far off the
mark. He is right that at some stage or the other in cricket history
the bowlers of every nation have tried to use illegal means to get the
ball to do tricks on their behalf.
And guess what? Afridi is not even the first cricketer to bite into the ball on the field of play!
Yes, it happened 20 years ago in New Zealand and the culprit back then was an Indian, swing bowler Manoj Prabhakar.
In fact, when I saw the incriminating
footage of Afridi last week, my mind raced back two decades and I was
able to trace the photographer who had snapped Prabhakar in biting
action during the second Test match at Napier in February 1990.
The photos were broadcast on the NewsX
channel (see link below) on Thursday night—the first time they had been
seen outside of New Zealand–and Prabhakar was asked for his reaction.
But being in Jaipur at the time, he could not see the photos and
blithely denied the act!
However, Prabhakar who was repeatedly
suspected of tampering with the ball was honest enough to admit that
bowlers have been forced to this last resort as the game is totally in
favour of the batsmen.
That indeed has been the case for
centuries with the batsmen acting as the lords and masters of the game
and the bowlers thrust in the role of toilers and domestic helps. Now
even more so with the advent of Twenty20 cricket and the pitches around
the world getting flatter and flatter and the bats getting more and
The difference between Prabhakar and
Afridi is that the former was smart enough to know that back then there
were no ICC match referees and low key TV and print media coverage of
the game. In fact, if I recall correctly there were probably just four
Indian journalists assigned to that tour. Today there would be over 50.
So Prabhakar’s act simply slipped under the radar and would never have
come to light in India if not for Afridi and his foolishness.
Moral of the story? Break the law if you must, but don’t get caught!
[This op-ed article was originally published on ButJazz.com.]
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