Category: Analysis (Page 2 of 3)

Hurting Indian cricket may be fun but it is good for no-one

Economic Times

Shashank Manohar may think he has saved cricket. But what has he actually done?
© Economic Times

If turning wine into water was a skill in demand, Shashank Manohar would be the most sought after man on the planet. The man who claimed he was returning for a second innings at the helm of the Board of Control for Cricket in India to save the game, left with his association in tatters. This was not so much abandoning a sinking ship as taking a speedboat from one to a luxury cruise liner that was on a speck on the horizon. And now, the man liberally misidentified as a messiah has applied his reverse-Midas touch at the International Cricket Council.

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For some, 2017 is the new 2001

India v Australia

There was much to savour in Australia’s tour of India 2017
© Sportstar

For a generation of Indian cricket fans nothing can compare to the India-Australia series of 2001. For sheer watchability, drama, aesthetic pleasure and the making of heroes no series played in India has come close to that. From Harbhajan Singh’s bucketload of wickets that included a hat-trick to India’s escape from jail in Kolkata, fuelled by V. V. S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid, a generation of Indian cricket legends had their steel forged in that furnace of pressure.

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How Kohli won hearts while losing ‘friends’

Virat Kohli

Kohli’s India won’t take a backward step
© Economic Times

Virat Kohli is no sore loser, so it was ironic that the afterglow of his greatest series victory was tinged with bitterness. India got the better of Australia, 2-1, with an emphatic victory in Dharamsala but even as Kohli won hearts through a glorious home season that ended with India having beaten all opposition, he found that the people he once considered friends were anything but.

With India being the No. 1 Test team in the world, and having the rare honour of simultaneously holding victories against each of the other nine teams in the world, with the ICC’s US$ 1 million coming their way and the Indian board announcing generous bonuses, it should have been all smiles. But, the toxic undercurrent that has poisoned this series left Kohli with no option but to reassess his relationship with some members of the opposition.

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One man’s brain fade is another’s cheating

Steve Smith

Steve Smith dishes it out, but expects the benefit of doubt for himself
© Cricbuzz

There is no thing easier than being moral when it’s convenient to you. It’s also relatively easy to be gracious when everything is going your way, when you are on top of the world, and every decision you take bears fruit. Under pressure, when it seems like the world is against you, when nothing you do works out, is when a person’s true nature reveals itself.

For two days, the final India-Australia Test match has been played in the best possible spirit. With Virat Kohli out of the game, and the “chilled out” Ajinkya Rahane leading India, this was always going to be a less contentious contest than the ones that went before. It was Steven Smith, in Bangalore, who derailed what was a peaceful outing, given the history of bad blood between these teams, attempting to take unfair advantage and help from his dressing-room over a DRS call. Smith was contrite enough after, explaining away his actions as a “brain fade.” At first, it seemed that he had made an honest mistake in the heat of the moment. After all, if the attempt was to cheat – a word Virat Kohli never used but has been an undercurrent of all interactions ever since he suggested that the public moment was not the first time this had happened – Smith might have attempted more subterfuge. But, with all the shenanigans that unfolded off the field, involving bosses from cricket boards, former and current players, journalists writing about each other and fans slugging it out on social media, the last thing this series needed was a fresh infusion of spite and pettiness. Unfortunately, that was exactly what Smith provided, his behaviour reverting to the stereotype that gave rise to the term ugly Australian, in cricketing circles. When M Vijay caught Josh Hazlewood, at slip off R Ashwin, and the batsman began his walk back to the pavilion, the catcher began his sprint back to the dressing-room, to get padded up to open the innings, the umpires decided they wanted a closer look at the catch. The third umpire, Chris Gaffaney, looked at videos over and over and decided that the ball had brushed the turf before getting under Vijay’s fingers. It is not unusual for catches taken close to the turf to be ruled bump balls even when the fielder has fingers under the ball, thanks to a phenomenon known as foreshortening. When looking at two-dimensional visuals of a three-dimensional event, as is the case with television replays, an element of doubt creeps in, and in the case of low catches this always goes in the batsman’s favour. Could Vijay have known that the ball had gone from edge straight to hand? Should he have realised that the catch may not have been a clean one? Could he have immediately suggested that he did not know for sure if the dismissal was straightforward? These intangible questions will never be satisfactorily answered, but anyone who has played even a basic level of cricket will know that it is entirely possible for a close-in fielder not to know for sure whether he has caught a ball cleanly, in that split second when the action happens. A fielder’s natural instinct is to appeal, which is all Vijay did. Why Smith, sitting in the viewing area outside the dressing room, assumed that Vijay knew he had not caught it cleanly and yet claimed the catch, made evident by his most eloquent outburst caught cleanly by television cameras: “F***ing cheat”, is anyone’s guess. Smith, who has been caught doing something the wider world will agree, falls closer to the cheating end of the spectrum than the brain fade, may well claim that he said “F***ing shit” rather than the more offensive version, should it come to that. Graeme Hick, Australia’s batting coach, fronted the media on the day and did his best to defuse the situation, saying he knew nothing of what Smith might or might not have said. When pressed, Hick, a quality slip fielder himself, said: “Close to the bat, sometimes you’re not 100% sure. He would’ve felt it go into his fingers and felt that it was a clean catch.” Smith, clearly did not believe in giving Vijay, the benefit of doubt. Why he then expects anyone to extend the same courtesy to him, for his alleged brain fade, is anyone’s guess. Smith may not have heard of Laurence Sterne, the Irish novelist and clergyman, but he will do well to ponder one simple line on the long flight back to Australia: “Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners.”

(This article first appeared on Cricbuzz on March 28, 2017)

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Jadeja’s sword cuts deep

Economic Times, March 28

With bat and ball, Jadeja showed why is India’s MVP, Man of the Match and Series
© Economic Times

He rides horses, he plays with swords, he owns a restaurant, oh and he bats, bowls and fields well enough to turn a Test match on its head. What’s not to like about Ravindra Jadeja? For years Jadeja had to put up with cruel ridicule from fans who thought this creature was more strange than wonderful. Was he a bowler who could bat a bit? Was he a batsman who might chip in with the ball? Those questions and several others were answered in Dharamsala on Monday, when Jadeja came up with the kind of performance worthy of any allrounder worth his name, and tipped the scales firmly in India’s favour.

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Day 2: Dharamsala decider evenly poised

Economic Times, March 27

At the end of the second day the match was poised on knife’s edge
© Economic Times

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and you will find; knock and it shall be opened unto you. The Australian cricket team might have met the Dalai Lama on the eve of the Dharamsala Test, but it was these words, Matthew 7:7, from the King James Bible that typified their effort on a second day’s play that left the game poised on the proverbial knife’s edge.

Josh Hazlewood asked questions with the dexterity and tact of an interrogator wearing down a stubborn suspect, marrying nagging accuracy and monstrous movement off the cracks in the pitch, and the wicket of M Vijay was given to him, the batsman playing at a ball that was short enough to leave after being given a torrid time.

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India barter Kohli’s fire for Rahane’s ice

Ajinkya Rahane

Ajinkya Rahane showed his own brand of aggression when he was captain in Dharamsala
© The Scroll

In a series that has been dominated by talk of Virat Kohli even if his bat has not done the talking in the manner he would have liked, the final chapter unfolded with the protagonist forced to take a back seat. And, as they have done all series, Kohli’s mates picked up the slack, giving themselves every chance of forcing a result, even if predicting such things at the end of one day of five is fraught with risk.

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How Hirwani sharpened Jadeja’s arrows

A long home season beckoned India, and Ravindra Jadeja was less than pleased when he had to leave his beloved horses behind and make the trip to the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. But there was work to be done. Even Jadeja did not know just how much.

Ravindra Jadeja

Ravindra Jadeja has grown from great bad-wicket bowler to all-round steady hand.
© The Scroll

While he has always been accurate, Jadeja was slowly acquiring a reputation of being a great bad-wicket bowler who was merely steady on other surfaces. Jadeja, it was felt, was truly effective only when bowling straight on rank turners. This, of course, was not true, but as the high and mighty like to put it, perception matters as much as reality.

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Saha’s time has come

Wriddhiman Saha

Wriddhiman Saha waited long, but when he got the chance he made it count
© Man’s World

Soon after making his Ranji Trophy debut for Bengal back in 2007, Saha established himself as the premier glovesman in Indian first class cricket. Moving naturally on his feet, anticipating well, at ease standing back to the quick men and at his best close to the stumps against the spinners, Saha was the most skilled and agile wicketkeeper since perhaps Nayan Mongia. And yet, despite making his Test debut in 2010, Saha would rack up just three Test matches in four years, when Mahendra Singh Dhoni announced his retirement from the longest format in Melbourne.

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Spin is king, but pace is always pace

They are usually the biggest men on a cricket field. When they are doing their jobs properly, it makes for spectacular theatre. New ball in hand, four slips waiting at the far end, a fast bowler gathering momentum from his long run, driving through the crease and straining every sinew in his body in an explosive action to send down a thunderbolt is one of cricket’s greatest sights. The snarling that follows is merely an added bonus. Fast bowlers, cricket’s hardest working athletes, rarely ever go unnoticed.

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