Virat Kohli has spent half his international career being the angry young man of Indian cricket. The captain, however has chosen a distinctly more amicable path in his latest avatar. Having lost the first Test against Australia by the crushing margin of 333 runs, Kohli knew that he was likely to be asked some annoying questions ahead of the second Test in Bangalore. He focussed on the team’s lack of intent at key moments of the first Test, and bantered cheerfully with journalists who mustered the temerity to try and poke a reaction out of him. Excerpts:
Tag: India (Page 2 of 2)
If you watched Indian cricket in the late 1990s or the 2000s you will be familiar with this scene. The batsman has been drawn forward by the legspinner, beaten in the air or off the pitch and just as the bowler begins to celebrate he sees that the wicketkeeper was also beaten and the ball has run away for four byes. Anil Kumble would do his best to hide his true feelings at such moments, but the disappointment of the prey eluding a carefully laid trap would shine through. No cussing, no yelling, but that piercing look down the length of 22 yards left no-one in any doubt about what happened.
The year was 2008. South Africa had arrived in India for a three-Test series and their first port of call was Chennai. The MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chepauk was in typical March form, the last vestiges of the nominal Chennai winter having been burned off by typically fierce sunshine. It wasn’t quite the Ides of March, but the pace trio of Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel were distinctly amused when Parthasarathy Kannan, the curator at the stadium, spoke lovingly of the 22-yards he had tended to for more than three decades.
First the Australian team had no names. The Pune ground had no pitch. God alone knows what else will go missing in the parallel universe Harbhajan Singh inhabits, by the time the next Test of this India-Australia series takes place.
To make a prediction about how a series might play out is risky at the best of times. Sourav Ganguly, possibly when pressed by journalists looking for a headline, said: “I don’t predict in cricket, but I won’t be surprised if Australia lose 4-0.” Ganguly stuck his neck out, but he did not disrespect the opposition in doing so. And, sport is nothing if not unpredictable. After all, if we knew what was going to happen in advance why would we watch sport?
Australia had more than enough on the board. India were lackadaisical after a long home season of piling on the runs. The toss was crucial, but only if Steven Smith could make it count. Australia had fluffed it before Mitchell Starc rescued them with the bat. India’s spinners are far better than Australia’s. India’s batsmen are too good against spin.
So much was said before India’s first Test against Australia at Pune that your opinion might’ve been swayed by which TV channel you were watching, which newspaper you took to the loo or which website you read on your phone on the go.
You know the Australian cricket team is in town when the talk turns to sledging even before the first ball has been bowled. Except, it’s the year 2017, and it’s not the touring party who are firing the shots. To their credit, it’s not the Indian team either. After all, it’s much easier to unleash these salvos when you know you don’t have to back it up with performances on the field.
Indian cricket has rarely been in the pink of health, on the field, as it is now. The team, under the unified captaincy of Virat Kohli across formats, has begun to produce results consistently and Anil Kumble has put in place practices in the background that are ensuring steady growth. Off the field, however, turmoil has been the order of the day, with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), at large, and certain administrators in particular, coming to grips with the sweeping changes laid down via the courts. Ravi Shastri, former India captain, long-standing commentator and recently head honcho of the team, pulls no punches when addressing these issues in a hard-hitting interview. Excerpts:
It’s not easy being an Indian cricketer, what with the constant pressure to perform, the piercing scrutiny that is the result of the tyranny of the 24-hour news cycle and the need to perpetually shoulder the burden of expectations of millions of fans. But it is downright difficult to be the first Kashmiri Muslim to play cricket for India, as Parvez Rasool, the all-rounder, is finding out.
On Thursday, Republic Day, no less, Rasool made his Twenty20 International debut for India against England. Rasool made five runs and picked up 1for 32 from his four overs as India were thoroughly outplayed. It was a forgettable debut by any standards, but attempts to make it memorable for completely non-cricketing reasons defy logic.
When the two teams lined up before the game for the national anthems, Rasool would have been a bundle of nerves, as you would expect of any player making his debut in a highoctane format. As many players do, out of habit or to stay calm, the 27-year-old Rasool was chewing gum when the national anthem played. He was not horsing around, not chatting idly with a neighbour and, yes, he was not singing the anthem. This has angered a broad swathe of Indians, who have predictably taken to Twitter and Facebook, making the short video clip viral.
Yuvraj Singh is back in the Indian team for the limited-overs games against England for two simple reasons. He scored 672 runs from eight Ranji innings at an average of 84 that included a 295-ball 177 against Madhya Pradesh in Lahli, the venue where seamers of all kinds fill their boots, spinners stretch out on the couch in the dressing-room and batsmen are happy to just last half an hour at the crease. Yuvraj is also back because the selectors genuinely believe that this Indian team needs some experience in the middle- and lower-middle order.
It should surprise nobody if Mahendra Singh Dhoni reveals at some point that he had no idea that he had led India 199 times in One-Day International cricket when he chose to step down from his perch. It would come as a shock if Dhoni realised that he announced his retirement on the cusp of the birthday of the man widely regarded as India’s greatest captain, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.
The two rarely figure in the same sentence, one an Oxford educated prince born with a set of silver spoons in mouth, the other a confirmed plebeian whose first big career break was becoming a ticket-checker in the Indian Railways. Yet, these two worlds meet quite seamlessly in one sphere, in that they were singular men and natural-born leaders.