Archive for November, 2004|Monthly archive page

Business as usual on The Final Frontier

A showdown thirty five years in the making, between probably the best team ever in the history of the game (cricket) and their most defiant opposition, makes you wonder how the series turned out to me such an anti-climax. First we will view a brief snapshot of Australia’s performance in India since the dark ages and grasp how this came to be the most coveted prize for the Aussie mean machine. Then we will have to analyze the last few times these two heavyweights faced-off each other and, if you agree with me, come to the conclusion that this result was inevitable. The next step would be to investigate the current series and finally speculate as to why the press and everyone else ignored and failed respectively, to see the obvious. However, before I move on, I have to make it known that though I am an Indian, my allegiances lie with the Australian team (for obvious and not so obvious reasons which make a topic for another article altogether).

Australia in India
The cricinfo site provides an account of all the contests between these two teams in India. While it might actually appear to be a bout between equals, we have to realize that the data reflects only games played in India. I don’t think I need to describe our success abroad because there hasn’t been any. We should also note that during the nascent periods of Indian cricket, (we can add the Sri Lankans and the Pakistanis to the list) our team’s primary aim was to play for a draw. While our approach has definitely evolved with times, the basic idea has not undergone any change. These statistics will probably shed some light on my point

India vs. Australia in India from 1956 -2004
Series Statistics: Played 10, Won 4, Lost 4, Drawn 2.
Match Statistics: Played 26, Won 11, Lost 12, Drawn 12, Tied 1

Recent Clashes
Of course, we cannot probe too deep into our history every time our team fails to come up with the minerals. The last 5 times these teams took on each other in both venues to show an emerging pattern: the Aussies were getting better and we were going no where and that the only thing surprising about the result of the 2004 home series is that it did not happen in 2001.

Australia in India, 2004 Results: 4-Test series, Australia wins 2-1
India in Australia, 2003 – 2004: 4-Test series, Drawn 1-1
Australia in India, 2001: 3-Test series, India wins 2-1
India in Australia, 1999 – 2000: 3-Test series, Australia wins 3-0
Australia in India, 1998: 3-Test series, India wins 2-1

These figures in and of themselves don’t signify anything and they beg us to dig deeper. Upon further scrutiny, it is clear that the 98’ series under Azzu Bhai’s leadership was a rout of the touring side. Having won the first two tests with a comfortable margin (without too much help from the master blaster), our team succumbed in the final encounter due to a few injuries in our frontline bowling attack. The next series in Australia was the lowest point of Indian cricket I have witnessed. Our opening combination was unstable, our bowlers were more a caricature than weapons to be reckoned with and, with the exception of Sachin and a flash in the pan from V.V.S, our middle order never found itself too long in the middle of the wicket. Don’t even get me started on our fielding tragedies. The next series at home (2001) started the revolution of Indian cricket. The Australians were sitting on the high perch they had created for themselves and for all the records and statistics illustrating the strength of the Indians at home, we found ourselves playing the role of the underdog (this is the central point I will make). To dampen things further, the first test was over in 3 days with Australia winning by 10 wickets. Things were not particularly brightening in the second one either. After being forced to follow on, we found ourselves reduced to 4 for 232, trailing the Aussies by 40 runs with last recognizable batting pair at the grease. What was to follow was the record breaking miracle that turned things around. To cut a long story short, the Indians somehow managed to surmount the daunting task set before them to win the match by 171 runs. The final test was a nail biter, a fitting end for the volatile series. Bajju, bagging 32 wickets in a little more than five innings was present to take us over the finish line (typical of the Indian team say certain cynics), was presented with the man of the series. The Final Frontier, a termed coined by Waugh a few weeks before the series, was yet to be overcome. The series has succeeded in unsettling the cricket world. If this Australian team could not win in India, who could? After all they were the record breaking team, who had always pulled itself out of impossible situations. That was when the Indian team found its character and ever since has never looked back. To add salt to their wounds the Indians were able to hold of the second string of the Australian bowlers in the 2002 series in Australia to produce another world shaking series result (again, we were the underdogs after a miserable loss at home against the same Australian side in the One Day arena).

What Happened this Series
Below is a brief summary of what took place a few weeks back in the land of milk and honey. History was created, final frontier was crossed, the result similar to 98 series except that the roles were reversed.

Tour Match in Mumbai – Match Drawn
First Test Bangalore – Australia Win by 217 runs

Second Test Chennai – Match Drawn (Fifth day washed out poised in an interesting position)

Third Test Nagpur – Australia win by 342 runs (Controversial Pitch)

Fourth Test Mumbai – India win by 13 runs (Controversial Pitch)

Interestingly, after continuous patches of bad performances, the Indians found themselves in the position of a front runner. What was even more puzzling was a stubborn refusal on part of the team management in giving up that position until it was too late and all that was left was fighting for pride, which I never doubted we had in the first place.

Press, Politics and Past-Times – Business as Usual
Here’s where I finally get to the point (sighs of relief eh???). On paper, the current Indian team far surpassed their predecessors in the 2001 series and the current Australian team wasn’t too much different from theirs. So we are left wondering how a better team in our home was unable to hold off a similar Australian team. The answer is that while the Aussies learnt from their mistakes, we did not apply any of the experiences from the final two tests in the 2002 series. It appears that while the Aussies moved on, we find ourselves trying to counter a strategy that isn’t being used against us. Our team has never played well under pressure and the way things are looking probably never will, but what was different this time in the Australian approach was that of the subtle and of deception. No more sledging or pre-match mind games. The Indian team, surprisingly, was treated with respect and caution and perhaps even admiration. This has put a lot of pressure on the batsmen in a subtle and harder to counter way. Once you are built up into something, usually much larger than yourself, your own expectations begin to weigh you down and that precisely is what has happened to our team. Akash Chopra and Viru were compared to the most stable opening duo since the era of Gavskar. Dravid and V.V.S, needless to say, were scapegoats of the Calcutta and the Adelaide miracles. Bajju was compared to the terminator and quite frankly his performances in the first innings beg a little introspection. The only one who couldn’t be built up was the little master and that was probably because there isn’t much left to be built up in his distinguished career. Let’s not forget what the tournament itself was compared to. ‘The Final Frontier’ label caused the Indians to experience the pressure of being the ones on top and turned the tables on us forcing us to make sure that we did not lose. Repeatedly hammering in the point that the Aussies had never won here before distracted everyone from all the plans the Aussies had for each of the players. There is a dialog in the movie ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ where Al Pacino, playing the director of a law firm, advises his protégé Keanu.
“Keep yourself small and they will never see you coming”. This is exactly what the Aussies did and it worked like a charm. Every crisis was treated lightly as if either another Eden Garden was around the corner or a huge Aussie collapse was imminent. Every time a weakness was pointed out either in the Indian bowling or batting, the press and the team sought refuge in past accomplishments.

But why did the press miss this completely? How is it that no one saw what was coming? My guess is because it was business as usual. Let me put this in perspective. The BCCI is the richest board in the world and every time our national colors take part in a tournament, it means more dough for everyone. Television ratings, website subscriptions, sponsors and what not, all soared beyond imagination. How can there be any money made if the bluff behind the whole farce was called before it all started? Any detractors were instantly labeled as traitors or fastidious. “How much more should this team perform to convince you cynics”? If we are honest with ourselves, we would realize that we actually did not beat the Australians when they came home in 2001 or when we toured them in 2002 (not to take away anything from the Indian team – no other team could do even that). Since the teams were unjustly balanced, our strategy involved making sure the Aussies could not get their way. There was no counter attack planned and hence the result depended heavily on how far the Aussies were willing to go to win and they obliged. We should also accept that the pitches down under last season weren’t typical Australian wickets, but flat pieces of unclaimed land, a batting paradise. Nullifying the differences between the bowling attacks, pretty much balanced the teams competing and hence resulting in the drawn series.

Now we have members of the press and retired cricketers claiming that we were responsible for the change in the Aussie strategy, but to what gain I ask? We, as a team, haven’t identified our weakness and have just been riding high on a few successes and look where we found ourselves.

Future Cast: Where do we go from here?
To end on a positive note, our team has not really lost too much ground other than a few notches in a ranking system that’s more pretentious than accurate. Fact number one, we have a fantastic batting line up that needs a little more maturity and versatility to play in different situations and conditions respectively. Fact number two, our bowling is young and earnest and can be molded into a dependable attack. Fact number three, our fielding has scope and just needs to be improved. Do I think Indians can become world dominators, no way – for that we have to change our mentality to be able to set standards for others to follow and mimic and we aren’t there yet and that’s a change for the whole country and not just the Indian cricket team. What about the Aussie domination? It will fade (much to my discomfort) and how do I know this, because nothing lasts for ever. Everything that has a beginning has an end.

The End


The Liberal Dilemma

Considering the fact that I have been living in this county for the past 3 years and, contrary to popular belief, have gone about my days following the political process, I’m guessing I can reflect a little bit on how the liberals are facing a really unfortunate choice. In both their post-election speeches, Bush and Kerry stressed on the importance of this politically divided country coming together as one nation. Most people feel this is easier said than done and a few claim that the Bush administration has absolutely no inclination of doing anything about it. Welcome to the world of neo-cons or, as I would like to call them, pseudo-cons (Scott McConnell’s Endorsement of Kerry). Let me explain further. This administration in its previous term, having failed to win the popular vote and losing the senate to the Democrats within the first few months after taking office, has pushed all its agendas (well to be fair -policies) with absolutely no regard whatsoever towards consequences to say the least. And this term we have disillusioned leftists claiming that the president does not have a clear mandate. My point being it makes no difference at all. Democrats can console themselves this way by playing chicken soup for the soul, but if they are naïve to think that this administration intends to reach out, they run the risk of extermination. The political landscape may seem barren to the left-leaning realists and rightly so. Were these events unexpected or were they a long time coming- I don’t know and don’t care either way. What I’m trying to say is if this country actually decides to come together behind these pseudo- rightwing, evangelical, power hungry and white supremacists, it’s probably going to find it self on a course to self annihilation ( a few moments after they wipe the floor with the liberals the neo-cons will probably realize that they are in for a head on collision with reality). If they stay divided, it’s going to play into the hands of the evil doers and, let’s not forget, the rest of the first world countries, who I’m guessing have been licking their lips ever since this president decided to attack Iraq. The democrats have to hope against hope that the genuine right wingers initiate a power struggle between the neo-cons (as Pat Buchanan predicted on the McLaughlin Group) to prevent this country from falling into the economic cliff that it so dangerously hangs upon and thus allowing the liberal leftists to unite with the rest of the country.