Archive for the ‘Cricket’ Category

Ganguly messed with the wrong "Chap"pell.

As a rule, I avoid speculating on what went on behind close doors, but since I have been making exceptions to every rule in my rule book(I don’t really have a book) lately, I shall give my 2 cents worth on whats happening between Ganguly and Greg Chappell.

Before I move on, it is important that my sentiments are made clear lest they are thrown back at me in unfavorable light. I have never been a fan of Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy ever. I have always waited for our team to get an Aussie coach. Ironically, I don’t think Ganguly’s captaincy should have been cause for any debate before the Zimbabwe tour let alone during it. However, I feel it should have been made clear to Dravid that he was just an interim captain for the Sri Lankan tour and Ganguly should have been rested for the whole of that tour, else Ganguly should have been dropped like a hot potato once and for all ridding us of this unpleasantness. This business of naming Dravid the captain, getting Ganguly to play under him and then shifting the roles in the next series is neither healthy for the team nor for Dravid. I care two hoots for what is good for Ganguly. It makes no sense dropping a player as a captain but retaining him in the team (its been done a zillion times in India and Pakistan). All that follows is speculation on my part.

The Game
There are many objectives in this game for each of its players and they are all conflicting(else there won’t be any game to play now will there??). For the BCCI members, its about power and more money through power. This includes different designations and functions for each of them. For Mr. Ganguly, its about retaining his position in the team as Captain and batsman or whatever it is that he thinks he is doing for our team. For Chappell, its getting his way as a coach,all the credit along with a place in history if we succeed and of course a renewed contract etc…etc…etc…

The Players
There are a few factions in the BCCI. One comprises of Dalmiya and his stooge Mahendra Singh while another comprises of Sharad Pawar and his minions. There are other smaller ones with lesser clout including A.C Muttiah and Raj Singh Dungapur. Then of course, the two warring forces in that of Chappell and Ganguly.

The Moves
Ever since the Congress and a whole bunch of other parties took over the country, Pawar has been setting his sights at the post of BCCI president, and Dalmiya has stubbornly been trying to hold on to his domain. We cant’ really blame them The Indian board is the richest in the world and we all know where all the money gets flushed. Dalmiya for some strange reason backs Ganguly, something that gives him no political pull but actually has united the forces within to go against him. While the struggle for power at the BCCI goes on, a new one emerges in the field. Its new not in sense of new issues but new in the sense of how its being fought and the way things are looking its bad news for the Indian captain. Ganguly, acutely sure of who backs him, decided to pull a fast one on Chappell with his remarks in the press conference after the “Exhilirating Century” in the first test. Chappell, on the other hand refused to comment during the tour and has taken his case to the board with an articulate email.

My Take
Ganguly forgets he is dealing with a Chappell and Greg ain’t no John Wright. Greg Chappell is serious about his work and expects the same from the ones around him. While his record doesn’t seem all that good so far, Greg is here to make changes which actually means making life miserable for our pampered little brats who have been living in a life of luxury for quite sometime. Your not fit, well then your not in the team. You don’t have what it takes well then you don’t have a place in the team either. And if Bajju has a problem with that, he’s going to have a lot more to worry about. The good thing about John Wirght’s coaching was that he was the only guy who was coming up with plans that could work. Whatever Ganguly did on and off the field was all Wright and no Sourav. But Aussies are made of different stuff. Ian Chappell in one of his interviews with rediff iterates what he expects from an individual.

“I remember once telling Dennis Lillee” Ian recalls, “to tell me when he was tired so that he was not overused. He turned around and told me, ‘I will keep bowling till you ask me to stop. Like you need runs to be in form, I need to get wickets to be in form.’ That was the commitment of the players to their captain.”

Thats the difference between Great Players and Superstars, claims Ian and India, desperately needs a few of them. So what does Greg do when confronted with this kind of Machiavellian tactics, he pull a few of them under his sleeve. Chappell said that he was disappointed but not surprised that the leak had taken place. But the cynic in me seems to think otherwise.
Lets take a consensus. The press can’t stand Ganguly, the public(at least most of us) are waiting for him to step down and other than the two heads of the BCCI, no one else wants him around. The position of the team isn’t clear but no one really asks them before pulling the plug.

All leaks to the press have little to do with the truth coming out and more to do with gaining political capital. The Leaker, if you humour me, has something to gain by the leaking. From what it appears, the only person the gain from the leak is Chappell. So its not someone in the BCCI who has leaked this email but Chappell himself. What he has done now in effect is to make people choose sides. The public, the selectors and the BCCI now know where he stands and cannot pretend to be unaware. Only one man is going to remain standing, and you know what, its not going to be Ganguly.


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