A Familiar Shellacking, Day 2 at Nagpur

How can there possibly be any more excuses now? We are an official disgrace, who can win neither home nor away.

This is quite possibly the steepest, most embarassing fall in the history of any sport, wasn’t it just fifteen months ago that we were #1 in the rankings? From memory, even the great Australian and West Indian sides had some momentum even after losing some of their greats, well, we began getting thrashed with them still in the team as of last year. How about that?

If the BCCI and its assorted bunch of sloths had any brains, this is what they’d do at the end of this game.

Out: Tendulkar, Gambhir, Sehwag, Dhoni, Zaheer, Fletcher, Ishant, Yuvraj, Harbhajan…..basically the entire squad bar Pujara and Kohli and perhaps a couple of others.

The Home Track Bully and the Swann, Day 1 at Ahmedabad

England haven’t won a series in this country for the last several decades. And the way they’ve begun this test, seem like they’re never going to for the foreseeable.

For starters, picking the right team would have helped. Which braino came up with the idea of going in with three seamers and just one specialist spinner, on evidence of a conventional Indian spinning wicket? And it’s not like it came as a surprise either – everybody knew what the pitches were going to be like,  ever since the Gambit uttered those infamous words during the WACA test at the start of the year; “Wait till you come over to India and play us there”.

Okay, let’s be honest. Monty would not have run through the Indian batting line-up today, but he provides a semblance of control and a decent chance of picking up a wicket or two at the very least – a concept Samit Patel can likely never grapple with in his entire career. That said, he’s an all-rounder after all and his batting is still yet to come over the next few days. Twice, too.

Swann on the other hand, was bloody impressive with his four wicket haul. Especially when you consider that the likes of Warne and Murali have been largely ineffective against India in India, that takes some extra portions of skill and talent. Also proves that conventional off-spin is a much better ploy than an array of arm-balls, doosras, teesras, chauthas and heaven knows what else the sub-continental spinners come up with every now and then.

Now India. I know most Indian fans were dazzled with Sehwag’s run a ball ton, but guess what? I don’t care. I’ve had enough of the guy frankly. Back in the mid-2000s I was deluded into thinking that he could end up an all time great with his then stupendous record in the sub-continent, and workable ones in England, South Africa and Australia. Since that era though, his stats in the latter have plunged and the skew in numbers is too large to be considered an anomaly anymore. Therefore, a bloke who averages 20 in New Zealand, the Caribbean, England and South Africa, but 90 in a place like Pakistan comes off as a one-dimensional weirdo, thank you very much.

When he first came on the scene, he appeared a fairly intelligent cricketer who could keep the scoreboard rattling along with his attacking strokeplay and healthy strike rate; nowadays he bats as if he NEEDS to go that fast and gets out rashly in the process. Yes, the result was a well made 117 today, but you can’t forget the Afridi-like 40s against the Blackcaps just under a couple of months ago? Or worse, the king pair against the same opposition – England, at Birmingham last summer?

Liked the look of Pujara though. 98* overnight isn’t ideal, but he’ll go far. Yuvraj at the other end is however another bat who I’ve taken a moderate dislike to. Good tale about the cancer and all that, but he’s another one who has faded from my mental pedestal over the last seven years or so. Seeing him in a white jersey just seems wrong. Surely there are better players in the domestic circuit in India than him? Or the previous occupant of the middle order slot, Raina?

Hope we can kick on though – probably look to score a 500 and grind the Poms to the dust with a follow-on on the way, hopefully. Play starts in an hour from now.

A Slight Reinvention

I know this blog’s been coasting around the interweb with a few posts every now and then – more like one a month, without any solid direction or succinct analysis that might attract long-term readers. That’s now going to change.

I have the entirety of December off (well, almost) so this eight test home season, you’ll be privy to my sarcastic balderash for every day of every test match, with a few scatterbrained thoughts from any limited over fixtures. By that, I mean the 50 over games of course. The tontee-tontees can go to hell. I’m not bothered.

So sit back, and have a cup of coffee as me at my figurative TBF desk do my job of trying to up the ante of this blog. You can thank me later.

Don’t Get Carried Away by the Celebrations

So we all know that the Tontee-Tontee format is a joke, and while the World T20 is yet the most credible tournament in the genre – the celebrations for winning it are mostly over the top by the team involved. But coincidentally there’s been a clear-cut reason for this each and every time.

1. India v Pakistan at Johannesburg, 2007 (India win by 5 runs)

For better or for worse, India comes across as one of those teams that takes its 50-over World Cups really seriously. It helps that they won it back in the summer of ’83, but dominant performances in the ’87, ’96 and ’03 editions only fueled the public’s belief that the trophy could be gotten again. Unfortunately, the 2007 edition in the Caribbean with an inaugural defeat to the Bangas didn’t help things at all. Most of the Indian populace couldn’t be bothered that they annihilated the same opposition in a tour shortly after the tournament, or that they went on to achieve a rare test series win in England in the summer that followed; they wanted the taste of some ICC silverware, and pronto.

Where better than in South Africa later that year? Of course, a grinning MS Dhoni (with his dreadlocks et al) holding aloft the trophy couldn’t quite replicate the thrills of a win in the more prestigious 50-over editions, but it would do for the time being. The usuals – politico sponsored bus rides through cities, garlands, bonuses, land, houses and whatnot – came flooding in and the perils of March 2007 were soon forgotten.

Also keep in mind that India won the tourney against the odds, if you like. Their limited over batting heavyweights over the past decade had been disposed of going into the games, and the BCCI weren’t necessarily supportive of the ICC hosting such a tournament in the first place. All of that changed as Misbah-ul-Haq played that ol’ ill-fated scoop to the Keralite positioned at short fine leg – arguably the most important shot in recent history; as that led to the IPL, Champion’s League and all of the bloated T20 leagues you see around the globe today.

2. Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Lord’s, 2009 (Pakistan won by 8 wickets)

Pakistan have won only two trophies in the sport’s history, and the template has remained the same on both occasions. They enter the tournament as a shambles with nobody giving them a chance, get humiliated in their first few encounters, aggravating the media and the fans back home, and then out of nowhere galvanize and come together to win match after match before a final knockdown of the opposition in the final, should they make it that far.

The 2009 edition was no different for the greens. Less than four months earlier, the Sri Lankan team bus were attacked in Lahore leading to a cricketing isolation of the nation by the rest of the world, and the team went into their opener with little or no match practice. After a particularly arduous loss to the Poms, out came captain Younis Khan with the most glib phrase that irritated the Pakistani journeys no end – “It doesn’t matter, T20 is all fun cricket”! A fortnight later, the same man retired after pocketing the trophy in the midst of a packed Lord’s stadium. That’s Pakistani cricket 101 for you.

I’m sure the Pakistani nation would have taken anything that came their way after the tragic events of March. A World T20? Sure.

3. Australia v England at Barbados, 2010 (England won by 7 wickets)

*As you might know, I’m heavily biased against the Poms, so it’s going to show*

If you’re such a rubbish sporting team like England, then you’d be jumping at the prospect of collecting any kind of trophy. Believe it or not, this is a side and country that deserves accolades for inventing the sport, but had to wait until 2010 A.D. to pick up their first meaningful ICC trophy, which eventually occurred in the form of a World T20 in the West Indies.

It wasn’t without extraneous help of course. Kevin Pietersen from South Africa bagged the man of the tournament award, and fellow South Africans Craig Kieswetter and Michael Lumb kept the runs flowing at the top of the order game after game. If anything went awry, Irishman Eoin Morgan was always at hand to patch things up at 2-down. The English captain Paul Collingwood and most of his English comrades were expectedly useless for the most part – and he achieved his top score in the tournament with a ‘brave’, ‘gutsy’ 16* in the final after the mercenaries had done all of the hard work whilst chasing the Australian total. Go figure.

4. Sri Lanka v West Indies at Colombo, 2012 (West Indies won by 36 runs)

I don’t know about you, but I was supporting the West Indies going into the 2012 edition from the outset. Having closely followed Sammy’s efforts at building his side over the past year, I knew that they had it in them to win the whole thing if they wanted to. I pose as a Kiwi troll in a popular Pakistani forum and I mentioned the same out there prior to the opening week. After all, this was a team with several T20 superstars – need I state any more names than Gayle, Pollard, Russell, Narine and Roach? (Although the last of those was injured for the most of it).

Props to Chris Gayle to turn it on in the semi against Australia, especially. It’s one thing blasting medium pacers in the Bangladeshi or Zimbabwean ‘premier’ leagues, but against an international side with proven performers in a knockout environment? That takes class.

The T20i Rankings are Retarded

What a crock of nonsense they are. Prior to the last encounter between the Saffas and the Poms, S’th Africa were on 137 points, with England 14 points behind on 123. If England were to win the game, they would go to the top, leapfrogging the chokers by gaining a total of at least 15 points from the game. As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened.

Does anybody actually have an idea how they work? Even the ODI rankings aren’t as aggressive. I wouldn’t read too much into the much talked about Aussie ranking – a laughable ninth below fifth placed Bangladesh -due to how inaccurate and pointless they seem to be.

Have a Bit of KayPee in Your Life

Dunno about you, but I’m loving this. The fact that England will go into Lord’s, #1 ranking at stake and all, without the only bloke who’ll give them a remote chance of retaining it. The ethicalities of it aside, it provides a great back story to it all, much like the going ons of the Sydney test in early ’08. Or the Oval fiasco in the summer of ’06.

In many ways, this is typical England. Their life goal focuses on beating Australia and winning the Ashes, and everything else comes later. This side has been no different – suffering a drastic loss in intensity since their feat at the SCG in early 2011. Yes, I know they thrashed India 4-zip somewhere down that line, but let’s face it – India lost that series. England didn’t win it. If this was in any doubt, it was doubly proven half a year later when India suffered the same fate down under. Both those series told us more about India than it did about England or Australia. All the latter two had to do was just turn up, and the Indians would implode.

Aside from that singular anomaly, have a general look at England’s results since 2011 – they were beaten 6-1 by Australia in the post-Ashes one-day series; were beaten by Bangladesh and Ireland in the World Cup which resulted in a quarter-final exit, lost to Pakistan 3-nil in the UAE and then managed to lose a test to Sri Lanka, of all nations. To top it all off a West Indian #11 notched up a near century during their tour this summer. This sounds like no #1 side, and I’ve been saying it all along. I haven’t even started on the humiliation at the Oval two weeks ago.

Then again, there is a positive spin to these sorts of things as always. For instance, they did manage to win a grand total of one test during this period – which came about in Colombo. Thanks to who? Yeap, KP. A trailblazing 151 in that game which shifted the momentum in the flick of a switch. Tell me, who else could have come up with such a one-day style innings against the Lankans’ relentless spinners? Bell? Strauss? Samit Patel? I can easily put it past each of them.

Fact of the matter is. England need Pietersen. And it ain’t the other way around. They need his services for this Lord’s test, for the World T20, and of course, for the India tour coming up in November. Chucking him off the team now does little good to anybody, not the least for the reputation of this marquee series between the supposed #1 and #2 sides in the world – this episode has been overshadowing it to a ridiculous extent, and it’s plain to see.

What miffs us about it all though is the step-fatherly treatment administered to KP by the ECB. You get the impression that they are a tad harsh on players who aren’t English, if you like, and go lightly on the rest. Take James Anderson’s column in The Daily Mail a few days ago. In a thinly veiled impersonal tone, Jimmy has layed into KP and basically suggested that the side can manufacture a best XI with or without him in the side. Or Graeme Swann slagging off his captaincy in that autobiography of his he put out last autumn. Nothing became of Anderson and Swann, but recall KP’s tepid 140-character “tirade” against Sky pundit Nick Knight. He was fined £3,000. Where’s the justice?

Now he’s been dropped for allegedly sending some text messages to AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn, the contents of which are unknown. How do his actions compare to that of his teammates? Of course, we cricket fans are the biggest losers in all of this – for who do we get to see facing up to Steyn and Philander at Lord’s? Jonny Bairstow and James Taylor. Go figure.

And to flip the tables around, I don’t even want to imagine what would have happened to KP had he opened a similar parody account on say, Stuart Broad. Fancy a 3-game ban at the very least? After all, the ECB and England hate his kind don’t they?

Why Have The Kiwis Become Such A Walking Selection Contradiction?

Let’s face it. The 2-nil whitewash at the hands of…wait for it…the West Indies!, was embarrassing, even for this lot. Add to that the departure of John Wright as coach and the revelation that the only teams they are better than in the rankings now are Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Can’t get worse, right?

Er…no it can. Have a glance at their squad for the India tour coming up later this month.

What a total joke. They’ve left out Dean Brownlie – the only guy who could hold a bat in Australia recently; the man who replaces him is James Franklin. Who was also “rested” from the Windies tour so he could prepare for the World T20 by playing in the English domestic competition. Now he’s been recalled for a two test tour of India; how is that gonna help prepare for the WT20?

Ditto Tim Southee. Seven tests ago, he was the leader of their attack going into Aussie territory; a couple of tests later he was deemed as not good enough for South Africa and dropped in favour of Mark Gillespie. Now he’s back again.

The icing on the cake? They just had a former Aussie high performance bowls director announcing this team at a presser. WTF.

Are you for real, England?

Wait a sec, the Poms want the UDRS in the upcoming India series this winter? After they were mercilessly manhandled by Pakistan with the same at the start of the year? You have got to be….

Hahaha no, bring it on. Let’s make a legend out of Ashwin or Ojha or heck, Harbhajan even. And if any of our bats end up as casualties, we’ll send Dhoni and big Dunc to their dressing room and demand to get him back on the crease. Those two spend all their time loafing around and doing nothing of note for the test team anyway, so this’ll keep ’em busy.

What I’m essentially yearning for is a 4-0. I want nothing else against those pompous pygmies. And then 7-0 in the ODI series. Then award them a free T20 after the end of it all, so that they don’t die of depression, which they seem to get day and night where they come from. That game is after the WT20 anyway, so it shouldn’t matter.

Add to that that the use of the DRS in the England v Pakistan series was a total disgrace. You had grade C spinners like that overweight Surd Monty Panesar and his Paki crony Abdul Rehmann trying to bowl fuller, flatter and quicker in an effort to hit the pads every single delivery. The typical routine for both sides was to spear it in, hit the pads, shriek at the umpires like spastics and then refer it if they didn’t rule in their favour. Not to forget the great ‘clipping the stumps by a centimeter’ decisions being given. Absolute joke. If that’s what we’re going to see, forget about it.

God I hate England. Hope the Aussies pound them in the back to back Ashes series starting 2013. Since that’s the only series that they care about, hope it puts them in their place forever. 10-0 is the result I’m looking for there, but we’ll come to that later.

Can Somebody Just Shoot the Channel 9 Commentary Team!

Unfortunately no one’s going to. In fact, with these guys it’s a question of whether you‘d rather get shot:

a) in the left eye
b) in the right eye
c) in the left ear
d) in the right ear
e) in the mouth

They just flat out s*ck. All of them. It doesn’t help that the ones from the Packer era were handed lifelong contracts; which means its infitesmally difficult to push retards like Tony Greig out and Ian Chappell out of the box. Ageing Richie Benaud and Bill Lawry won’t be around the scene for much longer, so the bunch will go from bad to worse I expect.

Here’s a play by play, in no particular order:

Shane Warne: A rather recent addition, and I can see why people would take to him – he lightens up the commentary by a mile. I don’t mind most of him really; he calls the game the way it is and is happy to talk about and elaborate on the strengths and weaknesses of both teams. BUT. Terribly self indulgent and when he spontaneously likes a point he’s made, he tends to repeat himself, several times in the same sentence. I caught some Ashes 2010 footage the other day and there was this incident when England appealed for a Watson caught behind but didn’t opt for the referral. Which is when Warnie turned into a broken record:

“They’ve appealed but not gone ahead for a referral which is quite bizarre because they have appealed and then decided not to go to the third umpire, I mean why appeal so confidently and then not go for a referral. I can’t understand this…they’ve all appealed and Strauss has not gone for a referral”

Jeez. Shut up you dolt. We’ve already caught you the first time around.

Michael Slater: Give. Me. A. Break. With this guy. So excitable, like a kid in a candy store or something. What ticks me off the most is him not listening to the other two in the box when they’re talking and then repeating the same thing five minutes later. But he hits his worst when he partners with Healy. They annoy the hell out of me, “Slats and Heals”. Slater in particular just jabbers all kinds of rubbish and keeps swooning over New South Wales players. Occasionally he asks the other two a sensible question and simulates a bit of worthy chat or banter but in essence it’s justs “oohs” and “ahs” from him the rest of the time. And whats with the auditioning to become the voice-over guy for movie trailers?:

“Ponting was the Australian skipper with the world at his feet until one day…”

Mark Nicholas: English, but has never played a test match in his life. And it shows. He is simply over the top, and makes absurd calls like Usman Khawaja’s flick shot “being very Asian-like”. What a w*nker. Other examples from summers gone by include adding adjectives in front of players names – “Evergreen Strauss”, “Wonderful Murali”!? Can’t stand his hyperbole or the toffee accent, too frikkin polished. And. He thinks this non-event was “one of the great balls”?

Ian Chappell: Ah, Chappelli. The one with the “I”. As in “I did this” and “I did that”; I find myself yelling “SHUT UP YOU GOOSE!” everytime he’s on and begins to ramble along. I do value his opinions, but they are usually negative, pedantic and repetitive. Especially the whinging about things which no else gives a sh*t about, while ignoring what is actually happening in the game.

In summary, Chappelli’ll find his little gripe for the day, and proceed to bang on about it for the next 6 hours. It’s dedication to irritation like that that becomes so easy to fault. Whether it is his time for a short leg, or his all-time favourite rant about the positioning of the slips cordon, or the colour of the grips on players’ bats, he manages to continually pick out something really abstract to whine about and follow through. Even if every international captain and player took entirely sensible decisions onfield, I bet this guy will still find something to cry and moan to. Again, he’s from the times of Kerry Packer, so sacking him is out of the question. He’ll get a gig every summer until I die of depression if it has to come to that.

Bill Lawry: I don’t think Lawry’s retired yet, and he’s still good. Belongs to the dad’s army gang, so he’s generally very listenable. So you can’t really blame him when he refuses to get caught up in the banter between Slats and Heals or Tubbs – notice that he’ll always drive back the focus to the cricket. Good stuff, Bill. But gets a bit premature sometimes, unwanted calls of “HE’S GONE!” and “SIX” when someone remotely looks to be hitting a boundary or is potentially about to be caught is just ridiculous. And his terrible over exaggerated predictions – sometimes he’ll call a score for Australia that they’ll never get close to. All said and done though, this guy is far from the worst. Hope he stays on a wee bit longer.

Mark Taylor: From memory he entered the box right after he retired in the 90s. He looked to be slipping into the Slats mould at first, but I don’t know what’s happened; either he or I have changed, I really don’t mind him. Best of the younger lot in my book. He has a pretty open mind when it comes to looking at all aspects and all sides and it’s easy to see why he was such a good captain. But mumbles rather than speaks which is a turn off. A nice mix of layman and expert speak if and when you can decipher him. Whereas initially I thought of him as too vanilla for a commentary stint. My only gripe with him is his constant insisting that <insert curator of ground where current test is being played at> “is one of the best in Australia”? Doesn’t that go without saying? Or does skill and ability not come into it when nurturing and selecting them?

Richie Benaud: The oldest of the bunch, and the most recognizable voice of the Australian summer. Though he’s losing his marbles as the days are passing by and after its become three in the box, all he does is spew out something entirely weak and illegible every few minutes or so. Still, reminds himself not to overdo it which is good. Doesn’t have much fuel left in the tank I imagine.

Tony Greig: Does this guy commentate every shift of every session? I swear, every time I tune in he has to be on. Keeps raving on about the “wonderful technology on offer here in Channel 9” and reads an ad every five frikkin minutes. Gatorade, Vodafone memorabilia, KFC, and I even remember him plugging Desperate Housewives a few summers back. As if he has ever seen a f*cking episode in his life. And where the hell is he from? Born in South Africa, played for England and now commentates in Australia? I reckon he should just stick to Sri Lankan games so he can lodge up there and stop annoying the rest of us. He’s clearly past it.

Ian Healy: There’s a reason why I saved him for last. Needs a bullet. Simple as that. Worst sports commentator ever, let alone from Channel 9’s cricket bunch, Healy has no challenger to a global crown. The waffle that comes out of his mouth is cringeworthy most of the time. It’s prolly the keeper in him, the constant barracking and cheerleading for Australia. In one of the ODIs in the tri-series just gone by, he was adamant that Australia would get a wicket in the last 2 or 3 overs because he couldn’t accept the fact that they were going to lose. There’s nothing too sickening about a bit of hometown bias but I doubt Healy can see that there’re two teams playing. He dismisses everything that comes off for the other teams as “lucky” and the one that clinched it for me was the other night when he said that even if David Warner did nothing else in his career he’d still be a “legend of the game” and remembered as such. Huh?

Gilly should just come in and kick him out, just like he did so in the test team all those years ago. But I doubt it, for Gilly just hops on when the team are in Perth and hasn’t committed to commentary yet. Then again, I suppose he’d get successfully neutered and Channel 9d if he does and turn into one of the boys in there soon enough. Same old script’s been playing for years.

PS: I bet the segway stunt in the 2011 Boxing Day test was staged.

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Overall, they’re all a pain to listen to, and after a while, their voices just become noises in my head. What happened to the days when there was actually an international presence in the commentary box? Michael Holding from the Windies was a great caller, and there was also a Pakistani I believe. It doesn’t help that the only one among the panel who watches some international cricket that Channel 9 don’t cover is Tony G, who I cannot stand. It gets painfully obvious that outside of the Australian home summer very few of the others catch any test cricket: they neither know what the current rules are nor what the players have accomplished recently and even when they’re getting fed the stats they still manage to scr*w it up half the time. There is a terrible lack of knowledge of visiting players and teams. This is nothing new, by the way. They’ve been like this for as far back as I can remember.

Most folks in Australia are apparently equally peeved about Channel 9’s team, and a handy escape is to sync C9 video with ABC radio’s grandstand commentary. It wasn’t that bad when I tried it this summer really – Kerry O’ Keefe is terrific, and Harsha Bhogle is decent at worst. But Glenn Mitchell……no please no. He is a shocker. He will scream and shout even when absolutely NOTHING has happened. Doesn’t bode well for the radio listener, who cannot see a thing of what’s going on: “…and OH DEAR that has HIT HIM ON THE PAD! NOT OUT says Aleem Dar.” I was listening to the cricket on ABC during the Ashes in 2010 (when Hussey and Haddin were rearguarding at the ‘Gabba), and Glenn was making it sound like a wicket was about to fall every ball. Just settle down mate!

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Cheers for listening to that rant then. Nothing new here all said. Even Adolf Hitler’s of the same opinion.

Guess who’s back?

It doesn’t take a genius to figure that this Pommy side is not the #1 test team in the world. Heck, if I summon the local net bowler from down the street and ask him to bowl at the England batsmen in broad daylight whilst screaming the type of delivery beforehand, he’ll still be a favourite to scalp three of their top six. They are really that bad against spin bowling of any half-decent standard.

So in essence, after mauling India 4-0 last summer, Saffer A have got point blank whitewashed in the tests that’ve followed; first with the 3-0 against Pakistan in the Emirates, and it’s increasingly likely that they’ll slip up against Lanka in the second test as well. This after yet another thrashing in Galle to script their own 4-0. And that’s got to be the shortest amount of time a team has held on to the top spot. Supporting England has got to be a perennial wait for that dog in its day moment – they’ll stand up to be counted once every generation if you’re lucky.

Though to be fair, their batters had a valid reason to fall back on in the Pakistan series – that they were spun out by a trickster in Saeed Ajmal, who bowled a full repertoire of doosras, teesras, arm balls and heaven knows what. But in this ongoing Sri Lankan series, they’re being spun out by Rangana Herath for crying out loud! Who averages mid 30s in test cricket, above 40 in one day cricket, and to put it mildly, isn’t a particularly good bowler. But I guess any average spinner looks like a world beater if and when he bowls to the Poms.

And this isn’t going to change. I love sport psychology, and from all evidence it looks like each of them are being overcoached. Have a look at Bell or KP at the crease – they bat like their brains have been scrambled with too much advice about ball trajectories, paths and speeds. Just notice the number of pre-determined swipes and slogs. They just don’t cut it, literally. That’s when you should quit pondering and do a Sehwag instead – just go out there and whack it.

As for their coaching staff, Flower and Gooch should be a tad worried at this rate – the English batsmen will loose them their jobs if this keeps up!

Can’t wait to get this bunch over in India this November. 4-0. I want nothing less.