Not too bad then, was it?

Okay, I was wrong. Bangladesh reaching the finals broke this tournament’s usual India – Sri Lanka monotony, but only just. Neither Pakistan or Bangladesh, or India or Sri Lanka for that matter really solved any of their limited over troubles – Indian bowlers are still trundlers, Sri Lanka are sub-continental chokers, and Pakistani batting is shods.

Though Sri Lanka won’t be too displeased I would imagine. They just reached the finals of the CB series in Australia, and that’s where  the next world cup is gonna be held. Not Mirpur or Chittagong or any of these places.

Credit to Bangladesh but – Shakib was always a star, and Tamim coming back proved to be a success, now he just has to start converting those 70s into 100s. And I like Nasir Hossain too. Seems mentally tough to break, a barrier most Banga players in the past never possessed.

The Wall Decommissions

So this guy was always a turtle, the way he went about getting his runs. You’d flick on the game in the morning and see him walk to the crease with the score at 45/1 or summat. Three hours later, that would be up at 150/3 post the lunch session, with him ‘racing’ along to 30*. Two other batsmen would have come and gone, outscored him in a flash but exited, unable to provide the stickability the team needed to take the score upwards to what would be decent for a typical first innings in a five dayer – I’m thinking 400?

But he would hold on, playing only at the deliveries that needed to be played at, and consequently improve his strike rate as the innings wore on. Inevitably, one of the six other batters in the line-up would settle in as well, and together they would post huge totals, or scale large targets themselves. Rahul playing the supporting role of course, with the other bloke assuming a more flashier technique to actually do the bulk of the run scoring.

It is this formula that helped Dravid and India escape the tag of pussycats abroad, as the turn of the century saw a handful of victories at select overseas destinations, most for the first time ever:

148 v England @ Headingley (2002)

233 and 72* v Australia @ Adelaide (2003)

270 v Pakistan @ Rawalpindi (2004)

81 and 68 v West Indies @ Jamaica (2006)

For a team that could ill afford to rely on its bowlers to take the 20 wickets abroad required for victory, a plan B was drafted and opted for – score a mammoth total and apply scoreboard pressure on the opposition. As a result, opposition batsmen were forced into making stupid mistakes and the test was in the bag. But the runs had to be scored first. And RD was the nucleus of such a plan – he would be used to see away dangerous passages of seam and negotiate tricky bowling spells, while the men at the other end – Sehwag, Ganguly, Tendulkar or Laxman or more recently Gambhir, would be brisk in their scoring, reasonably secure that they wouldn’t be party to wickets falling in a heap at the other end and could risk playing the rare audacious stroke if they so wished.

Thus began the climb to #1. The Leeds test above helped the team draw a four test series in England 1-1, and was likely a stepping stone for the 1-0 series win in 2007. Ditto was the result in Australia in late ’03, 1-1. And to come away from a 2003/4 era Australian tour with that sort of scoreline was – let’s put it mildly – difficult as hell! But then Dravid averaged 100.37 that year – higher than Bradders should have been enough to beat the Aussies, no?

Pakistan a few months later saw the series tied at 1-1 going into the final test at Rawalpindi. Disaster struck however, as triple centurion Sehwag fell to a first baller, and Dravid walked in at 0/1, still 220 odd runs behind. From memory, he was struck on the pads a number of times to close LBW calls from Shoaib Akhtar rather early on, but he managed to play out that phase, saw the deficit off and took the total upto an impregnable 600, notching up a personal score of 270 in the process. Pakistan expectedly imploded trying to draw the game from that point on, and India managed a series victory out there for the first time ever. 2-1. Suck on it, Pakistan.

West Indies 2006 as skipper came towards the fag end of his dominance as a batsman, but the half centuries in both innings were nevertheless significant in helping the team win 1-0 in the Caribbean, another first.

Yeah, these 1-0 or 1-1 results may not seem like much in the grander scheme of things, but perhaps a decade ahead, these baby steps may prove to be essential in really putting an overseas opposition under the pump – 4-0 would be nice, and not the way it happened over the last year. The other way around, yeah.

Then there are a couple of other games – home tests, that deserve a mention:

25 & 180 v Australia @ Kolkata (2001)

110 & 135 v Pakistan @ Kolkata (2005)

Plenty has been said and written about the former of course, so I won’t elaborate. But the back-to-back tons against the green brigade were masterful as well, it’s a pity we couldn’t hold on to the series in the next game in Bangalore – another smashing game.

Statsguru shows him to be equally flawless in all conditions, save for South Africa – where he averages a dismal 29.71, although he did score his debut ton at the Wanderers in ’97.

In coloured clothing he proved to be less successful, but he did retool his game over the years and him picking up the gloves proved crucial in the run-in to the finals of the 2003 World Cup. Not to mention his exploits in the 1999 edition, in his favourite backyard of England.

Most importantly, he tonked that buttercup of a man – Samit Patel – for three consecutive sixes last year at Old Trafford. Loved that.

Anyway, India’s next test series is a three game home Kiwi affair in the autumn. Who’s going to bat #3? Rohit Sharma? Cheteshwar Pujara? Scary stuff!

w00t, it’s the Asia Cup again

Honestly, does anybody really care about this tournament? It’s just a recipe for the administrators to shove some more pointless India v Sri Lanka games down our throat – ‘coz the 1,500 or so fixtures over the past couple of years have simply not been enough. Both teams are coming off from facing each other in the CB series in Australia, and this tourney is right before India heads over there for yet another bilateral. Jesus f*cking Christ, isn’t there a limit to two teams playing each other again and again and again?

As for the rest – I can’t really see the Bangas turning up in this one, home soil or not. There seems to be some internal strife in their camp with Tamim Iqbal, arguably their best batter, being discarded or something like that. Pakistan on the other hand have managed to somehow throw away a series against the Poms 4-0 in Asia, if that were ever possible. But who gives a damn about them? India v Sri Lanka is what it is, babe! It’s always been that way.

Saffers versus Kiwis. Game on.

The last twelve months have been weird as hell. Thinking back to around about this time last year, Australia had just gotten themselves pummeled by England in the fifth and final Ashes test at the SCG. If you had told me then that they would whitewash India the following year – the then #1s, while the new #1s – England, would in turn get whitewashed by the basket case that is Pakistan, I would’ve coughed into my soup.

But stuff like that is exactly what has happened. And we had a superb 50 over World Cup in between whiles as well as classy bilaterals between the West Indies and Pakistan, Australia and South Africa, and Australia and New Zealand. Unpredictable was how they rolled, as all the two test affairs tapered to neither here nor there 1-1 results, leaving the average fan wanting that extra third test, to see which side could have hypothetically got their noses ahead.

Up next then, we have South Africa flying to the corner of the planet that is New Zealand, a place where they’ve generally toured well in going by statistics. Thanks to the abject failures of #1 and #2 in their respective away series, the Proteas can climb up the ladder to the top of the pile to claim the top ranking for themselves. The catch? They’ve got to whitewash the blackcaps in the three match series.

Doesn’t seem likely does it? Here’s why:

1. Like it or not, weather will always relegate large chunks of games in New Zealand to damp squib affairs. Be surprised not, if Game I at Dunedin is rained out. It’s the closest international venue to the south pole and overcast skies are always around the corner. Yes, even during the summer months. Once we’re through with that encounter and the scoreline still reads 0-0, there goes the Proteas chance of a whitewash.

2. Number two. New Zealand ain’t going to roll over. They have ripped apart Zimbabwe leading in to this series, prior to which they come off a morale boosing win at Hobart against big brother Australia. 1-0 down is as far as they’ll go I reckon. Watch out for great performances from Two Toes, the Wunderkid and Rossco, if his groin fixes itself in time LoL.

3. And. When was the last time a South African sports team grabbed their chance when the finish line’s been in sight? That’s right, never. Ditto here. My prediction? 1-1, with the Saffers conquering Hamilton. Expect Steyn and Philander to rip through the Kiwi top-order that game.

Knowing how fortunes have panned out over the past year, I’m most likely going to be wrong with the Kiwis thrashing South Africa 3-0 or something weird such as that. Still, an educated guess is always on I reckon, so here it is: South Africa 3 New Zealand 0? Not gonna happen.

PS: I like the ways tours to New Zealand are structured. Looking at the FTP, most of them comprise of 3 Tests, 3 ODIs and 3 T20s. None of the 2 Tests, 7 ODIs balderash. They do distribute their food evenly, them Kiwis.

The Life and Woes of England

Thank you Pakistan. For bringing this (ultimately), cr*ppy England team back down to earth. All that tripe about world dominance for the next few years was just them being cocky, as we guessed correctly over the summer. These bunch of numpties are just like their pals in the football arena – bigged up by their faithful media and fans only to fail and collapse in a heap when the moment comes to pass. Especially all that talk about Ian Bell being one of the best players of spin – gimme a break. Every ball the kid has that expression on his face giving away the fact that he’s never seen the thing turn in his life. And KP and Morgan seemed like they were facing invisible balls. Not that I’m complaining, I loved every second of it.

ODIs up next – whichever genius came up with this idea of a four game ODI series prolly has a fetish for the 4-0 results that have been flying around recently. 4-0 Pakistan, yes. Duh.

Looks like the world order has been restored for now. Australia whitewashing everyone and England and India under performing. The good ol’ days are back, matey!

The Life and Woes of India

Incredible. Another whitewash. I think we all knew it was coming after that first innings implosion at Perth; there was simply no comeback from there on. Rahul Dravid, a bloke nicknamed ‘The Wall’ was watching his stumps shatter every innings, Tendulkar couldn’t get past 25 and VVS had transformed into a Bangladeshi tail-ender in disguise. It’s a great pity really, for 8-0 over the past year has wiped out a decade’s worth of progress. Obviously Ganguly was the driver behind the success during this period, but we will forever remember this generation – Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman, and perhaps to an extent Sehwag as the guys who made India strong overseas. Until now.

So where did we lose it? Day 3 of Melbourne was probably it. At 214/2 trailing Australia’s first innings 333, we should have taken the game by the scruff of the neck and posted a mammoth 400 or 500 to seal the deal. But. You know the script. We couldn’t even get to 300. Ditto Trent Bridge in the England tour. These are matches which we had the mental strength to win back when we were #1. Not anymore, unfortunately.

Rather, there must be something wrong with the rankings – should this team ever have been #1? These players have never won in Australia, never won in South Africa, and the only time they beat England was in 2007, by a margin of 1-0. Their best result in places like Kiwiland and the Windies is 1-0 (2006 and 2008 respectively). They have even failed to beat the Lankans in Lanka since something like 1994…..what a joke. Number #1? Stop kidding me. It appears as if India can only reach the top by accident. Never by design. And once there, it can’t stay for long. Anybody who were hoping for this side to build a team of an era like the Windies or the Aussies can go LoL themselves.

The momentum from the Ganguly-Wright era is drawing to a close, and it’s just as well that Cricket Australia didn’t budget for the fifth day in their final projections in each of these tests.

PS: Ishant Sharma can try bowling his Adam’s apple. Might get some reverse.

Why Have Some Dubai in Your Life?

Day 1 and 2 of Pakistan v England made for terrific viewing, as always between these two sides. Except……..the damn stadium in Dubai. Lord’s or Lahore would have been teeming with fans, there would have been cheers for boundaries and/or wickets, none of that in this desert. It’s just typical UAE – build huge globs of cement and call it the biggest and best in the world, only to see nobody use the facilities at the end of the day. Literally, there were a few scattered Barmy Army fans in the stands, but that’s it. You would think that the country has some Pakistani supporters as well, but they either don’t care, or don’t want to drive over to the ‘Dubai Sports World’, where the stadium’s at, to witness the encounter.

The Best Player of All Time

Tendulkar, Ponting, Dravid, Sangakkara, Lara yada yada. There is a better one out there. Jacques Kallis. Always rated him right at the top of a greats list.

150 test matches with an average of well over 57. Unlike the aforementioned, he didn’t have the luxury of making most of those runs on dead sub-continental tracks where 600 plays 500 five day draws. Not at all, he comes from seaming South African conditions which have bred the likes of the Donalds and Steyns. It’s a bowlers heaven on the pitches out there.

AND. Once he’s done batting, he comes back on to bowl as well. Even Bradman wasn’t prolific at that. As a genuine fifth bowler for the Saffers, the bloke has scalped 271 wickets at test level. 267 at ODI level. He plays T20 too.

Probably qualifies as the sort of player whom you don’t notice much when he’s around. When he’s gone is when it’ll hit you how great he was.

Saurav “There You See” Ganguly

Jesus Christ, how often does he say it? Every time he makes a point, he throws it in. If you haven’t noticed, then you will now.

The 10 Best Tests of 2011

Whenever wisecracks yell out that T20 has killed, crucified, murdered, assasinated and whatever, test cricket, it has a splendid year. Test cricket, that is. Duh. When ever has T20 had a good year?

10. Sri Lanka v Australia at Galle (Australia won by 125 runs)

If tests in the subcontinent are boring, Galle in Sri Lanka is the region’s test capital. Why? 740/3, 952/7, 500/2 declared. That’s why. It came as such a relief therefore, when wickets started falling like ninepins during Sri Lanka’s first innings effort in the first test against Australia. Bowled out for 105, the Aussies could start up their second innings from day 2, guaranteeing us a result. That’s all we ask for, from Sri Lankan pitches.

The other two matches in the Warne-Muralitharan trophy, as it’s called, were draws and yet the ICC served up a warning to Galle for producing such an unfriendly wicket!? Maybe they were expecting the usual?

9. England v India at Trent Bridge (England won by 319 runs)

Trent Bridge, in contrast, is a superb test venue, second in England only to Edgebaston in my book. During the second England – India test of the summer, India were still fighting hard to get a foothold in the series after going down 1-0 at Lord’s. Day 1 saw England reduced to 124/8 before Stuart Broad bravely counterattacked to take the score to a respectable 221. Rahul Dravid and India seemed to be running away with India’s innings at 267/4, before – you guessed it – Broad scalped a hat trick. I suppose it was effectively five wickets because Yuvraj fell before the first hat trick ball, and Dravid skied a catch afterwards, seeing that he was suddenly left with the tail. England thus restricted India’s lead to a paltry 67, before marching onto the field and pwning Sreesanth and co. The game was in the bag. 1-0 became 2-0. Then 3-0. Then 4….you get the idea.

There was also a moment of controlled controversy as Bell was walking off for tea during day 3. I suppose that helps us remember a close test match even better.

8. West Indies v Pakistan at Guyana (West Indies won by 40 runs)

A team like the Windies go several years without a victory, be it home or away, so it’s always awesome to see them win. Props to Bishoo and Chanderpaul, whose last wicket stand in the disastrous second innings took the total from 105/9 to 152 all out. The scorecard says that the Windies won by 40, so that effectively sealed the match. Chanderpaul has always been solid as ever, but Bishoo was a #11 AND was making his international debut. Respect.

As an aside, the West Indies are the only team who wearwhite jerseys for their test matches. None of the mustard, ivory or all the other off-white tripe. Test cricket = White. Respect, like I said.

7. India v West Indies at Mumbai (Match Drawn)

There’s a reason why 2011 has been such a good year for test matches – there haven’t been too many draws. The fact that this test was a draw because of a mere technicality stands the format in good stead.

Beating India in India is next to impossible, but the West Indies of all teams came so close during the third of their three match test series. Going into the last over, all four results were possible – an India win, a West Indies win, a draw, and a tie. With 2 required off the last ball with one wicket in hand, first innings centurion R. Ashwin thought it was fine if he ran just the one. A pat on the back for him, he created some history for test cricket.

About his first innings century – I’ve never seen such a disappointed crowd witnessing a debut century. Why? Tendulkar was dismissed for 94 a few hours earlier, in pursuit of the irrelevant 100th youknowwhat. We can thus conclude that Ashwin wanted some of the limelight out of the entire affair there. And while we’re at it, we can celebrate the fact that both Tendulkar and Ashwin have one hundred international centuries put together in international cricket. How cool is that?

6. England v Sri Lanka at Cardiff (England won by an innings and 14 runs)

So draws emanate out of technicalities, and wins come from draws. Everybody had given up at Cardiff by the time day 5 rolled along. The weather had been dreadful, and only one innings had been played so far. Sri Lanka had made 400 batting first, to which England (or South Africa A in slang) replied with a sturdy 496. With just a handful of overs to survive in the final day then, Sri Lanka get bundled out for 82. Blink and you miss a wicket stuff. Not till the last pair got together did they actually try to get over their trail of 96 but with the supreme English attack on the prey, even that proved to be a lost cause.

5. South Africa v Sri Lanka at Durban (Sri Lanka won by 208 runs)

Whenever the South Africans get ahead, they’ll let themselves slip to get back amongst the pack. When the opposition is a team starved of overseas test wins, Sri Lanka, they’ll gobble up the opportunity. End of story.

4. Australia v New Zealand at Hobart (New Zealand won by 7 runs)

This was a classic. After the usual loss to big brother at Brisbane, the same old cliches were being drafted in about Kiwi cricket. Until the Hobart groundsman made a pitch so green that it would put the Pakistani flag to shame. What resulted was a closely fought four day affair that eventually culminated in a 7 run win for the black caps. David Warner thwacked a rearguard century only to see his teammates at the other end lose Australia the match, messing up what should have been a regulation chase of 241 in the fourth innings.

Sri Lankan and Indian groundsmen, take note.

3. South Africa v India at Cape Town (Match Drawn)

One all with everything to play for going into the third test at Cape Town. South Africa posted a par 364 thanks to a sublime Kallis 161, before India matched it shot for shot to end up on 362 all out. The Indian innings included a marvellous battle between Tendulkar and Steyn, a spell for the ages. With a lead of just 2, South Africa collapsed to 233/7 in their second innings, and the Indians should have fancied polishing them off within 250. Unfortunately they ran into the brick wall – Kallis – again, and he batted with the tail to push upwards to 341. There was no chance of a result from that point, but it was an engaging spectacle of fast bowling versus tentative pokes by the bat.

2. South Africa v Australia at Cape Town (South Africa won by 8 wickets)

Batting first, Australia posted a better than average 284 all thanks to Clarke’s Steve-Waugh esque batting with the tail to accumulate a personal score of 151. South Africa, for their part chased down 236 in their fourth innings to win the game.

In between whiles was the most unexplainable passage of play you could see. South Africa 96 all out. Australia 47 all out. Did somebody bomb the pitch? Many Aussie fans online were in splits over the Saffers’ 47/9 collapse, only to see their side top it with a 47/10 effort. At one stage, the Aussies were 21/9 before the last pair in Nathan Lyon and Peter Siddle more than doubled the score to 47. How the hell?

1. Zimbabwe v New Zealand at Bulawayo (New Zealand won by 34 runs)

Yeah, the Zimbots had won their first test on their return to the test fold against the Bangas, but not many fancied them against a superior New Zealand. Led by Brendan Taylor though, Zimbabwe managed to remain within touching distance of the Kiwis throughout the first four days, before bravely proclaiming to chase down their fourth innings total of 366 on day 5. Embarassment for the Kiwis beckoned as Taylor smashed a century enroute to 265/4, before the other Taylor – Ross, brought on Daniel Vettori. Dan had flown the thousand miles just for this one test, having retired from the shorter formats post the World Cup. Yet he still had it in him to kill the Zimbabwean chase with three crucial wickets.

Like I said, lap it up, T20 fans. We’re lovin’ it on the other side. It’s that finger licking good.