Quite a few things to write about here ... hopefully I can jot them down quickly enough to do justice to the issues and still rush home quickly where my new bride is waiting with bated breath and a quiver in her heart.
The first issue is that of VVS Laxman ... I wrote this post one week back but the stupid site went offline just after I finished typing it and pressed "POST" and I lost it all ... no amount of going back and forth got me the typed text. Anyway, here goes again.
Laxman and Kumble both seem to be unhappy at being left out of the ODI team. Where Kumble is concerned, I don't wanna comment too much coz this is a guy who has really come back to the peak of his form in the past year. He has taken on the toughest of opposition and given them something to think about ... so while I feel that ODI cricket would be detrimental to his re-birth as a bowler, I would rather not comment till I actually see the damage happening coz just like in tests, this guy might just re-invent himself in ODIs too. A long time back, Kumble coming on in the 9th over used to be a familiar sight in ODIs coz the faster bowlers would be getting hammered ... and when he came on, I for one would always be like "Ok, it is gonna be ok now ... Kumble is here". When we can hope for a SRT re-birth, a Kumble re-birth in ODIs is not too farfetched.
Laxman's is a different case altogether. The guy has been in and out of the ODI team numerous times and still his game hasn't changed one bit. That is the only thing that makes me have less hope for Laxman succeeding in ODIs than for Kumble succeeding in ODIs or SRT re-discovering his attacking instincts or whatever else. Either the guy is just plain dumb or someone is just not telling him what the problem is. Coz if he knows what the problem is, his cribbing is not really called for. He himself should recognize the problem.
First of all, calls about his fielding being a point against him is pure baloney. In a team led by Sourav Ganguly, we really shouldn't talk about fielding being a point either for dropping or picking a guy. I mean someone outstanding or someone terribly, terribly, terribly bad is one thing ... but anything in the middle ought to be ok coz the captain is out there setting an example as one of the worst fielders and least fit players in the team (when he bends to field the ball, u can actually heard the creaks if u listen hard). Yep, he doesn't drop catches - fielding is not equal to holding catches - but when he runs after the ball, I personally get a doubt about the story I read a long time back about his being a very promising footballer before he decided on cricket as the sport to pursue seriously. A footballer who runs like that???? Point I want to make is - fitness and fielding concerns should never be an issue as long as u have Ganguly leading the team ... unless as previous mentioned, someone is either outstanding or terrible, both of which Laxman is not. If Ganguly can play, then Laxman can play ... fielding cannot then be the main issue.
The problem with Laxman exists in his batting position - No. 3. In my book, either Laxman bats at 1, 2 or 3 or he doesn't play. Playing in these three positions gives him the freedom to either take advantage of the fielding restrictions in the first 15 overs (I still feel - a theory propogated by me a year or two back - that he would be an outstanding opening bat simply coz he can find the gaps so well ... a la Mark Waugh) or even after the first 15 overs are up, take his time about building his innings coz once the field spreads out, Laxman is terribly handicapped ... he can take those singles but you can't expect anything more from him. In this case, there is enough time for him to build his innings and for others after him to come and fortify the innings. If he comes in at any number after 3, he slows down the entire innings. He might still get his 50 odd runs but the scoring rate will be pretty average and if at any point of time the innings needs a push (lets say, chasing a reasonably decent target), the only way Laxman is gonna push the rate is by retiring hurt. Face it, he doesn't have the big shots that are required in the middle of the innings ... shots that Yuveraj has in abundance, Kaif has in short bursts and shots that Dravid has learnt to play over the past two years (that guy is so amazing) ... he doesn't have the running ability that can make up for this lack of hitting ability ... Kaif is an example ... he doesn't hit big like Yuveraj does but he runs so hard he makes up for a large part of it.
That probably is where Laxman's "lack of fitness" comes in ... the inability to run consistent twos and threes in the middle to end overs overs that gives others like Kaif - much lesser capability than Laxman, mind you - an edge. This wouldn't matter if Laxman batted at 1, 2 or 3 ... it does matter when 1, 2 and 3 are taken by SRT, Sehwag and Ganguly. One can see this in the mindset of the team management ... when either of SRT or Ganguly is unavailable coz of injury etc, Laxman gets to play ... otherwise he doesn't.
Laxman has had good performances in ODIs but they have been limited to Australia ... when the opposing team is not Australia, Laxman's ODI performances are nothing to write home about. That is why he will not replace SRT, Sehwag and Ganguly at the number 1, 2 or 3 positions. Whatever their form of the day be, one knows these three can run away with matches ... Laxman still has to show he can do it in ODI cricket. He can't do it with 40s and 50s ... he can only do it with consistent big ones coz he is not trying to replace a Kaif or Badani here ... he is trying to replace the three best ODI players in the team.
I suggested in an earlier post of mine that if Laxman really wanted to try for an easy spot in the ODI team, Kaif's spot would be the one to pick rather than the first three spots. Unless any of the top three drop down to 5 or 6 (the experiment was started by dropping SRT and then Gangs himself to 4 but we all know it didn't work ... it will take a brave man to try again ... I said it then and I say it now ... it is a good move to send one of the top three down and try Laxman up top ... a risk worth taking but I know it will not be taken), Laxman has to fight for a place with the Kaif and Mongias of Indian cricket ... even the Dravids and Yuverajs are much above him today. If Bihar's MS Dhoni succeeds as the keeper / batsman in the team, Laxman can wave his ODI career goodbye for the next year or two. If Dhoni doesn't make it (and it will take something extra-ordinary to make Ganguly change his Dravid-for-keeper policy), the seventh spot will still be open for the likes of Laxman, Badani, Mongia, Gavaskar etc to fight over. If Laxman is honest to himself, he will know that in test cricket, he is invaluable while in ODI cricket, he is one of the also-rans and not above the Badanis and Mongias and he cannot be accomodated because of his test exploits. Ganguly has always been ready to give his players a long rope but Laxman should look at his game and analyse what has changed over the years ... since he was constantly getting chopped from the team, he should have tried some changes, right? He might find minimal changes in his game and then he might understand that it is nothing personal for him to be dropped. He simply doesn't fit the scheme of things as they are ... either the scheme of things has to change or Laxman has to change.
Second topic - SRT's 34th hundred. I won't comment on his record breaking for two reasons - one, coz it was against Bangladesh and second, coz ESPN-STAR on which the series is being telecast is not available in A.P. for the past year or so ... I don't know about the rest of India. However, I did see some clippings of his innings on DD News (bless u DD ... I am sorry for cursing u a couple of thousand times ... sometimes u r the best) ... and while I did see the missed chances, I also saw the quality of some of his shots. A cover drive screaming to the boundary .... a vicious slash of a square cut ... and a push or two down the wicket ... the cover drive and square cut are two shots that SRT has almost banished from his armoury and it was good watching him play this way ... some slight shades of the "Tendulkar of Old" ... heh heh. Anyway, so he is joint top 100 scorer with SMG ... yippie for him. SMG had to salivate all over SRT for this occassion - I don't think we could have avoided it - and thankfully, we won't have to see such emotions again till SRT's next century ... geez, we all know what SRT has achieved over the past 16 years ... SMG constantly drooling over the world's best batsman even when he is batting like crap (ok, so here he didn't bat like crap, from all reports) is becoming a big headache.
Anyway, anyone notice something? One of the lives SRT had was against left arm spinner Rafique (hope I got the name right) ... geez, a left arm spinner from Bangladesh made him look like a novice and people say SRT knows what he is doing. Oh, well! When Ashley Giles can make SRT sweat, why not Rafique, Tommy, Vicky and Pappu?
Pathan took a 10 for the first time in his career and here I am particularly glad that they gave him the man of the match ahead of SRT. No doubt, SRT's innings was crucial to such an emphatic win for India but a youngster in his first year of test cricket getting 10 wickets in the match surely is a better performance than a master batsman getting a double ton against Bangladesh. I am not being anti-SRT here ... just keeping things in perspective.
What was Dravid's wicket all about ... he shouldered arms to a ball pitching just outside off and darting back in ... it wasn't that great a ball that a batsman of Dravid's class should be food by it ... geez, he has come onto the front foot to similar deliveries from Allan Donald and patted them back like he would to a spinner. Anyway, just mentioned it coz it was amazing to see Dravid make a mistake like that.
Finally on Zaheer. I have always maintained India have a hidden jewel here in terms of batting (bowling everyone knows). He is not a good batsman and will never be a good batsman simply coz he doesn't know abcd of the technique of batting. But what he can do is hit them far and wide and while that approach doesn't always work, a little practive and training will get the team 25 runs every now and then with sometimes the bonus of a 40. The problem is that they should get him to achieve this without teaching him how to bat coz if they try to teach him batting, his main strength of hoicking them far and long will go for a toss. So, rather than someone like Dravid teaching him, I would rather one of the big-hitting guys like Sehwag / Ganguly / SRT take some coaching lessons for Zaheer where they show him how to decide between the boundary and non-boundary balls ... teaching him the finer points of batting might simply destroy the whole exercise. Anyone who remembers Zaheer creaming the last 4 balls of a ODI against Zimbabwe for 4 consecutive sixes will tell u - there is a jewel sitting out there waiting for someone to unearth it. As long as he is a tail ender with nothing expected from him, we will get nothing out of him. Make him accountable ... not just with the ball but with the bat ... and give him the training to go along with the expectations. We might all be surprised at the edge he gives the team in the end overs of any ODI.
A non-cricket issue to end with. We all read of the death of Dempo footballer Cristiano, an import from Brazil, after a supposed foul by the Mohan Bagan goalkeeper. I also saw the replays and personally I don't know if the keeper got in a blow at all or how hard it was ... theory is that he got in a good blow as the player managed to get the ball past him and was in mid air. What I am trying to say is - it happened and while it is regrettable, it also raises the issue of who exactly to blame here. The death of the player was not due to the blow (even if it landed) ... post mortem reports say it was due to cardiac arrest supposedly due to over-exertion. The goal keeper is being blamed coz he is the easiest scapegoat to find in the entire scenario ... but physical contact between players is so common in football that talking of the Bagan's keeper's actions is really ignoring the larger issue at hand ... Are these things ok as long as no one dies?
If tomorrow, lets say a McGrath and Sarwan scream abuses at one another about each other's wives and mothers (thankfully no serious reports of actual physical contact, at least in international cricket, have come to light), and suddenly one of them has a stroke in the heat of the moment (improbable but then Cristiano was an athlete too ... and footballers are surely fitter than cricketers), will that be the moment we talk about discipline among sportspersons etc? Who will we blame? The system which allows it all or the individual player (Sarwan or McGrath or whoever) who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time???
What will be the reaction of all those cool cats who sit in air conditioned commentary boxes and talk about having been there / done that ... about these things happening in the heat of the moment ... about needing mental toughness in international cricket ... about mental disintegration separating the men from the boys ... as Ravi Shastri once put it - "when big boys are playing, little boys should stay home with mama" ... about having a beer after the day's play being a suitable antidote. If tomorrow, the scene I outlined does happen, will these cool cats tell Sarwan's mom or wife - "well, at least the boys have been separated from the men ... may he rest in peace".
I published this post and then remembered ... can't leave this one out, really. Non-cricket stuff here. Recently, there was this quote from Aishwarya Rai informing people that "the Taj is more beautiful than I" - see this link
.. .... Quote - "Taj is a beautiful piece of architecture, more beautiful than me. I've always regarded it with admiration as it embodies love," said Rai, who has studied architecture.
Oh My God ... what a dope this woman is!!! The absolute cheek of the woman ... Thanx for telling us, Aish ... I wonder if anyone will remember u 5 years after u take ur simpering stupidity off the small / big screen. Shah Jahan will be rolling around his grave stammering - "Mumtaz baby ... I will have it cleansed in milk ... don't look at me like that ... it isn't my fault".