Beer, Chips and Cricket

This is a site about drinking beer, eating chips and thinking cricket. I am not a former player, a television commentaror or a journalist; my qualification to being worthy of hearing is that I drink a lot of beer, eat a lot of chips and think a lot about cricket. The thoughts need not be politically correct and often include colourful language but there will be no deliberate bias towards any player, community or state. I don't care about popular opinion or perceptions and I speak it as I see it.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

What a mess! Ganguly is banned but allowed to play the 5th ODI coz he has appealed and the appeal has not been resolved. However the BCCI says that since the ODI is less than 24 hours away, the team would not be changed now and hence Ganguly cannot play. blah blah blah.

First let me talk about the ban itself. In my opinion, the reason for the ban is 100% valid. I myself have noticed and commented on this a number of times ... it is amazing that all teams manage to cover their overs in time but India without any fearsome fast bowlers who run in from far far away always manages to exceed the time and not by a short margin either. It is not in the recent ODI series that this is happening. If memory serves me right, this has happened time and again in the past two years ... only difference is that no one really put their foot down. So in my opinion, if the captain has to be blamed for this (and the ICC rules are very clear on that) then Ganguly deserves his punishment. However, the length of the ban (6 ODI matches) is something I cannot comment on ... coz I don't know the standards by which the number of matches to be banned is decided upon. Ganguly is definitely a repeated offender on this score (I don't know really how many times he has got official warnings ... I am basing this comment on the basis of my observations) and if he complains, then I don't know what to say. Surely he has a watch; surely the coach has a watch; surely he knows how to tell time. However he invariably is late in covering his overs.

This mess is really a blessing in disguise for India ... my opinion on Ganguly is clear; as a test batsman he is finished but as a ODI batsman he is just going through a form slump. I seriously believe his batting slot is the main thing to resolve in ODIs ... in tests, his batting is the main thing to resolve and that is no small matter.

What the ban does for India is give them a chance to bring in a contributor till the time Ganguly's slump continues (in ODIs it is a slump, remember). It sounds cruel coz the only way to come out of a slump is to spend time in the middle but look at it this way - there r two matches left and the scenario is hardly condusive to batting oneself into form ... he can try to hit himself into form but that might do more harm than good. Once this series is over, there would be some decent interval of time and who knows, he might just rediscover how to make the ball meet his bat when he next steps out to the middle. Form is like that ... one day u can't touch the ball ... the second day, u just can't edge it ... it just keeps hitting the middle.

Speaking of bringing in contributors, the guy they chose to replace Gangs in the 11 is Sriram ... Ok, so he is not bad but is he the best we could come up with? Anyone who they bring in shouldn't be brought in with the idea of filling the slots ... it should be someone who can challenge for a slot in the long run ... is Sriram really a challenge for a slot in the 11 in the long run? I doubt it, really. Anyway, good luck to him. Laxman might be feeling a bit hurt that an open slot didn't bring him an invitation but if Dhoni is gonna bat at 3 ... what is Laxman gonna do ... come after 30 overs and accelerate the scoring????

The biggest gain by India in this ODI series (forget the current score of 2-2 ... that is looking at the smaller picture) has been the obvious mindset change by SRT. For the past two years or so, he has changed his game deliberately in the belief that it would make him a better player. Don't know why but it obviously seems a good idea to him to change the way he played for the majority of his career; basically the approach that made him what he is today. In this series, in the first ODI, he got out for a very low score but what was noticeable was his going for the pull shot in the first couple of overs which he eventually miscued and holed out. His score is not important here; the approach is. The SRT of recent times would have taken 15 over to get his eye in and ended up with a safe 35 off 71 balls. Even in the second ODI, he edged to slips while trying to drive one on the up - a shot he was almost removing from his arsenal in recent days. Again, the intent was there if not the result.

The difference between Gangs and SRT in my eyes (though they might be coming up with similar scores in recent times, barring the century in the last match) is that Gangs is technically deficient in his technique while SRT is mentally deficient (yeah yeah, he has a great cricket brain so he decided to cut out all his shots and play like SS Das). Many may say mental deficiency is harder to overcome (Laxman in ODIs is an example ... he still grumbles about being left out of the 11 whereas u couldn't fit him in with a forklift ... don't ask why forklift; it just occured to me) but SRT has been in this confused state for over 2 years now and if he is seeing light finally, then glory be. If he just stops trying to be the biggest batsman of them all and just concentrates on playing as he can (and why should age change that anyway ... i never understood that one) he can bring India so much ... when he was at his peak, his team was useless ... now his team is pretty good, he is useless. If a good SRT and a good team combine, I can just imagine the fun. Yummmmmmmy. Note - Two sixes to the spinners in one match ... stepping out and hitting them over the top (I saw the six off Afridi ... heard about the six off Kaneria) ... when was the last time u saw that one? The last many number of times I remember him stepping out to the spinners, he invariably mishit it and got out caught. Finally he re-learns how to tonk them over the ropes. Lets hope this was not a one off. Jai Tendulkar.

Anyway, Imzamam's innings was so cool ... SRT's over was so cool too. Really, I was disappointed when India lost but oh man, it was almost a dream over. Almost 11 years back, in the Hero Cup against SA in the semis, SRT bowled the last over with 6 runs wanted and gave 3 to win India the match. Today with 3 wanted in the last over, he gave two in 5 balls and that last ball ... oh that last ball .... it was bowled well, to be very honest ... full and fast and Imzamam was so lucky to get it through the field which had totally come in for the last ball. Seriously, Inzy kept his cool but there was really no blame on part of the bowler in that last ball ... it was a fraction outside off which gave Inzy the chance but with the entire field in, it was lady luck smiling on the Pakistan captain ... all credit to him though.

BTW, didn't read about this in any of the reports (of course I could have missed it) but Dhoni missed an easy chance of Afridi off Nehra ... the ball took the edge and went between keeper and a widish first slip ... any decent keeper should have taken it ... Dhoni lunged for it but never really tried for it. Nehra was understandably pissed off.

On Dhoni, in my last post, I had written of him as a raw diamond. A friend of mine commented on that being a bit of an excess in terms of praise for someone who was effectively a slogger. To clarify here, when I talked of comparing him to Gilly, I agree it was going overboard (seeing someone score 148 does that sometimes, u know). Gilly is a complete batsman ... if he was not the keeper, I still would pick him into any Indian eleven. Dhoni is effectively a slogger with a great eye and brute power ... a deadly combination when it comes off. He looks ugly playing his shots many times but when u get four, who cares? I would put him as a "Afridi types" ... who in my eyes is again a raw diamond. The thign is that u cannot depend on the Afridi types, as I feel u cannot depend on the Dhoni types. On their day, they will go to the opposition, kick him in the balls, take the game and bring it to their own team ... on other days they will play atrociously and get out trying to hook a yorker (ok, that is an exaggeration too ... heh heh). The idea is - in my book, there is always room for such players ... u have a set of players who can anyday get u in a comfortable position ... players like SRT, Dravid, Laxman etc (coz I am considering Dhoni also from the test point of view, so Laxman comes into the picture ... an integral part of my test team) ... and the keeper in recent past has not really been special (Patel's batting has been very good but no way special) ... so if u have someone who does ordinarily 7 times out of 10 but grabs u the initiative the remaining 3 times, I would take it every time. In that way, Dhoni is a raw diamond and now it really depends on his temperament and the team management's skills on using him to decide if he can be a potent weapon or not.

Saw a funny piece on TV the other day ... NDTV had a programm on cricket controversies on which they were talking about the recent expose on Azhar ... surprisingly a lot of attention was devoted to SRT's reported suspicions on Azhar at that time whereas the only new thing there was the supposed note written by Azhar which is the first I am hearing of it ... Seriously, SRT's suspicions etc r old news ... in fact, the Chuckster gained fame (some called it shame) by penning this article on SRT's suspicions - - way back in 2000. Anyway Sidhu was on the hotseat talking about it being media trash etc ... and there being no proof etc ... and saying Azhar had suffered enough and the media should stop hounding him and digging up old dirt etc etc etc. Basically he was being Sidhu ... extremely irritating. Aniruddha Bahal (Outlook editor or director or whatever) was also on the show and basically his magazine carried the expose ... he kept trying to speak and Sidhu would start shouting his comments ... and at one point of time Bahal says - "Mr. Sidhu, stop playing to the galleries ... when u were talking, I was silent and allowed u to speak ... now I am talking so kindly stop shouting and let me talk ... don't play to the galleries" ... and Sidhu says - "mumbmle mumble (I didn't catch it) ... I am not afraid of u" and Bahal is like - "That is fine ... I didn't even try to scare u" ... LMAO.

Fifth ODI tomorrow and really if SRT is gonna play his normal (old) self again from now on, it is gonna be really interesting from now on ... really, u can have a Sehwag, Dhoni or Yuveraj ... a SRT in flow easily beats them all ... there is so much of grace ... so much of majesty ... drooooooooool.

Haven't seen Sri Lankan bowler Malinga's action yet ... can blame it on my married life which really gives me minimum amount of time to spend on cricket ... there have been questions as to how his bowling action is allowed since it really doesn't come from proper over his shoulder ... but the way I see it (and I could be wrong), the rules talk about the bend in the elbow ... they really don't talk about the trajectory the arm takes if the elbow doesn't bend. If anyone of the readers can shed light on it, would be glad to hear.

Many of u who follow this blog leave ur comments ... and most of the times I do not answer ... but let me emphasize I read all comments ... and those of u who leave links to ur own blogs etc, I do take a peek at what u r pointing to ... but I can't really talk a lot on ur views ... simply coz I barely get time to make these posts and do my work in office ... don't have a laptop else I could have browsed from home ... still getting adjusted to married life ... man, I never knew a wife could take up so much of one's time ... before marriage I was like "Ok, after marriage I wake up in the morning, I read the newspaper (sports pages word by word), eat breakfast, kiss wifey goodbye and go to office ... after office, go home, change eat food, watch TV, read newspapers if not read completely in the morning ... kiss wifey goodnight (no naughty comments please) and sleep dreaming of Tendulkar and Ganguly. U know what ... it don't happen that way, kid.

But I don't really mind ... ;-)

Cheers all,

The Chuckster

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

After 2nd ODI against Pak

The last time I posted was before the third test ended. Frankly, whatever I expected, I did NOT expect a loss. It is so bloody amazing that someone could lose from that position. It is amazing that a team of 11 players had only one man among them who actually made an attempt to go for a very attainable target. It is amazing that players not exactly in the best of nick (Ganguly, Tendulkar) thought they could play out an entire day without trying to score a run. It is hard to score when not in form; it is harder not to score when not in form. People keep saying - "XYZ has played cricket at the top level for 10 years / 12 years / 15 years etc ... he is the best judge of what has to be done" ... how did people who have played for 10/12/15 years not know this simple logic? Are they really the best judges?

The loss is not what pains me. It happens to the best of them and it will keep happening. What pains is the cowardly approach to the task on hand ... the tails between the legs mentality ... the shame of being represented by those bunch of wimps. One way I am glad the BCCI says the team does not represent the Indian cricket team. At least we can pretend we have nothing to do with them; who knows, the feeling of shame might reduce. Who am I fooling here?

The first test where Pakistan took a draw and the third test where they took a win just lends force to a feeling that has been building up over time. I am not saying this coz of this Pakistan series; just that this series lends weight to the argument. It is just a pattern which has consistently emerged over the past couple of years. Ever since the world cup of 2003, the Indian team has stopped learning; they have stopped their march towards the pinnacle of the cricket world. Under the Ganguly / Wright leadership, we were moving towards being a force. That all stopped with the world cup; we didn't fall back a lot but we didn't move forward an inch.

News is that John Wright is moving on. Some say he wants to spend time with his family and some say he would be applying for the coach's job in South Africa. How I hope it is true; either of the two theories; coz it is evident that John Wright has taught the Indian team whatever he was capable of teaching them. The Indian team has absorbed many a valuable lesson from the Kiwi but now the teacher seems to have nothing else to teach. Hence the same, mundane performance time and again and the same, tired excuses. Enough! Time to shelve the old and bring in the new and John Wright is well past his expiry date. After the first test, Wright talked about "India lacking the killer instinct" ... Yep, that was evident to all of us but we even used to talk about it before Wright became coach. The coach righted many wrongs in the Indian team, taught them a lot, brought along a lot of discipline in the team but as he himself said "They lack the killer instinct" ... maybe he should have said "After 4 years of of my trying, they STILL lack the killer instinct ... I have no clue what to do about it."

Blaming the coach for all ills would not be very kind coz he is not the only ailment for a team filled with promise. From the players point of view, the rot starts right at the top where Ganguly holds onto a spot that I could seriously challenge for, if it is to be decided on merit. I am sure I couldn't score less than what he does. A lucky inside edge or two and I might even outscore him.

Ganguly's test career exists today coz he is the captain of the Indian team (or the BCCI team, whichever). Till the time he is captain, India will always go into a match one batsman down. He can talk about a lean patch and scoring runs in the past and not scoring only in the recent test or two ... he can talk all he wants but it is my opinion that Sourav Ganguly will lose his test spot the day he loses his captaincy. It is my opinion that Sourav Ganguly is no longer capable of batting at the test level. That, however, is different from his being the captain of the test team.

The two are different, and make no mistake about it. As an on field captain, he was never brilliant even when results suggested he was the best. His strength lay as the off field motivator / planner / team - builder for which even his critics would not grudge him his due. It may sound cruel but the task is more or less done. When Ganguly took over the captaincy, there was no cohesion and no direction. It took Ganguly 4 long years to build the team that exists today but today it is he that stops it from aiming higher. He has made the structure of the team and that was the hard job. Today the structure is weakened by a Ganguly who takes up a spot in the eleven. Sounds cruel as I write it but the statement also has a ring of soundness to it.

Many argue it is a matter of form and like Ganguly backed Yuveraj / Sehwag / Bhajji etc, it is time for him to be backed. However, it must be noted that none of Sehwag / Bhajji / Yuveraj were captain of the team and none of them were automatic choices in the team. I have nothing against Ganguly battling the contenders for the spot in the eleven ... May the best man win ... but I have every objection to having a man up top who doesn't get his place on merit. The very principle of the argument is incorrect. Bhajji fought his way back; Yuveraj fought his way back; Sehwag did too; Let Ganguly fight his way back ... who objects?

Ganguly's batting has deteriorated over time and it will take time for him to re-discover his talents. He might never do it. One thing is certain and that is that he will not re-discover those talents while day in and day out, he is thinking about declarations, batting line ups, bowling combinations and so on. So backing him today will be of no use unless u give him the time to improve and that time will come only when he is no longer part of the national team. He may become the Ganguly of old or he may not but one way or other, team India will benefit coz they can play an on-field contributor.

In the first two ODIs, Ganguly has scored miserably but I do not despair for him where ODIs are concerned. He was the best ODI batsman in the team two years back and if not the best, he can still dish it out. In ODIs, I feeling it is more of a matter of getting him the correct batting slot. Simply put, ODI cricket doesn't require the talents that test cricket does and the deterioration of Ganguly's talents thus don't affect him a lot in ODI cricket. You don't require to be "God on the off side" if the simple plan in ur mind is to step out of the crease and tonk them over covers and point.

My assessment of India's test fortunes is simple - John Wright is right. India lacks the killer instinct. That is all separates this team from greatness ... ok, that might sound exaggerated but lets put it this way - that is all that separates it from being a challenger to Australia. We have good results against Australia (not withstanding the home series defeat recently) but simply put - If India and Australia play 10 matches, I would back Australia to win 8-2 every time ... I know India will have its days ... but I also know Australia will have more. It could be 8-2 for India but for that they need that missing ingredient - killer instinct. John Wright as coach and Ganguly as captain cannot provide it.

They say Greg Chappell is the hot contender for the coach's job. True or false, if an Aussie can't succeed in making this team a winner, no one will.

Wanted to post on Dhoni but just don't have time. Many times I want to say - "Man, his play is so ugly ... whether it be his shotmaking or his stance while keeping" ... but used properly, this guy could be our Gilchrist. I am not kidding here ... Gilchrist is much much much more finely tuned but this guy is a raw diamond ... how he is polished now really depends on him and the team management. Hmmm ... actually it requires a Ganguly ... lol ... naah, it requires a sensible man at the head of affairs. Whoever it is must remember one thing - when one has a sword, one should not try to pluck flowers with it ... one should try cutting steel ... Dhoni should be utilized in the way he is most destructive and not be a project for "lets make a batsman out of him ... lets teach him the leg glance ... lets teach him to defend the ball after hitting a four ... lets teach him to keep bat and pad close together". Basically, we need an Aussie to propel the weapon called Dhoni.

Make no mistake ... Dhoni is no complete batsman ... his technique might be worse than Ganguly's and that is saying a lot ... he scored 148 last match and he might edge the first ball to the keeper in the next. But the combination of his decent keeping and his match winning batting ability makes him a winner in my book ... both at the test and ODI level.


The Chuckster