It was fun while it lasted but sadly it didn't last too long.
You know what was most impressive for me in this test series? Not Mohammed Asif (yes I was impressed by him but more impressive was something else) and not Irfan Pathan for his hat-trick ... but Shoaib Akhtar.
See, lets get one thing clear. We keep talking about whether he chucks and now even Greg C is under a cloud for supposedly questioning his action in public. Though I don't know why that should be a problem coz the entire world has questioned his action, lets assume Greg C shouldn't have done it. Greg C is the coach of the Indian team and so not supposed to make controversial remarks. Well, the Chuckster ain't the coach of the Indian cricket team and here is what the Chuckster thinks - it might be an optical illusion as all bio-mechanists claim but it is a pretty good illusion ... Akhtar was chucking amazingly consistently, according to the Chuckster. But since the ICC doesn't have a problem with it, lets not discuss that any more ... there is nothing to be achieved by talking about it. Lets instead talk about something which is not questionable - his unbreakable spirit.
I know Akhtar didn't end up with a bagful of wickets but I got goose-bumps watching him go in all three tests. In the first two tests, especially, I was very impressed coz there was absolutely nothing for him. He would steam in, bang it in at 150 kmph odd and the batsman would have a cup of tea and once finished, hit him wherever he wanted. Akhtar would walk back, turn and then steam back in ... 150 odd again. And again, and again, and again. Yes, Akhtar is a strong man as u can see from his tremendous physique but the wicket was enough to make the viewers cry, let along the poor men trying to bowl out there. But this guy kept going and that was so impressive. Really, he could have cut down and just gone along without trying to kill himself coz it was obvious the first two tests were headed for big draws. I guess that is not the way this guy operates coz he seemed to think that by ignoring the pitch, he could change it. Well, in the first two tests, that didn't happen but in the third, there was no need to change the pitch. Akhtar's spirited bowling made a difference though Asif picked up the glory. Akhtar was brilliant in his furious spells and was an absolute joy to watch.
He troubled all the batsmen in the first innings though I believe SRT smacked him around in the second. The ball that knocked SRT's helmet in the first innings was a corker ... I don't know if SRT has ever been hit above the shoulder after having one on his nose in his first test but I have never seen it ... so it was a bit of a shock to see him get a tremendous knock on the helmet ... in fact, it was not even on the helmet but on the edge of the visor ... he can count himself lucky that the ball didn't slip through the small gap between helmet and visor ... I know that doesn't usually happen (is not supposed to happen) but it isn't impossible (I think Srinath did it to South Africa's Pringle in SA ... which year, I don't recall ... the ball went through the gap).
Anyways, Mohammed Asif was brilliant in the way he moved the ball and hit the correct spot ... there is no denying it but I won't talk about it coz everyone saw how good he was ... just wanted here to focus on Akhtar coz he impressed the hell out of me and really, no one really made such a big noise about his performance.
On the other hand, the Indian bowlers continue to amaze me by their ever-decreasing speed. I don't get this one; ok so the pitches for the first two tests were miserable but the third one was pretty decent. Akhtar bent his back everywhere but ok, maybe he was just plain foolish (I still admire him for that) to have tried in the first two. I also admit that sheer pace isn't everything .... but when Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan and RP Singh, all of them in their twenties and having access to some of the best training and body building facilities, send down 90 percent of their deliveries in the 120-130 range, I really have to wonder what is going on. Seriously, if Ganguly works out a bit, he will be out-pacing these guys. Zaheer's drop in pace is a story in itself ... when he came in he could do 145 with some back bending ... Pathan was never fast but I thought that with time his pace will improve ... RP, I will reserve comment since he is so new. But they really depressed me with their speed. Even Pathan's hat-trick ... all three deliveries were between 117-127 kmph and yes, he got a wicket with all three deliveries coz of the beautiful swing he generated ... but hey, what when he cannot generate the swing ... what is going to get him wickets then????
A friend of mine with whom I talk cricket in office always says - I don't know why we r making a noise about whether Munaf Patel or VRV Singh is the fastest bowler in India. Within one year of joining the Indian cricket team, they will be bowling 127 KMPH.
Ok, enough about bowling. Lets talk about other things. I read this column by Javed Miandad where he talked about the Indian batsmen - I can't get hold of the column but this article mentions it http://www.asianage.com/main.asp?layout=2&cat1=8&cat2=71&newsid=206464&RF=DefaultMain - about Sehwag looking frightened of the pace etc. Real good nonsense and worth a laugh before u dump the paper into the nearest dustbin.
As for SRT, he is really getting the flak from many quarters ... more quarters than usual. TOI had a headline called "Endulkar" or something ... pretty imaginative, I think. But he has reaped what he has sowed. For three years or so, he killed his batting skills ... recently, he looked to be getting out of the "responsible / senior" mindset which made his batting look like dog crap ... and now he cannot get back to his old ways. You see signs of recovery every now and then in the shots he played in the series ... shots he had packed up in his "responsible / senior" days. But he is getting out in ways that r getting embarassing. There has been a lot of noise over his walking in the first innings though his hand was off the bat (and hence he was not out). I personally think it was a mistake he made and there is nothing more or less to that. But the way he got out in the second innings is something he seems to be specializing in nowadays. Take out the videos of his dismissls in the past couple of years and u will see a large number of clean bowled where he misses the ball and then crouches down to show that the ball had kept low. In a couple of those instances, I actually feel the ball keeping low undid him but in most of those cases, there was nothing unusual about the ball and it was his inability to put bat to it ... and crouching down after the ball passes through the hits the stumps only makes it look worse ... coz he wants to show a cause for missing the ball which is just not true. As my friend in office says - oh Tendulkar ... the entire world will play normally and when he comes to bat, magically the ball will keep low and he will get bowled.
Ganguly's play was the best he has played in the last few years and he could have done so much more ... I know all the batsmen flopped but what this goes to show is - Everyone, including former skippers, need good kicks up their ass to play decently after some time. Also that we Indians r incapable of something like this ... if Greg C had not become the Indian coach, this kick would never have been administered and neither would be other kicks that will be administered every now and then. We Indians will look aghast at the "insults" being heaped on stalwarts who have done so much for the country - the insult being the sacking of the non-performing stalwart - and call Greg C bad names. U know what the Chuckster says - We lost against Pakistan ... too bad. Greg C becoming the Indian coach is still the best thing to have happened to Indian cricket ... Sourav Ganguly's batting in this series has been an example of that. Of course Sourav screwed up an excellent chance to change his own cricketing fortunes but that is another story. Last series, the experts in the media talked about "Ganguly scored 78 in two innings and Yuveraj scored 76 in two innings so how can we drop Ganguly" ... this series we will talk about "SRT scored 75 in two innings and Ganguly scored 77 in two innings ... why this great injustice towards Ganguly" [Note - I am not talking exact scores here ... just what the tone of the talk would be].
BTW, the most nonsense ricket article u might ever read in ur life (or till the next time Sanjay Jha writes an article) - http://www.cricketnext.com/features1/sanjayjha/sanjayjha203.htm
U know the problem with the Indian mindset ... plans need to be reviewed and analysed after every match ... there is nothing called a long term plan ... u can win 10 matches and when the 11th match results in a loss, people will talk about how the Indian team doesn't have a gameplan ... how the bowlers cannot bowl and the batsmen cannot bat ... and how the coach and captain's experimentation is proving dear to the team ... SIGH!
The way I see it from Dravid / Chappell's point of view is - They should ignore the Gavaskars and other wise men of Indian cricket coz most of them r famous for their past cricket deeds only and have absolutely no forward-looking capacity. Till the time BCCI decides to sack them, they should go their merry way and do exactly as they want coz they have a plan in mind .... and it takes time to implement plans. I read Srinath's column where he talked about Laxman opening in the first innings as a big blunder and wondered why Sehwag was brought down at number 3 ... if Srinath doesn't know that Sehwag couldn't have opened coz of some rule technicality (he was off the field for some time ... so he couldn't open ... something like that) and comments on it being bad strategy, u really have to wonder why they waste newspaper print on his comments. See, nothing against Srinath ... but as an "expert" columnist, he shouldn't be making basic mistakes like reporting wrong facts. Yes, another question could be "why was Sehwag off the field at that crucial juncture as they should have known that he wouldn't be able to open" ... for that one has to ask the Indian team management ... if they were unaware of the rule, that is dumb ... if it was something that couldn't be avoided, well, then lets just move on in life ... it couldn't be avoided.
From Monday, the ODIs start and there will be plenty of needle to the contests ... Sehwag's courage has been questioned and SRT's capability. What will be their answers? Also, the new guys join the team - Sreesanth, Raina, Kaif and Murali Karthik. Of these, Raina impresses me the most coz of the way he batted in one of the ODIs against Sri Lanka ... I don't remember which one but he made 40 or 50 odd and took the team to victory. It was such a polished innings that it was diffcult to imagine this was a 19 year old kid playing with such poise. I would have loved to see Venugopal in the squad coz he impressed me a lot in what little I saw of him. But ok ... he still has time to stake his claim for the 2007 world cup.
I will be watching Sreesanth with interest this time ... I had predicted good things for this guy two years back (I wrote a post about his being impressive in www.sulekha.com at that time when he bowled for the India-A team against the visiting New Zealand team ... that match all the potential pacers played ... RP Singh, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel). This guy comes up with good pace (better than the Pathans, from what I gathered in the ODis against SL but not in the Akhtar range at all) and has a beautiful run up and delivery ... but he gives too many "hit-me" balls. I see him as someone who can develop beautifully ... that is why he interests me so much.
Anyways, to end this post (I gotta go home), about Dravid opening. All this thing about his leading from the front etc is ok ... he scored two tons and I don't even question his opening in the first innings of the test. Forget the issue about whether after including Ganguly instead of the openers, he should have opened or not - that is a different debate. When he decided to open in the second innings of the Karachi test, he made a very foolish decision. Bravery is nice ... but one must be careful that bravery and stupidity do not get confused amongst one another ... India had to chase a huge target and it would have been very difficult to have batted out two remaining days. Dravid is India's main bat and I don't think anyone has any doubt on that score. The ideal ploy would have been to send out Sehwag plus someone (Ganguly / Pathan / SRT???) and ask them to play a normal game where they don't hit everything but also don't block everything ... this would start a slow building of pressure on the Pakistanis which again doesn't mean too much since the target was huge but it is always good to build pressure on the opposition. Dravid could have come in at his usual number 5 position (after SRT, since Laxman is nowadays the number 3 of the team) and that way been in a position to do what he does best ... score if the team is doing well or shut shop if the team is in trouble. Instead he exposed himself to the new ball and whatever the ability / technical superiority of a batsman ... a new ball is dangerous stuff and unless there is an earth-shaking need to face it, the team's best bat need not do it chasing 600 odd runs.
BTW, I read Sunny Gavaskar's column where he says something to the tune of "I hope the so-called experts realize that blazing away is not the solution and one has to buckle down and bat in the test" or words like that - I don't find the exact article but this article refers to his comments http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2006%5C02%5C03%5Cstory_3-2-2006_pg2_3 - and I really couldn't understand what he means. I know he doesn't like Greg C being the coach of the Indian cricket team and I know he always has to knock whatever someone is doing but even otherwise consider this - Dravid got out first over and Sehwag the second ... I guess no one can say they tried to blaze away. The only guys who managed to score something were guys like Ganguly, SRT and Yuveraj who, frankly speaking, scored at a fair clip. Does he really think that if Yuveraj and Ganguly had scored less boundaries, India would have been in a better position? To me, the scoring rate of the Indians was one of the biggest positives out of this entire Pakistani series. We were batting like the Australians usually do ... and while we lost this series, I believe that is absolutey the correct direction to be moving in. Old foggies like SMG will always be there to ridicule attacking cricket but for all his smartness, I really don't think Gavaskar has a vision ... I really don't think he realizes the world around us is changing and we have to change accordingly to challenge the best ... all I can say is the day he becomes the Indian coach, God help us all.
Anyways ... it was fun ... India lost but I don't think anyone doubts that the Pakistanis just had too much heart for this Indian team ... 39 for 6 and then bouncing back ... it will take Dravid and Greg C a long time to instill that kind of a spirit in the Indian team. For our sakes, I hope they succeed someday ... but unlike the Sanjay Jhas and Gavaskars, I know the day will not be tomorrow.