Fireworks in the stumps

There’s fireworks scheduled in the center at Lord’s any time now, with India batting first against the West Indies, but that’s no reason not to have some fun: Andy Zaltzman, on the upcoming innovations in T20.

Sri Lanka kayos Pak

During a chat, once, Arjuna Ranatunga said that as early as the early 90s, Lankan cricket had realized the importance of nurturing all-rounders [he named the likes of Jayasuriya and Aravinda d’Silva in the all-rounders list], and that it was this policy that was directly responsible for the team’s fine run in ODIs, through to the 1996 World Cup win and beyond.

The tradition apparently continues – with Angelo Mathews as latest exemplar. The lad can bat, even if he hasn’t really had a chance to strut his stuff yet; he can bowl, as witness his terrific opening spell against Pakistan that took out Salman Butt in the first over, and exerted relentless pressure throughout; and boy, can he field! He provided a dramatic display of just how well his mind, body and heart combine in the field the other day; in today’s game he was a bail’s width from creating an outstanding run out of Misbah ul Haq; the bat just about crossed the line in the split second between ball hitting stump and bail toppling off.

Briefly, he seemed to wilt when Shoaib Malik took to him in his third over, cracking three consecutive fours — but there was always Lasith Malinga at the other end to remove Malik with a superbly disguised slower ball [Malinga seems to revel in bowling these at the start, and cranking up the pace at the end, in a fashion counter to most other quicks], and iced the cake when later in the same over he triggered Kamran Akmal’s run out off another slower ball.

I remember getting a brief glimpse of Mathews, then being touted as a major star in the making, when Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni climbed into him at the Premadasa in February. He wasn’t too impressive then, and in fact didn’t bowl after that first spell — but he’s progressed a heck of a lot since then. Too early to tout him as the man to fill the void left by Chaminda Vaas, but he bids fair to make a good opening bowler, and with his bat skills and superlative fielding, that’s all he needs to do this early in his career.

Oh, in passing — he had a great tour of South Africa with the Sri Lanka A outfit in 2008; KKR picked him for IPL-2 in that country, and kept him on the bench, company for the most part for Ajanta Mendis.

The Lankans in the field look increasingly ominous: Mathews and Malinga, Kulasekhara doing a good job with the new ball, and the spin twins to follow.

Earlier, Pakistan was – what’s the word? – Pakistan.

Sohail Tanvir showed how bad they could be if they tried, with a first over that started with a no ball, stretched interminably on thanks to three wides and another no ball, and miraculously since he had given two free hits to Sanath Jayasuriya and Tillekeratne Dilshan, ended up only costing 18.

With the in-form Lankan openers feasting on pace and Younis Khan unwilling to bring on spin, the power plays produced 65 – and then the other Pakistan kicked in, with Shahid Afridi producing an outstanding spell to take out both openers and peg Sri Lanka right back [the next ten overs produced just 63, for the loss of the two openers and the Lankan skipper].

150/7 in 20 overs constituted under-achievement in context of the start Dilshan and Jayasuriya, the latter just days away from his 40th birthday, had provided – but for the disciplined Lankans, it gave enough leeway to build a defense around. Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq conjured up the faint possibility of a reversal with a 66-run stand in 10 overs. But that stat itself is damning: having lost three wickets early and with only the off-color Afridi really to follow, Pak needed much more than a 6.6 rpo stand from its two best bats.

In the end, neither proved able to withstand the pressure as the ask mounted; Lanka crafted a convincing win the way it always does, using tight bowling a tourniquet-like fielding to choke the opposition to death.

Giving ‘Hindu’ a bad name

Amit Varma pointed at this item yesterday, about blowhard ‘religious leader’ Rajan Zed — who, ever since some wealthy Indian Americans talked friendly Senators into having a Hindu prayer recited on Capitol Hill, has been puffing himself off as the voice of Hindus everywhere.

An hour ago, I was editing a story for India Abroad on this case — and now I find Girish Sahane’s post on it. Girish is succinct, and on the money; the only point worth adding is that the one element the court upheld in the suit filed by CAPEEM [California Parents for the Equalization of Education Materials] relates to impropriety in textbook selection — and not the contents of the books selected. And that is because the contents had already been revised extensively by the board; the lawsuit in question was more a bit of grandstanding by a Parivar-affiliate looking for a cause that would give it its 15 seconds of fame.

I’ve had emails from genuinely concerned parents, who complain that their children were often confused by some of the distortions of Hinduism and other religions found in textbooks — and, what is more, find it difficult to answer questions from their mainstream peers. Fair enough, and it is an issue that merits redress.

Question is, is rabble-rousing rhetoric from hardline elements — and triumphant press releases, of which we have had our share, about Pyrrhic victories — the right way to deal with it? To cite just one alternate example among several that I came across, six years ago my then colleague the late lamented Shakti Bhatt [More on her: 1, 2] did a story on Mona Vijaykar, who in her own quiet way worked to change the misrepresentations.

The loudmouths who profess to represent ‘Hindu’ and, by extension, ‘Indian’ interests abroad do us tremendous disservice.

Means, not the end

Simon Wilde’s heart says Pakistan should win the World Cup.

What a Pakistan victory in this World Twenty20 would do is put its national team back near the centre of the cricketing map. They would once again be a team in demand and when you look at the talent they keep on unearthing that can only be a good thing.

Even if they couldn’t host tours, other teams would be more willing to play them, either in the Middle East or in England (the ECB has already offered to stage a Pakistan-Australia series next year), and certainly to invite them to tour.

A Pakistan victory would be a wonderful thing, not only for the sake of the game in that benighted country but for the game worldwide.

I agree, sort of, with the end objective of keeping Pakistan cricket going; but is gift-wrapping the World Cup the means to that end? What would really help that objective is for the ICC honchos, now gathered on Mount Dubai, to keep this objective in mind among others when devising revising the Future Tours Program, no?

Ban women, not jeans

Amit Varma tells you why.

Fielder in row 13, seat B

“You don’t need to plan too much for him [Gayle] as you can’t have a field positioned outside the ropes,” Dhoni pointed out, when asked what was the best way to keep Gayle quiet.

At first glance, MS Dhoni’s comment seems kissing kin to that of the harassed bowler of apocrypha who, asked where he wanted his fielders, said “In the gaps”.

Here’s the rest of it:

“He will always fancy taking risks, so we should not give him the space.”

ToI used the first half of that quote as a blurb in its preview of today’s marquee game; just thought I’d give you the rest of the quote.

Anyway — it is India versus West Indies at Lord’s tonight; should be a fun game [News Flash: Suresh Raina will — 99 per cent probable — bat at three]. Between now and then, I have a paper to edit and put to bed, so see you on here much later in the day.