Day off

Not the optimum way to start a week — but I have a few meeting-type things to do relating to the move to Yahoo, and I’d rather get them done today since there’s a game tomorrow to watch. So — off for the day, back here tomorrow. Cheers.

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100 and counting

The best outcome of this Test — besides India notching up a win, of course, and keeping its home record against Sri Lanka intact — was the naming of Shantakumaran Sreesanth as man of the match.

Too often, adjudicators tend to be seduced by batting performances, and in this game it could be argued that either Sehwag or Gambhir, or both, should get the nod for setting the base for the big Indian score that broke Sri Lanka’s confidence and caused the visitors to implode twice in course of two days of playing time. Recognizing that on a pitch with nothing much to offer bowlers, Sree set the win up with his five-for merits applause.

Hopefully the award, and his performance over all, will finally teach the youngster the lesson that if he focuses on the bowling, and not on antics, he has a future yet, in an Indian team that badly needs good seam bowling options.

From a Lankan perspective, the stat that jumps out at me is this: the ninth wicket partnership between Thilan Samaraweera, currently top of the list for most Test runs in this calendar year, and Ajantha Mendis managed 73 runs in just under 20 overs [19.3 overs, actually] at a healthy 3.74.

It showed that for all the hype of a wicket that was “doing things”, batting remained easy. But what was really remarkable about that partnership is this: it was the second most substantial one for Sri Lanka in both innings combined; next only to the 82 runs added by Paranavitana and Sangakkara in 29.1 overs for the second wicket, after Tillekaratne Dilshan had perished to the first ball of the Lankan first innings.

As an indictment of the Lankan approach to batting in this game, that one fact tells the whole story; underlining it is the related fact that Sangakkara’s needless drive at a widish ball from Sreesanth that gave the bowler the first of his five-for signaled the beginning of the end for the visitors.

This game should have been a draw, but Lanka at no point showed bottle for the fight.

Enough said, till the contest resumes in three days at the DY Patil Stadium Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai.

Meanwhile, some weekend homework: check out the nominated bloggers for the Indibloggies, and support the deserving with your votes.

Updated: The great Lankan dope trick

Being proved wrong has its pleasures. I came in anticipating a day where I had to choose between over the top recapitulations of 26/11 and a total yawn at the cricket – mercifully, the cricket kicked up a notch.

Make that ‘being proved partially wrong’ – the Sri Lankan implosion had nothing to do with a dramatically deteriorating wicket, and everything to do with Indian bowlers who went back to basic principles of bowling tight groupings, coupled with a Sri Lankan line-up that showed no stomach for a fight it could only force into stalemate, but not win.

When Dhoni and the team management punted big time on Sreesanth, they likely had no idea they would hit the jackpot of a five-for from the returning maverick. It would be lovely to be able to write of a dramatic reformation, of an enfant terrible who matured overnight and allowed his natural talent to flower, unhindered by his distressing penchant for exhibitionism.

To say all that would be only half right, though. The exhibitionism was kept in abeyance, and that is a huge plus for a player who has earned himself too many headlines for all the wrong reasons. The talent remains latent, however: on the day, all he really did was adhere to basic lines and lengths; the Lankan batsman did the rest.

Paranavitana was out to a short of length delivery that he went back to and poked at – body around middle stump, bat waving a foot outside off. Kumar Sangakkara, who really should have known better, lashed at a ball that was length or better and very wide of off, managing only to drag it onto his stumps off his inside edge. Samaraweera went at a wide ball outside off that was keeping a touch low, and dragged it on. Prasanna Jayawardene chased a short, wide ball outside off. Skill came into the equation only against Herath, when Sree altered his line and got one ball to angle across the batsman and move just enough to hit top of off.

It might seem churlish to dismiss a comeback performance that netted a five-for. Equally, it can be argued that good bowling pressurises batsmen into silly shots. To which: it is not my intention to dismiss the performance, nor to negate the fact that Sree largely bowled good groupings.

The point sought to be made is merely that this was not a barnstorming comeback that deserves ballads sung in its honor, but merely a competent one. The extent of his rehabilitation will really be tested only when he bowls under some real pressure [and I seriously hope he comes good; India’s seam attack, especially its bench, is long on numbers, but short on serious firepower, and a rehabilitated Sree would be a huge asset].

Two of his mates contributed to Sree’s dream run. The first, Harbhajan Singh, remembered that he was an off spinner, and went back to bowling lines largely on or around off stump, slowing down his arm on delivery, and letting the ball hit length and do its stuff. As happens when he gets a good groove going, Bajji began asking questions of the batsmen.

Pragyan Ojha, too, had a good debut, as far as it went. He was tight, his lines were good, his bowling style relaxed, and he showed the ability and patience to probe constantly at the vulnerable areas, without letting the lack of success force him into experimentation. As with Sree, his real test will come when he bowls under real pressure – but again, as with Sree, you can’t detract from what he did merely on the grounds that the Lankan batting crumbled like an over-baked biscuit.

The batting was mystifying. The first hour’s play indicated that Lanka had figured out its most logical game plan: bat out time and overs, while inching towards the first target of 443 that would avert the follow on and push the match further into stalemate territory.

And then the captain, no less, played his shot from hell, and everything went to pieces. Barring Mahela [who benefited from a dropped chance by Dravid off Bajji], none of the batsmen on view showed any inclination to dig deep – and the fact that the wicket remains largely demon-free made that inexplicable.

229 runs represent serious under-achievement by what is really a talent-filled batting line up. It’s hard as hell to look up at a run-mountain that must be climbed one nudge at a time – but a team aspiring to moving up the Test ladder needed to have shown a greater stomach for the job.

What the collapse – 163 runs in 60 overs for the loss of 9 wickets – accomplished is to make Lanka’s job considerably more difficult. Trailing by 413 runs on the follow-on is tough – but the real problem is coping with the knowledge that to save this Test, Lanka now needs to bat a total of 208 overs, while India can afford to attack constantly with men around the bat.

Update, if the remaining 28 overs merit one, at close of play. Meanwhile, two reads about an innovative attempt to liven up a charity match, and a nice insight into the minds of champion bowlers. Martin Blake, and Peter Roebuck, write about a charity match where the bowlers were miked up, and Glen McGrath and Shane Warne talked the audience through their special brand of magic. From Blake:

Here’s where the brains kick in. McGrath bowls a couple of inswingers to the left-handed David Warner, cramping him for room. Then he flags that he will bowl a little slider, running the fingers down the seam and angling it across Warner. He tips that Warne, standing at slip, will get himself a catch.

On cue, Warner nicks it. McGrath only gets one aspect wrong. The catch flies to Gilchrist behind the stumps. Gilchrist, who also is miked up and who has heard the plan hatched, is exultant.

Soon enough, Warne is bowling and the boys from Channel Nine ask him for a running commentary on his over. As it happens, he’s bowling to Michael Clarke, one of the best players of spin in the world, a man with dancing feet. Moreover, Warne and Clarke are friends; Warne is calling Clarke his personal Daryll Cullinan but, at 40, there is a question mark as to whether he can back it up.

Immediately, Clarke is advancing down the track to cover the spin. Speaking through his microphone, Warne reveals his plan to draw Clarke out of his crease, then fire one down a little wider of off stump. Quicker and straighter, it could produce a stumping, or a nick.

It’s great theatre now. Down comes Clarke, unaware of the trap. Warne pulls it wide and Australia’s captain-in-waiting is stranded, on the verge of a major embarrassment. A lunging bat and a thick outside edge saves him as the ball squirts to point. Warne groans, and we’ve surely heard that before – a few thousand times.

Roebuck, on the same, with some prep thrown in:

Already Warne and McGrath had taken a close look at the belligerent left-hander. Warne had suggested to his lanky flinger that cover might move a yard or two to cut off his prey’s favourite shot. McGrath had concurred.

Next the commentators asked the surgical seamer to talk them through his next over, his second. In between fending off comments about his fielding, protesting that he was stiff and would presently be exhausted, the beanpole consented.

First came the set-up, a couple of deliveries pushed across the left-hander, cramping him and imprinting in his mind the notion that the bowling was accurate but straight up and down. Next came an inswinger intended to trap the unwary.

As it happened, McGrath started the ball a fraction wide. Even so, Warner was taken aback. What was the old codger up to? Past players ribbed the Narrominite about his swing and pace, suggesting he was as slow as ever but curled the ball more. McGrath took the slapstick in good heart. He had never relied on extreme pace or confronting moment, he had worked hard for every wicket.

McGrath was ready for the sting. He let the audience in on the plan. Two balls angled across Warner followed by an inswinger and now a ball pitching on the sticks, cutting away, drawing the batsmen into the stroke, taking an edge and being caught at slip. McGrath executed it to perfection, and celebrated as the snick was held.

His wicket brought to mind his finest piece of bowling, his hat-trick against the West Indies in Perth in 2000. Then McGrath began by beating Sherwin Campbell with a fullish outswinger, followed by a cutter angling across Brian Lara, and completed the trick with a lifter directed at Jimmy Adams’s shoulder. All three wickets were beautifully conceived. All three were precisely pitched. They were not dismissals, they were executions. McGrath’s greatness ought not to be forgotten.

An amusing sidelight: Earlier this year, a group of top Australian spinners, and even the chairman of selectors, got together to decide that the academy would not encourage spinners to learn the art of bowling the doosra. Then, this happened [from Roebuck’s report]:

Krejza’s doosra was startling. No one could quite believe their eyes as the ball spun back to amaze a left-hander happily shouldering arms. Later it emerged that the fiery offie had been practising the ball all winter and was slowly building the confidence needed to risk it in public. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to perfect a new delivery.

The doosra is a superb part of the game because it adds bafflement. Suggestions that it ought to be banned are dull-witted. Those framing the laws of legitimacy did not contemplate back chucks. Ask any child to throw the ball. The idea was to stop fast bowlers turning the pitch into a coconut shy and spinners imparting extra twist by straightening the elbow. But it is not possible to throw with the arm pointed towards the target.

In any case, if the doosra is so different, why cannot the batsmen detect it? In its own way Krejza’s intervention was as satisfying as those produced by the old masters.

Update: All of that said about Sree, his take down of Dilshan at the start of the Lankan second innings is worth noting as the first real display of his latent bowling talent. The ball had everything: a line close enough to off to get the batsman drawn into it; a length just back of good to keep Dilshan on the back foot; good pace, and good climb off what is not really a very responsive deck. And by way of icing, the merest hint of late movement away. Perfect. If his five-for has helped him shake off comeback nerves and let his natural skills show, that could be the biggest gain of this match.

Update 2: At the end of the day’s play, Dhoni could do worse than buy a Bhutan bumper lottery ticket. There was no logical reason for him to bring Viru Sehwag on as early as the 12th over [unless the move was prompted by some disgust at watching Bajji bowl the 11th over flat, quick, and mostly on middle and leg]. But he did just that — and Sehwag responded with a straight top spinning delivery on off that Paranavitana inexplicably went back to, failed to bring his bat down in time, and got nailed in front of off. Next stop, Las Vegas.  Meanwhile, fairly odd to see Lankan batsman, who really should know better, not imitate what the Indians did: play right forward to length, and well back to anything short.

Update 3: Interesting, in a train wreck sort of way, to see batsmen reared on spin playing like rank novices — led, unfortunately, by their captain who by way of variety this time drags a spinner, Bajji, back onto his stumps, standing with feet nailed to the ground, and swishing at something that was going along harmlessly outside his off stump. This, shortly after he had gotten Mahela Jayawardene run out calling for the sort of sharp single you try off the last ball of an ODI when you need one run to win. Pressure plays strange tricks on the mind, clearly — and as clearly, the Lankans not relishing the task of batting time.

Update 4: I wonder if Ojha has a sense of his own luck. Not every debutant gets to bowl with six around the bat. Hopefully, he makes the most of it — not every day this kind of thing will happen to him.

The ‘watch paint dry’ party

There is a deliciously nostalgic feel to seeing four Indian fielders crouch around the bat as a spinner comes in to bowl – an image that evokes the era of the spin quartet at the height of their pomp.

Unfortunately, nostalgia ends right there, with that image – once the spinner in question bowls, you are left with a wistful yearning for times past.

On balance, off spinner Harbhajan Singh’s analysis of 7-3-9-0 leads you to believe he was weaving a web of spin; that it is just a matter of time. In reality, that analysis owes much to rigid adherence to a line, particularly mystifying in an off spinner, that begins around middle stump and takes the ball onto leg or outside.

The Indian spinners I grew up watching would have killed for 642 runs to bowl against; hell, they would have sold their collective soul to the devil for half that number. Against that, the reaction of today’s premier spinner is to immediately hit the sort of run-denying line [four deliveries in Harbhajan’s first over were middle and leg tending to leg] that would earn appreciation were this match being played in colored clothing, but is out of sync with a team trying to win a Test.

Blame who you like: a board that systematically over-schedules ODIs and T20s and as methodically cuts back on Tests; the absence of a bowling coach who can work with spinners on ideal lines and lengths; the absence of an Anil Kumble on a bounce-less wicket where straight wicket to wicket lines and minor variations yield big results; an off spinner who has so retooled his game for the shorter formats that he has misplaced the skills that catapulted him into the limelight in the first place…

Fact remains, there was very little in the 11 overs of spin, and indeed in the 24 completed overs of the Lankan innings, to hold out much hope of anything other than a long drawn, and thoroughly boring, game of attrition. The only question being asked of Sri Lanka – a team reared on slow, low-bouncing wickets — do you have the patience to bat forever and a day?

Earlier in the day, India’s batting display was inexplicable [oh I know, we got 642, what more do you want, are you never satisfied, yada yada. Right, take all that as read]. The morning featured a – another — commanding performance by Rahul Dravid, who batted fluidly to play the dominant part in an association with Sachin Tendulkar. Rahul is a quintessential Test batsman at all times; in these last two knocks, he has added a layer to his skill sets with an aggressive mindset, a fluidity of strokeplay and an ability to keep the board ticking over at all times that makes him the fully finished article.

Sachin, for his part, seemed to have misplaced his gearbox. His first boundary came after he had played 86 deliveries, and it was a waltz down the wicket to crack a straight six; four balls later, he went charging out again at Mendis in an unwonted, clumsy, neck or nothing fashion. As it turned out, it was nothing.

Yuvraj and Laxman both looked in good touch; the way they batted in the first hour after lunch seemed to suggest that the goal was to coast along risk-free at around 4 rpo, then open out heading to tea and immediately thereafter. Nice plan – except they read it upside down, and inexplicably got into a rut in the second hour of the second session; a comatose period that, in the final analysis, triggered a collapse from 613/5 when Laxman got out, to 642 all out – a loss of 6 wickets for 29 runs and a five-for to Herath, both gifts gratefully accepted by the weary Lankans [and immediately returned, when Tillekeratne Dilshan to the first ball of the innings played a flick too soon and holed out].

At close, Lanka was grinding it out at around 2.7 rpo – hardly the sort of stirring stuff that fills stands, but the Lankan focus is, and will clearly remain, ensuring the follow on is averted one nudge, one nurdle at a time.

We can follow that process, ball by ball, tomorrow. Or we can watch paint dry.

In passing, Dileep Premachandran on the pitches we make:

The facts are irrefutable. Over the past five years, nearly 50% of the matches in India [11 of 24] have ended in draws. And unlike a Cardiff 2009 or The Oval 1979, most of the stalemates have been mind-numbingly boring. In the same period, 11 of 35 Tests in England have been drawn. Leading the way in pitch preparation, as on the field, are Australia [two draws in 27] and South Africa [three in 29]. And just to prove that south Asia does not only do touch-of-grey Tests, Sri Lanka have had 18 results from 22 games.

Anniversary blues

Tomorrow, we mark the first anniversary of 26/11. Today is an anniversary too, did you know/notice [clearly, this particular anniversary has escaped the attention of those interlocutors, both within the country and outside, now touting the need for more dialogs, confidence building measures, and such]? This is what happened on November 25, 2008.

Meanwhile: In New Delhi, the Public Works Department planned to build bungalows for its ministers that would include, among other things, four garages [not a garage for four cars, note] and six quarters for domestic help [not quarters for six domestic help, note].

Also in New Delhi, while various Federal ministers wait – some of them in five star hotels – for alterations and upgrading of homes allotted to them, others occupy two bungalows at once.

Staying with Delhi for a beat longer, the United Progressive Alliance is rocked not by issues of the magnitude of the nuclear deal or statements relating to peace talks with Pakistan, but over the non-allocation of a bungalow to ally Trinamool Congress.

Elsewhere a former ally is up in arms because a leader who has been progressively decimated in successive elections has not been allotted a home befitting his ‘stature’ [Unlike another ‘leader’ who had started the year in hope that she would be, if not queen, at least a king-maker in Delhi, the aforesaid leader has no holiday home in conducive climes to hide out in].

The ruling Congress party – and its chairperson – made a virtue of austerity and ‘set an example’ for the rest of us spendthrifts [never mind that the point of the example is lost on us: Sonia Gandhi was travelling on party, not government, work; it would be the party that paid the bill, so why would I give a flying f**k whether she travelled economy or business, or bought a special plane just for the trip?]. Hopefully, the money saved by Sonia madam’s economy class flight ticket and Rahul baba’s much-publicized train travels will offset expenditures such as this small matter of Rs 100 crore to ‘repair and renovate’ official bungalows.

The Opposition should be opposing – but then… oh never mind.

Meanwhile in Mumbai: Home Minister P Chidambaram’s mea maxima culpa results most tangibly in the posting of some 30 CRPF jawans near the Taj Mahal Hotel, as part of his promise to beef up security in the one city that seems more than any other to have a large target prominently painted on it. Their residence address: the cobblestoned paving of the public space near the Gateway of India.

When news of this disgrace breaks in the media [video], the government reacts not with shame and an awareness of what is owed those whom we entrust with our security, but with embarrassment.

The jawans – all 30 of them – are hastily whisked out of sight in a fashion reminiscent of slum-clearance drives and, by way of adding gratuitous insult to injury, are reprimanded for daring to embarrass the government. Oh well – at least their new lodgings are near a public toilet; they no longer will have to use a police van for such basic private functions as changing their underwear, so perhaps we are making progress after all.

Excuse me, but I think I will spend this first anniversary of 26/11 following the cricket, while allowing the commemorative noise pollution to pass me by. Partly because tamasha as headline bait is not to my taste; partly because the bitter aftertaste of optimism remains strong.

A year ago, I had written this after the one-week-after rally at the Gateway. It was a particularly charged week, one replete with so many possibilities.

One friend asked me to help put together a national movement to turn the pressure on the government and keep it there until constructive, measurable action was taken to make this country safer for all of us.

Among other things, I was asked to help draft a manifesto that would in its final form be handed over to the government; the follow up, my friend said, would be weekly protest meetings outside Mantralaya – and an escalating national movement that would begin in New Delhi, Bangalore etc and then spread all over – designed to keep the pressure on, and to keep the issue alive in the minds of the public and the media.

Our trouble, my friend argued persuasively, is that when something happens we make some noise in the immediate aftermath, and then move on with our lives. Not this time, he vowed – we will unite, we will use every available tool at our disposal to hold the government’s feet to the fire and keep it there.

Catching fire from my friend’s spark, I worked late night on that draft manifesto, then spent hours nightly on email, trying – again at his insistence – to round up people who could help design and execute a web site that would serve as the home base of the nationwide protest movement [Incidentally, my apologies to the few dozen people who immediately volunteered their time, money and energy – and saw it all go for nothing].

On Thursday of week two, I called my friend, to confirm where the protest meeting would be. “Sorry, dude, I won’t be able to make it or take a hand in organizing it – have some urgent personal business to attend to,” he said. And that, as it turned out, was that.

Elsewhere, sundry groups organized the 26/11 version of the BJP’s famed chintan bhaitaks to ‘figure out what we do next’. Of the nearly half a dozen such that I attended, I most vividly remember one, hosted by a noted restaurateur/society couple. Two dozen people, representing every ‘society’ and ‘activist’ stereotype you can think of, attended; they sat in a circle in a very large hall and talked, appropriately enough, in circles, offering solutions that ranged from not voting in the next general elections [a suggestion I suspect all those who attended religiously followed, not that anyone noticed] to organizing a ‘Mumbai-to-Delhi march’ in a cavalcade of cars [No, don’t ask how you march in cars].

Oh well. The smoked salmon sandwiches served at the event were totally brilliant [not so much the tuna version – I suspect the tuna came out of a can; never quite the same as fresh tuna, as an attendee remarked].

Those two signposts — CRPF jawans crapping, peeing and bathing in the shadow of the Gateway and those divine smoked salmon sandwiches – perfectly bookend our response, as a government and as a society, to one of the worst terrorist attacks, worldwide, in recent memory.

The least we could do is avoid noise pollution, no? Especially when much of it is designed around commercial considerations: check out, for instance, Idea’s idea of donating all money made from calls in a one hour window to the police fund. And this thing that landed up in my mailbox just now, saying — no wait, the language is too good to paraphrase [and surely the least a media house can do is draft a decent press release?]:

India Pauses to unite at 8:58 P.M. on 26th Nov at Zee News Ltd.
New Delhi, November 25, 2009

As a tribute to the bravery of Indians, Zee News Ltd would create a Road
Block and pause transmission at 8:58 pm on November 26 for two minutes. All
channels under Zee News Ltd, with reach across the length and breadth of the
country and deep regional penetration, would come to a still. The roadblock
is an attempt by Zee News to acknowledge the undying spirit of Indians and
an appeal to stand up against terrorism and put “India First”.

In this endevour, Zee News had recently launched a special campaign under
the aegis of 26/11. Ab Aur Nahin’. It started with the objective of
highlighting the heroic stand and sacrifice of those bravehearts who lost
their lives. The iniciative also appealed to people to partner in the
mission to make India a terrorism free country.

This mission taken up by Zee News Ltd. initiative has received enormous
support from entire media fraternity. This will help spread the message of
uniting India for a peaceful country. Being a 360 degree marketing campaign
the word would be spread through Print, SMS, Radio & other interesting and
engaging web activities. Zee News has gained the support of various well
known personalities like Katrina Kaif, Kiran Bedi and Abhishek Bachchan in
its journey to fight against violence.

PS: On a totally unrelated note, the Indibloggies voting booth is now open. In a year where the single recurrent theme on my blog has been applications for leave of absence, I feel a bit false about asking for votes. But on the list of nominees are some outstanding blogs, including several that have time and again been linked to from here. Do vote; blogging in India is at that stage where it can use all the encouragement it can get.

Hits and misses

Those who have been watching cricket closely and reporting on it reckon they can tell when Virender Sehwag has been given a talking to by his captain and/or coach. The tell lies in the way he bats in the opening overs of the knock he plays immediately after that jawing.

The first recorded instance of such a dressing down [a fairly strong word to use for what, in Sehwag’s case, is almost always a mild remonstration] was when John Wright took him to task, some months after Sehwag had been promoted to open. John, wincing in nostalgic bemusement, once recounted that conversation after a beer or three, and as far as I recall, it went like this:

“Viru, for fuck’s sake, this is a Test match, you don’t have to play all your shots in the first over.”

“Okay.”

“I’m not saying don’t play shots,” says Wright, somewhat taken aback by the demure acceptance of his strictures. “Just give the first hour to the bowlers.”

“Why?”

“Because after that you can hit all the shots you want, you can bat all day. Don’t you want to do that, murder the bowling all day?”

“Yes. But why give the first hour to the bowler if he bowls me a half volley first ball?”

John had a penchant for extremely colorful language, so I’ll leave out the rest of a conversation that, even in reminiscent mode, caused the then coach to turn a rare shade of puce. Anyway, you get the idea.

Today he ‘gave the first hour to the bowler’ – and it was excruciating to watch. It always is with batsmen of this type, whose every kinesthetic sense screams hit, while an external voice in the ear says block. After 11 overs he had inched his way to six off 24 balls [not coincidentally, India’s run rate at the time was 2.3 – the lowest it would touch all day].

And then, the transformation. The closest analogy is a school kid who, having gritted his teeth and worked his way through math homework, flings the hated book aside and dashes out into the open air to join his friends at play, secure in the knowledge that he has satisfied the parental diktat.

Almost, in these atypical starts of his, you can imagine that point where he looks up at the dressing room, semaphoring to his mates ‘Okay, have I been responsible enough for you? Can I be me now?’

It is good advice, actually – if he does rein in his atavistic impulses initially, he becomes unstoppable, and makes up lost ground in no time. [Equally good, as again evidenced by his final tally of 133 in 122 balls, is the other advice he constantly gets: Bat in ODIs like you do in Tests, why don’t you?] Only, his mates feel free to offer it to him [and the batsman will stand still for it] only after Sehwag has thrown away a few knocks by trying too hard too early.

A statistical measure of the value of that advice: after 30 overs, India had made 169/0 [and 232/0 after 41 – that is, less than half the day’s quota — when Viru got out]. If it was a one day game, the stands would have been in a state of permanent eruption; in Tests, that rate of scoring is just flat out absurd.

If backing Sehwag to open is one of the very few occasions I’ve had to pride myself on a measure of perspicacity, suggesting in numerous blog posts that Gautam Gambhir would never make it as opener is among my more monumental follies.

I watched him bat early in his career and found a guy unsure of the area around his off stump; a guy, too, who was so aware of his weakness that he seemed to over-reach himself, play too many shots way too early in a bid to deflect the bowler’s attention from his deficiencies.

What I failed to see then is the steel core that has emerged of late; a quiet determination to parlay his skill sets into as many runs as he can possibly manage. More than Sehwag, whose tendency to get bored means he constantly under-achieves, Gambhir has discovered a reservoir of ruthlessness that enables him to grind the opposition down, to maximize every opportunity he gets. And he’s ridden that strength to a dream run of four Test centuries in sequential Tests, and seven three figure knocks in his last nine Tests. Who would have thought…?

But more than the weight of runs scored, individually and collectively, what caught the eye is the complementary nature of their association.

Distressingly often, we’ve seen — and commented on — the phenomenon of one batsman’s struggles, or even his deliberately obdurate defense, taking the wind out of the sails of his partner. Sehwag and Gambhir provide a lesson in the opposite: when his partner was struggling early on in his innings, Gambhir took the onus on himself to score runs at a fair rate so Sehwag could find his feet minus pressure. More on Sehwag’s innings here, and on the theme of batting in pairs here.

Once the two Delhi mates team up to construct a platform [233 runs in 41.2 overs at 5.6 with Gambhir contributing 98 to Sehwag’s 131], the rest is mathematical for this batting lineup  against what by then was a dispirited, disheartened fielding side [the loneliest man on the field must have been Mahela, who should have held Viru before he had scored but for a tyro keeper distracting him].

With Dravid and Tendulkar at bat and looking in goodtouch, and Laxman, Yuvraj and Dhoni to follow on a wicket currently vying for high honors in the batting beauty pageant, the better part of day two should see more of the same. Or so one hopes – India can easily undo all the good work by getting into attritional mode, and letting the Lankan bowlers and fielders get a second wind.

On a day that saw 413 runs being scored, though, the best blow was probably struck some 15 minutes before start of play, when MS Dhoni won the toss and took first strike.

The last Test played at Green Park lasted all of three days, and by the third innings the wicket was already so bad, Harbhajan Singh opened the bowling for India against South Africa.

Commentators are already salivating about this track breaking up by day three and turning at impossible angles, but I suspect that is half hope, half hype; the wicket will likely turn [which takes no expertise to predict, given this Test is being played in India] but I suspect from what I saw on day one that the turn is going to be on slow bordering on very slow.

SL could well collapse – but if it does, it will be the weight of runs that breaks its back, not raging turn; I’d even go on a limb and suggest that Ojha and to an extent Yuvraj could be more influential than Bajji in his current flat-and-quick avatar.

Batting, though, was always going to be at its best on days one and two, and Dhoni did his team a favor by getting the coin toss right [maybe it is a science after all].

The question is, now what? The wicket is already on the slow side and will get slower [the best indication is that Dravid and Tendulkar have already begun playing the ball, especially the spinners, as late as they possibly can]. India is punting big time on Sreesanth as Zahir’s opening partner [the gamble would be that his time in the wilderness has given Sree enough motivation to prove himself]. Bajji hasn’t for the longest time been half the bowler he can be, and it is hard to see a turnaround here. That leaves Ojha, on a test drive before the selectors and team management makes up its collective mind whether he is worth the investment [IMHO he is the one to groom as your spin spearhead].

All of that translates into an under-strength attack against a good batting lineup. The morning of day two might not seem the best point in time to call a game – but what odds are you giving me that this match will get progressively more boring as it goes along, and we end up with a second successive draw?

PS: Appreciate all the kind words and good wishes on my post about moving to Yahoo. Unable to reply individually cos these next few days look to be fairly chaotic, for reasons you can appreciate. Oh, and for those asking, the blog will remain active even after my move.

Personal update…

…and some self-promotion:

News reports and other sources probably tipped you guys off by now; I wanted to wait till things were buttoned down, though. Now that they are: I will be leaving Rediff, which has been home to me since October/November 1995 [and also leaving Mumbai, which has been my home since December 1989] and moving to the Bangalore office of Yahoo, hopefully likely by January 2 at the latest.

I noticed some questions both in mail and on the previous post on the ‘Why Yahoo?’ lines — those are questions I’d prefer to leave alone for the time being. Leaving Rediff is a wrench, since I’ve been here before there was a ‘Rediff’; it is a decision I’ve agonized over for the better part of a year and now, for better or worse, it’s made.

Again, there were some questions about the why of it — and the best answer I can give is, it is time. 14 years is by far the longest I’ve worked at any one job — the previous highest was three years at Mid-Day, and the same span of time at Sunday Observer, and both times I left because I was bored.

When you work with one outfit for a prolonged period of time, it breeds a certain comfort level [more so in a place like Rediff edit, peopled with colleagues/friends I have worked with, and been part of the lives of, for 20 years now] which in turn breeds a certain sort of mental laziness; you get to where you are coasting through your work, without really challenging yourself to think outside of the organizational template. Couple that need to shake myself out of my comfort zone with certain personal/familial issues that I’ve been coping with, and change was mandated.

There’s much to nail down ahead of the move, so now you know why blogging has been — and will for a while continue to be — sporadic [am likely off again tomorrow, but will be back here Wednesday].

Now for the self-promotional bit: a mail from the organizers just informed me that I have been nominated for the Indibloggies awards this year — in two categories, yet. Flattered, but more than that, faintly surprised to receive the blog nomination in a year where my blogging has been very sporadic, unlike my fellow nominees in that category. The norm, as I understand it, is to ask the regulars among you to back me with your votes, but I’ll avoid the impassioned appeal — outside of the Bhim posts, I’ve been way too erratic to ask for your votes with a straight face.

I notice I’ve also been nominated in the Twitter category — and that’s bitter-sweet. I signed up for Twitter [like I sign up for anything new and potentially interesting in the social media space] to walk through the thing and figure out what it was all about and where it was coming from, but for over a year I never felt the need to post. Then 26/11 happened — and by day two, the visceral nature of those attacks, the immediacy, the need to share what I was seeing and hearing and to hear from others, combined to get me posting.

Often, you come across great reading material without however having anything to add to it. Before I figured out what Twitter could do, I tended to save them to my delicious; Twitter with its micro-blogging function is just perfect for such: a ‘Reading now: Link’ is all it takes to spread the word.

[And while on 26/11, spreading the word about good reads and such, if you read only one thing today, make it this: Jason Motlagh’s superb recreation of 26/11 in the Virginia Quarterly Review. Der Spiegel’s recreation of 9/11 was, I thought at the time, the best reportage to have come out of that event; this one by Motlagh almost, but not quite, touches that height. Or maybe the comparison is unfair — Spiegel’s was a team effort, and intended as a book; this is one man, solo, attempting to make sense in a land where quality information is hard to come by, and writing it originally as a series of blog posts. Very evocative — go read].

Back to self-promotion: my friend Jai Arjun Singh [whose blog Jabberwock is a hugely deserving nominee in the ‘Humanities’ category] had written some great commentary on the epics, on Chitra Divakarunni’s Palace of Illusions and related subjects before I’d started my recreation of Bhim [the full version]. When I started writing my transcreation of MT’s work, Jai and I had some fairly extended email conversations on related matters; some of what we spoke about has come together in a lovely review of Bhim that Jai wrote for the Business Standard. Tempted to include a clip or two, but will avoid — the piece flows so beautifully, it needs to be read in full.

Right — need to get back to re-organizing my life [thankfully, the cricket was so incredibly boring, the less said the better]. Away from blog today and tomorrow; back here Wednesday. Random riffs, as always, on Twitter.