Teen spirit

Courtesy Cricinfo’s reliable surfer, stumbled on this Sandeep Dwivedi piece on the team for the upcoming U-19 World Cup — led by the scion of Udaipur’s temple priest community. As the likes of Virat Kohli and Ravinder Jadeja fight to establish their berths in the national squad, this comes as a handy primer to the next cull of talent.

Indibloggies: felicitations

The Indibloggies 2008 results are out, and several favorites [including some good friends] have won in their respective categories.

The big winner is Arnab, whose Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind takes the palm in both ‘best indiblog’ and ‘most humorous’ categories. Icing on the cake: the blog is now a Hall of Famer — which, like Amit Varma’s entry into the Hall this year, is great news for the rest of us since it means we don’t have to compete with Arnab here on 🙂

Ramesh Srivats, another good friend, wins the ‘microblog’ award. But naturally — he is my personal port of call for the news of the day, served up with a twist of irony. And oh yes, Gaurav Mishra — another friend, another daily read — wins in the ‘business’ category.

Great to see the breadth of the winning slate, actually — blogging in India is gradually moving from dilettante activity to serious discourse, and how good is that?!

Direct remedies

In an earlier post, I’d linked to a Chandrahas Choudhury article that offered a rare peak into the workings of the batsman’s mind. Now, courtesy Suresh Menon and Tehelka, an anecdote guaranteed to make you wonder, the next time Viru hits a ball out of the park:

What kind of man is this innocent assassin who has elevated batting, and thinking, to a level of such simplicity? The story that captures him best has been told often enough, but it bears repetition here. England batsman Jeremy Snape pointed out in a match where they were batting together that he was having a problem with the reverse swing. Perhaps it was the ball that was aiding it? Don’t worry, Sehwag told him, I will hit this ball out of the stadium and then they will have to find another ball. And he proceeded to do exactly that. The replacement didn’t swing as much.

This was not arrogance so much as a desire to help out a colleague. It is entirely possible that if Snape didn’t have a problem, Sehwag might have merely pushed the ball for a single. Or not. After all, unpredictability is the cornerstone of his batting. As soon as the bowler thinks he has figured out Sehwag, he does something so unexpected that it is back to the drawing board again. Sehwag only needs to hear the sound the bat makes when it meets the ball to know he is on track. When he is going well it is a treat to the ears as well as to the eyes.

Culpable homicide

#Why is it that the ICC gets its truss in a knot when 10 wickets fall in a day’s play, or when a pitch takes turn, but is totally silent when it comes to pitches on which a grand total of 825 runs are scored in one hundred overs?

Rajkot was, not to put too fine a point on it, an unmitigated disgrace — if bowlers had unions, they would be organizing a gherao outside the curator’s home around now. We’ve had — distressingly often — ‘batting beauties’ in the past, but this wicket was something else: no matter what you bowled — pace, spin and every variation in between — the ball did just one thing: it sat up and begged to be hit.

To speak of the batting feats of Sehwag, Tendulkar, Dhoni, Dilshan, Sangakkara and others would be a travesty — the real heroes of the game yesterday were the bowlers who ran in ball after ball, knowing that ‘victory’, on this ground, was the difference in whether they were hit for a four or a six. Maybe the innovation the ODI format really requires is a rule change that permits teams to have 11 batsmen, and for all the bowling to be done by machines calibrated to serve up 300 half volleys per innings.

#It occurs to me, too, that if some smart entrepreneur were to bring bullfighting into this country as a professional sport, that would be the end of cricket. The crowds that infest our cricket stadia increasingly want blood sport, not cricket. They want Indian batsmen to hit sixes off every ball, and Indian bowlers to take a wicket every over; the silence with which they greeted a brave charge by Dilshan [who, on the day, outperformed even Sehwag with ease] and some classical hitting by Sangakkara, was disgraceful to say the least.

#For all the reasons above, parsing the Indian team’s performance on the day is pointless, yet one point occurs that will, I suspect, recur in course of this series.

The first relates to the question of opening bowlers. You have 414 on the board. You know that the wicket is dead. You want to somehow winkle out a wicket or two early, while the ball at least has hardness going for it. So why on earth would you bowl your best strike bowler as first change?

Zaheer bowled first change for the same reason Ishant has been doing it in recent times — because Praveen Kumar just cannot bowl first change; at his pace, he will be slaughtered on any but the most responsive of wickets. Strikes me that is a half-smart way of managing a bowling attack — because you insist on shoe-horning Praveen into the side, you are forced to use your best bowlers as stock, and that means you lose out both coming and going.

It seems fairly axiomatic that the bowler you pick for a particular slot should be the one best suited to that slot; thus, if Praveen Kumar is given the new ball, it needs to be because he is best fitted to use it, not because he cannot be used in any other position. Equally, for example, if Zaheer and Ishant are your best new ball bowlers, you need to give them the new ball — and then, from available options, pick the best possible number three. Fail to do that, and you not only have a less than penetrative opening attack, you end up blunting the edge of the one bowler who can be your spearhead.

In passing, watching Ashish Nehra bowl yesterday — except at the very end — was an exercise in wanton masochism. Granting that the wicket offered him nothing, Nehra made things worse for himself by carefully picking out the exact wrong line [and/or length] to bowl, at every available opportunity. MS for instance set a packed off field for Dilshan, with on occasion a short cover as an attacking option.

The field cried out for bowlers to bowl as wide as legally possible outside off, and force the batsmen to play into the packed field. Nehra promptly pitched middle and leg or, if by accident he strayed onto off stump, pitched the ball at that precise back of length spot that was guaranteed to invite the batsman to go back and thump through the untenanted off side.

If this was the first time Nehra was losing control to this extent, you could put it down to the mind-melt consequent on bowling on concrete — but this was precisely the problem he had during the T20s as well, so maybe it is time someone spent quality time with the guy.