‘Interviewing’ Sehwag

Hey, had you guys read this piece in the New Yorker’s blog?

It came apropos, in a way. I had just finished re-reading two books on tennis that take a match-eye view of the sport: L Jon Wertheim’s Strokes of Genius [sample here for those new to this book; and here’s a treasure trove of Wertheim’s classic writing for Sports Illustrated] on the 2008 Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, aka ‘the greatest tennis match ever played‘ [another excerpt], and Peter Bodo’s The Clay Ran Red.

One thing about books is how reading one inevitably prompts you to read, or in my case re-read, another, related book — thus, those two books and a brief conversation about Genius with a friend on Twitter led me back to my fairly shopworn copy of Marshall Jon Fisher’s A Terrible Splendorwhich then prompted a re-visit to John McPhee’s Levels of the Game [sample chapter], which had first appeared as a two-part essay in the New Yorker [You’ll see links in the blog post linked to at the start here].

Besides being among the finest examples of sports journalism imaginable, those books share another commonality: they look at a sport through the prism of a singular rivalry: Rafa/Fedex, Ashe/Graebner, Don Budge/Gottfriend von Cramm… [In this, the construct differs from Johnette Howard’s The Rivals, where the focus is on the rivalry between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, with the sport forming a broader canvas against which this story plays out [Sample Chapter].

Tennis with its gladiatorial, one on one action uniquely lends itself to rivalries unlike say cricket — and yet, I sometimes wish a quality journalist had attempted to interpret the sport through the prism of the clash of individual practitioners [Shane Warne versus Sachin Tendulkar down the years, anyone?].

Actually, I’d argue that in comparison with the great books on tennis and even team games like soccer, cricket just has not produced any outstanding literature down the years. You are left either with (auto)biographies of varying quality, or ‘tour diaries’ and such. Wonder why. [And while on that, two of the finest writers on cricket/sports are in the final stages of publishing their books this year. I don’t know what their books are going to be about, yet — but, can’t wait.]

So anyway, to continue this ramble, here’s the money quote from the blog post cited above:

Williams plays with a certain stern aloofness, a level of evenness that has no doubt helped her as she has won seven major championships. This is also how she talks to reporters, and as I sat listening to her and to other players answer questions one after the other, I thought about the theory that their individual styles of parrying with the media matched closely with their individual styles of play. John McPhee made a similar point when he wrote in this magazine,

A person’s tennis game begins with his nature and background and comes out through his motor mechanisms into shot patterns and characteristics of play. If he is deliberate, he is a deliberate tennis player; and if he is flamboyant, his game probably is, too.

Is that true? Can we, based on how a player behaves and how he talks, gain pointers to how he will likely play his game? Here’s a little thought experiment, in the form of an “interview” with Viru Sehwag. [Note that this interview never happened — I’m merely reversing the process, looking at what he has said at various times on Twitter, and framing probable questions that could have elicited those responses.]:

So — you don’t really like giving long interviews, do you?

Successful people always have 2 things on their lips…smile and silence..!

Right. Anyway. Of late, your career seems to be cyclical: you get into awesome form, then injury intervenes, you are off the map for a bit, then you come back and have to build up to that form all over again. After a point, doesn’t this get hard? Wouldn’t you far rather have an uninterrupted run at the top of your game?

Hard times r like washing machine,they twist,turn n knock us around,but in the end we come out cleaner,brighter n better than before

Smooth roads nvr make u gud drivers. Problem free life nve makes u strong person. So nvr ask life, WHY ME?Instead challenge it & say TRY ME!

Your mates say you are not a good one for taking advice — you’ll listen, but do your own thing anyway. Surely there is someone you listen to?

Listen2our elders advice nt bcoz thy r always right but bcoz thy’ve more xperiences of being wrong.how true but v still dn’t want2understand

So what is the best advice you ever got?

“If we play with energy poise and unselfishness, we will be playing the game the right way.”

Cricket right now is in turmoil, with corruption allegations surfacing all over again just when we thought that was a thing of the past. Your thoughts?

sea is common to all,some take pearls,some take fisheset n some out with wet legs. World is common to us.We take what we look for.

People say,”Find good people & leave bad ones.”But it should be,”Find the good in people & ignore the bad in them.”No one is perfect.

But surely all these controversies are unwanted obstacles at a time when cricket — especially traditional cricket — is struggling for survival?

Obstacles r those frightful things u see when u take ur eye off frm ur goal.

To change the topic: you missed what would have been a great century thanks to Suraj Randiv’s no-ball. Reactions?

Right effort has to do with unselfishness and working to benefit the team.

Yeah, well, with the benefit of time and distance you can be philosophical, but at the time you must have been desperately unhappy?

If u wait for happy moments,u will wait forever. But if u start believing that u r happy,u will be happy forever.

Oh come on — you’ve always been scrupulously fair in your on-field dealings so when someone cheats you out of a landmark for sheer cussedness you must have felt pissed off big time? You are human, no?

expecting from the world to be good to u coz u r good to them..is just like expecting from the lion not to eat u coz u r a vegetarian..!!

The depth of ur Personality will b revealed by the way u respond to situations u dislike…

Okay, but still — do you think such needless gamesmanship is justified?

In our real life,v know very well,what is right,true n justified. Problem is,v can’t follow it from our side,but v expect it from others.

So you never got angry at the time?

Remember, even iron becomes weak when its hot. Stay cool & u will always be strong.

Time and again, you play sublime cricket — and then your mates stuff up, give their wickets away. It is almost as if there is one set of bowlers bowling to you, and another, far better, set to them. It’s almost supernatural, the way you make it all look easy.

champions r not supernatural,they just fight one more second whn everyone else quits,sometimes one second of effort gives u the victory.

Every time we see you bat, we are left with one thought: if only you had batted longer! Have you ever thought of curbing, or at least tempering, your natural game so you can maximize the time you spend at the crease?

fight with ur strength,not with others weakness bcoz true success lies in ur efforts not in others defeat.

And so on. Here — go make up your own interviews [the media does it anyway, vide this PTI story at the height of the Suraj Randiv fracas, so why not you?]; there’s tons of good material on Viru’s Twitter stream.

By way of bonus, here’s another way of doing this — an ‘interview’ with Kanye West. Brilliant! And, tangentially related, here’s a favorite writer, Susan Orlean, on why a crowded city is just one big Twitter stream.

And just for fun — there is a weekend coming up, and I don’t intend to log on and give you guys company — here’s some related reading matter: A Chandrahas Choudhary classic, where he sat with Viru and had him talk through a seminal knock; and here’s Hash on watching Viru bat.

Enjoy your weekend; see you Monday.

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Out, damned spot

Our TV channels yesterday dreamt up an interesting storyline to harp on: The PCB, so went the narrative, was back-pedalling on its initial ‘tough action’ stance, and was now paving the way for the inevitable whitewash by mooting a ‘conspiracy’ to ‘defame’ Pakistan cricket. [Did you know that it was RAW that held a gun to the heads of innocent cricketers and forced them into fixing? No, seriously].

‘Evil’ cannot exist without a corresponding ‘Good’, as any kid who knows his Ramayan will tell you — so in furtherance of this narrative, the talking heads set up the ICC president as the good guy, the one who was talking tough, asserting the body’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy, facing down the Pak board.

Compelling — and so incredibly funny.

The ICC president, now blazing away in the service of all that is good, was the same guy who wrested control from the Jagmohan Dalmiya group promising much: complete transparency; a website on which the BCCI would periodically inform the public about its doings and publicize its statements of accounts; professionalism… ah heck, you know the list.

During his tenure and that of his handpicked successor, none of these promises materialized. He did, however, deliver on some line items he had not made part of his election manifesto — among them, the complete rehabilitation of a player who was deemed guilty of match fixing by the very same board, and banned for life.

Said ICC president and his personally chosen successor are so invested in a ‘zero tolerance’ policy that they agreed to allow the ICC’s anti-corruption unit to monitor the 2009 edition of the IPL. Remember how that came about?

The ICC offered the services of its unit; the BCCI sat on the request for months, taking no action whatsoever. When the news hit the media, the BCCI pushed back, saying the ICC was charging an inordinate sum for its services. It turned out that the ICC’s bill for having its inspectors present at all venues, rigorously covering the games and off-field activities, was $1.2 million — a paltry sum when contrasted with what the BCCI was earning from the IPL. When its ‘exorbitant charge’ excuse began to look threadbare, the BCCI promised to ‘study the issue’ and ‘arrive at a solution’. It finally did — on April 17, 2009, it told the ICC that the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit was welcome to monitor the IPL.

The catch? The BCCI had green-lighted the ACSU late afternoon of the day before the IPL actually kicked off. In other words, by sitting on the proposal for months, the BCCI had effectively ensured that the ACSU would not have the time to deploy its personnel to provide adequate safeguards [typically, the ACSU works on a series or tournament two to three months before the start deadline].

It is commonly accepted that the betting syndicate really came into its own with the proliferation of unstructured tournaments in Sharjah, Toronto and elsewhere [again, think of who authorised and pushed through those tournaments]. Such meaningless cricket encounters made it easy for players, who had little or nothing invested in the results, to succumb to succulent lures.

A similar situation has been emerging thanks to the laissez faire nature of the IPL, with its relaxed dug out rules, its after hours parties fueled by much wine, unsupervised mingling, and nubile women trucked in by those who deal in that commodity to warm cricketers’ beds. And that makes you wonder — why is the Indian board so resistant to supervision of the IPL?

It was always known that Pawar’s benevolent hand over Lalit Modi’s head was what enabled the ‘IPL Commissioner [Suspended]’ to do what he pleased. In recent times, it has turned out that Sharad Pawar, his daughter and sundry relatives have their hands in the IPL till. Equally, it is common knowledge that Shashank Manohar has played the role of willing water-boy for Pawar [You do know that Manohar’s daddy is counsel in residence for the NCP, yes? Just one in a spiderweb of interconnections — the two only fell out when Manohar sided with Shashi Tharoor over the franchise auctions, and Pawar for his own reasons wanted the franchises to go elsewhere.], Srinivasan and others in the power elite, using the fig leaf of his authority as BCCI president to help deflect questions about their involvement.

Seriously – how do you write ‘zero tolerance’ and ‘Sharad Pawar/BCCI’ in the same sentence without busting a gut laughing?

The larger point is that current reactions to the spot-fixing controversy has mirrored what has gone before. Every single time cricket comes in the crosshairs, the official reaction has been to appease the fans’ anger by handing down ‘salutary’ punishment to a couple of players, move on, and hope that once the fans have forgotten, the same players can be brought back in, in various capacities, through the backdoor. Or, better yet, climb on the moral high horse and pretend that nothing untoward happened at all.

[Just as an example of the latter, consider this: Why was Salim Malik banned? Because Justice Qayyum, during his hearings into organized corruption, decreed that “he was 100 per cent guilty” of various offenses, including bribing Mark Waugh and Shane Warne to adversely impact on the result of the Karachi Test of the 1994-’95 series. However, the ACB has routinely maintained that Waugh and Warne never took the money. One of the two sides is clearly lying — I mean, if the two Aussie players never took the money, how in hell can Malik be “100 per cent” guilty of giving it? What, the bundle of cash fell somewhere in between the two?]

At no point in the tangled history of cricket corruption has any official, either individually or collectively as a board, ever been questioned regarding his actions. We could look at examples from recent Pakistan cricket history, of players publicly suspected, axed, and promptly rehabilitated. On each occasion, the focus has remained on the player; never do we ask who brought him back, and what that official’s stake was in the rehabilitation.

This tendency is hardly new. Remember Mohammad Azharuddin? The man Sunny Gavaskar once said, after watching his performance in a Sharjah tournament, that he was “running as if there was no tomorrow, and if he keeps running like this there won’t be”? Then Board secretary JY Lele endorsed that view, and on record said Azhar should not be picked for national duty again, remember? And then this happened. We — present company included — questioned why the selectors had done what they did [Followers of fashion might have, at the time, noticed spiffy new Patek Phillippe watches on some selectorial wrists]; we never however questioned who the shadowy figure behind the scenes was, who over-ruled even his own number two and brought Azhar back.

Then, once the Outlook story broke, Dalmiya strenuously, repeatedly, insisted that there was no corruption in cricket. When the shit storm got too hot to handle, he got hold of a fire-extinguisher by the name of Chandrachud, a former jurist known to be inordinately fond of a flutter, and who told us, with soap opera sincerity, about his earnest desire to ‘do something for cricket‘. Boy, did he, just! In case you have forgotten just how much whitewash was then applied, here’s links to two stories I wrote at the time: one, the day before the verdict was to be announced; the other, reviewing the verdict.

Thing though is, Chandrachud was acting on instructions. We blew a raspberry at his report, but we never once questioned why the then BCCI boss was bending over backwards to try and brush all allegations under the carpet [later, when the government got involved and ordered a CBI inquiry, Dalmiya pushed back, refusing to accept the CBI’s involvement in what he said was an internal affair of a private body]; why he was repeatedly involving the authority of office to bring Azhar back into the side. What did Dalmiya have to gain? Did we ask? No — just as we don’t ask questions of Pawar and gang, or of the PCB, today.

The hidden story of corruption in cricket is the story of sundry officials [and, please, let’s not talk of this as a purely ‘sub-continental’ phenomenon — boards across the cricketing world have been complicit, at various times, in various ways, in covering things up] who have, through their acts of omission and commission, created an atmosphere that, if not outright facilitating corruption on the part of players, at least condones it in nudge-wink fashion. And unless the official role in corruption becomes part of the conversation, we are never going to resolve this issue for good. At best, we will kill off the careers of a couple of cricketers, the circus will go underground for a while, and resurface once the dust has settled [Qayyum, if you recall, had issued strictures against the two Ws of Pakistan cricket, back in the day; today, their successors, the two brilliant Ms, are being accused of pretty much the same sort of offense. What is common? A board in denial.]

Spot fixing is not new, despite the media’s breathless seizing on that phrase with all the eagerness of a kid with a new toy [Hey, what did Herschelle Gibbs say he took money from Hansie Cronje for? To score under 20 [It’s a different matter that he then had amnesia and went on to score 74]. Williams? To give more than 50 runs in his 10 overs. And so on, so there you go.]

It is also among the most difficult ‘crimes’ to spot, and take action against. While on that, read Osman Samiuddin’s prescient piece from earlier this year.

Now we know it doesn’t matter what Tendulkar does, for the reality, as the ACSU’s first comprehensive report revealed in 2001, was far more complex. They called it occurrence-fixing, but soon Rashid Latif would give it a far more evocative name: fancy-fixing, which opens up cricket’s vast statistical landscape. With fancy – or spot – fixing, each ball of a match is effectively an event, an opportunity to bet and thus an opportunity to fix. It emerged that bets were being taken on the outcome of the toss, the number of wides or no-balls in a specific over, the timing and specifics of declarations, individual batsmen getting themselves out under a specific score, even field settings.

A visit last year in Karachi to an individual familiar with the world of bookies was mind-altering: bets were placed on what the first-innings total in a county match would be by lunch on the first day, or how many overs a bowler would bowl in the first hour of a session or a day, or on how much difference there would be in first-innings totals, or on how many runs a specified group of players would make. It didn’t stop.

Paul Condon, among others, also explained why spot fixing is difficult to control, in his exit interview from anti-corruption duties:

It is a wonderful game, but if you were designing a game to fix, you would design cricket, because it is a whole series of discreet events, and every ball you can bet on. You can’t guarantee a throw-in or a free kick in soccer, but if you’re a corrupt player, you can guarantee to do certain things at key moments [in cricket], and if you can bet on that you can make a lot of money. Corruption in any walk of life, whether it’s politics or business or sport, is about human frailty and weakness, and opportunity. Most cricketers are totally sound in their integrity, but one or two still mix with the wrong people.

Condon is also worth reading on how easy it is to get sucked into the circle of corruption — and that brings up another point that has baffled me these last few days.

While some talk of ‘zero tolerance’, there seems to be a section of opinion-makers hell bent on parsing corruption. This lot says, okay, spot-fixing is bad — but hey, it is a lesser evil than match-fixing; spot fixing does not affect the outcome of the game, so the punishment should be less severe.

Really? Firstly, the argument that spot fixing cannot affect the outcome of the game is wooly-headed at best. Consider this: I am a bookie/fixer; I fix certain individual outcomes. For instance, a batsman then in prime form, will not score too many runs. Another batsman will get run out. A bowler for the same team will, while defending a score, give away way too many runs at the top. [That’s a real live example — think Cronje] In each case, I’ve “spot-fixed” certain outcomes. Now tell me that cumulatively, those individually bad performances do not adversely affect the team’s result?

The asinine part of this debate on degree of culpability is that it focuses on the offense the News of the World brought to light — to wit, the bowling of no balls. The apologists therefore go, oh hey, kid bowled a no ball and made a shitload of money, big fricking deal, we should be so lucky. What is ignored, though, is that the bowling of no-balls on cue was merely a demonstration, by a fixer to what he thought was a potential client syndicate, of just how well he could control on-field performance. If this wasn’t NOTW carrying out a sting, but a real betting syndicate ‘inspecting the goods’, as it were, then the demonstration would have convinced them the fixer could do what they wanted him to.

And then the real fix would have begun  – a bad over here, a dropped catch or two there, an underperforming bowler, a maladroit batsman…

Still think it is all innocent, and merits no more than a slap on the wrist? Here’s the corollary: once you start down the route of taking money for performance, there is no stopping; in the words of the famous song, ‘you can check in any time you like…’

So this time a Mohammad Amir takes money to bowl a no-ball. Next time, the team is about to bowl under conditions where someone with talent can literally make the ball talk — and that is when the fixer comes to him and orders him to bowl badly. You think he can say no? Not a chance — once you are caught in the toils of the betting syndicate, you are their’s for life — and that is another reason why you cannot treat ‘spot fixing’ as a lesser crime, deserving of a lesser punishment. [Read Amit Varma on the subject of this crime, and appropriate punishment, here].

There’s a heap of angles to this latest controversy; above, I was merely riffing off points that stood out for me. Here’s one last in that list — a Delhi High Court, no less, has argued that betting should be made legal.

That should gladden the heart of, among others, my libertarian friend Amit Varma, who argued this case way back in 2005. Money quote:

In some ways it is perverse that “betting” and “match-fixing” are treated almost as synonymous terms in India. It is like frowning upon sex because rape is a bad thing. Match-fixing is unambiguously wrong because the player who participates in it is betraying an implicit contract with the fans of the sport, and perhaps an explicit one with his cricket board. Why is betting wrong, though? What justifies it being banned in India?

Speaking from a different perspective, R Mohan once made an identical point to me in course of an interview:

The problem is that we, all of us, tend to forget that these are two different issues. Does betting exist? Of course it does. And perhaps 99 per cent of India’s 950 million population are guilty of it. Have you staked a bottle of beer or a pack of cigarettes on the outcome of a match? If you have, you are gambling — the same as the guy who stakes a million on the same game. There is no law that says a little gambling is legal, but a lot of it is not. Gambling exists, period — andeverybody does it. You gamble when you buy stocks, you gamble when you put your money in a fixed deposit because how do you know if the bank will still be there, and in a position to pay you back, five years later?

The laws in this regard make no sense. I mean, I can walk into any racecourse in the land and bet a million on a particular race, and it is all entered in black and white and perfectly legal. But if I bet a rupee on a cricket match, I am guilty of a crime. Where is the sense in that? And again, if I go to Ladbrookes of London and bet on whether Sachin Tendulkar will score a century in the coming game, say, that is perfectly legal too. So, we have a situation where betting on one sport is legal, the other is not. Where betting on the same sport in one place is illegal, in the other, not. Where is the sense in all this?

If the government had any sense at all, they would legalise booking — I mean, it is not going to go away, is it? And give licenses to bookies. And through these means, add maybe Rs 500 million, Rs 100 million to its treasury.

Thoughts?

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.

Reading matter

If Americans were polled on a single question — “Name the primary grievance behind the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001” — how many would get it right, wonders Girish Sahane on his blog. [Charlie Sheen has his own answer]. Two other 9/11 stories I read this morning: one woman asks if she even wants to know the truth any more, while another [older story that I found through the related links segment] struggles with the guilt that 9/11 changed her life for the better.

Here’s 9/11, as seen at the time from outer space. Elsewhere premiere sand artist Sudharshan Pattnaik pays tribute in the form he knows best. [Unrelated but fun, check out the underwater sculptures of Jaison de Caires Taylor]

Also read, John McWhirter on moving on to a different world.

Elsewhere, Sepia Mutiny on Lisa Ray, the actress currently battling a rare form of cancer. Lisa’s blog here.

Earlier this week on Prospect, there was this story of the coming glut of drugs to mess with improve the mind. Now here’s Wired, with the secrets of eternal smarts.

While we mark the 40th anniversary of the Internet [timeline; a graphic representation of growth], spare a thought for Winston the carrier pigeon.

This week, a South African call-center business, frustrated by persistently slow Internet speeds, decided to use a carrier pigeon named Winston to transfer 4 gigabytes of data between two of its offices, just 50 miles apart. At the same time, a computer geek pushed a button on his computer to send data the old-fashioned way, through the Internet.

Winston the pigeon won. It wasn’t even close.

From LiveScience, the success secret of top tennis players: good eyes. More secrets: the trick to winning big tournaments is to dress smart, and make a noise. Still with tennis: fans, give this a go.

Great read: NYT reporter Stephen Farrell was kidnapped by the Taliban last Saturday — and blogs the experience. In the New Yorker, George Packer on Sultan Munadi, the local journo who died in that same kidnap, and on the relationship between foreign journalists and local fixers.

15 people died in a boating accident in Bulgaria. Madonna caused it. [Hat Tip: Amit Varma on Twitter]

From Cricinfo: the art, craft, and magic of two legendary spin bowlers. Clip:

Thus the myth enters the imagination. So the bowler pays up, and pays up again and again till the batsman coughs it up and hands it over sheepishly. The phrase “buying a wicket” was now de rigueur all of a sudden. It also proceeded to cause endless headaches every time Bedi was bowling. Following the progress of the match became a temporal jigsaw puzzle that had no solution. Every ball was a head-scratcher in itself: furious thinking would ensue as one tried to place it in a pattern initiated overs ago. Or was a new sequence of trickery starting with it? Now, was that a set-up ball, to be cashed in by the Sardar a few overs later, or just a bad one? Or was it just an innocent bridge piece in the composition before the cymbal crash came, causing the batsman to walk back? Wicket balls were the easy ones, and a relief, too, for they reset the puzzle. Yes, those times were magical. The period when the strategy has sunk in but the tactics are shrouded in mystery.

This merits a separate blog post of its own, but in the midst of much, so: Read this and weep — The Allahabad High Court sees fit to not merely set aside the death sentence against Moninder Singh Pandher in the 2006 Nithari killings, but to acquit him altogether. Surinder Koli, the domestic servant who was Pandher’s partner in crime, however gets it in the neck. Figures, no? [Hat tip Sridhar Parthasarathy in email]

Great read: ‘I will not read your fucking script’ — featuring History of Violence writer Josh Olson [Link courtesy Raja Sen]

Back in the day, Manu Joseph had done an impressionistic piece on Anand Jon [linked to in this post] for ToI. He now reprises it, against the frame of Chennai’s college sexuality, for Open magazine.

And the final link for the week: roflmao. Reminds me of the time I told the partner [mine, not Amit’s] that if a person can rattle off at the rate of knots without saying anything in particular, people will take him for an expert on art. Show me, goes the partner. So we wandered into this gallery, and walked around, and I stood in front of a particularly pointless daub and began throwing words together as they came to me: “That red dot in the middle of the large swathe of yellow? It particularly speaks to me — brilliant artistic riff on the human nature. We are all like that — we live our lives in a state of perennial cowardice but somewhere, deep inside, the small spark of anger, of rebellion and revolt, burns deep….” You know — that kind of thing, non-stop. And then I get this nudge and I look around, and I find an audience, half a dozen people nodding on with my every word. Hmph!

Enough of ODIs

Trust Shane Warne to go radical — as part of a six point plan to improve cricket, he suggests that the one-day format [which till just the other day was being hailed as cricket’s lifeblood] has passed its sell-by date.

This is a big call, but cricket evolves and the 50-over game has passed its sell-by date. It’s amazing to think that after the Ashes series England and Australia play seven one-day games, which take about a month. Sorry, but that’s just greed on the part of administrators. From now on, we should be playing Tests and Twenty20 internationals, with a Twenty20 World Cup every two years.

What that could mean in England is a 16-match championship, which produces good, tough cricket at the moment, and the same for Twenty20. And, so that players and spectators know where they stand, let’s have a regular schedule — four-day games from Tuesday to Friday and the Twenty20 on Sunday with a double header each week for TV, games starting at 4pm and 7pm.

Four-day matches should start two hours later than they do at present, at 1pm finishing at 7.30pm. The best time to play in the UK is 5.30 to 7.30, so people could come down after work for the final session. I would introduce a Championship final, played over five days, between the top side in the first division and the winner of a play-off between the counties in second and third spots.

By also eliminating one-day cricket the players would be freed up to spend more time at domestic level, grass-roots cricket and time at home with families. Test cricket is just that — a test of every part of your game. Twenty20 is the entertainment and fun side of the game and also will bring in the big revenue. Under my plan a tour would last roughly five weeks: three Tests with a warm-up game and five Twenty20s in a ten-day period. The Ashes would stay as a five-match series.

In isolation, this might seem like an extreme call — but considered in context of Warne’s other five points, all aimed at a clearly identified goal, it begins to make sense. That said — the whole thing is just so much of a waste of newsprint, since there doesn’t seem to be the remotest chance that the ICC will go with such initiatives — what, give up on its World Cup and its Champions’ Trophy and, more importantly, create a situation where the IPL becomes the annual showpiece on the cricket calendar? Nice try, Shane, but no cigar.