Dharamshala day 1 Match Report

A dozen playing days in this India-Australia series have produced more fairytales than the combined imaginations of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm managed in their lifetime. The latest in the string of unlikely stories to punctuate this see-saw series came in the unlikely shape of debutant left-arm chinaman/googly bowler Kuldeep Yadav.

Everything about his story flirts with the boundaries of probability, beginning with the very fact of his making it to the playing XI. The most foolhardy punter would have hesitated to put spare change on the possibility that with talismanic captain and number four batsman Virat Kohli pulling out with an injured shoulder, the team management would choose as replacement a tyro spinner — more so in a side that already boasts two spinners who have captured the top two ICC rankings.

That he made the side was surprising enough; that he then produced a series of brilliant deliveries to slice through the Australian batting lineup, after the visitors had taken control of the game in a free-flowing first session that produced 131 runs for one wicket in 31 overs stretched credulity to the limit and beyond.

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Spin and other turns

Call it a consequence of growing up watching five great spinners — Bedi, Prasanna, Chandrasekhar and Venkat at the national and state levels, and VV Kumar at the state level: I like spin in its classical form.

Flat, full, quick

Flat, full, quick

The silken approach, the side on action, the high arm, the tantalizing flight and drift of the ball in the air, the sudden descent, the turn as the ball grips the surface, the sight of a batsman with hands and feet and bat and head all in perfect position being made to look silly as the ball lands an inch short of where he expected it to, and turns in a direction and to a degree he did not anticipate — that tantalizing spectacle is something I can used to be able to watch all day, where the sight of a fast bowler sprinting in and slinging them down palls after the first hour or so.

It didn’t matter whether the spinner was left arm or right arm — the mechanics of the craft, and the appeal of the practitioner, all owed to that classicism.

And then there is now.

The other day, I watched Johan Botha bowl. His over, in terms of speed in kmph, went 87/76/89/76/88/75. None of those balls turned, or landed on a different length — the sole variation was the increase and decrease in speed.

Yesterday, I watched Harbhajan Singh bowl. Bajji bowls around the 85k mark, occasionally upping it into the 90s; only rarely does he slow it down and give the ball air. Arre yaar, yeh flight ke peeche kyon pade ho thum log, aasman mein ball phekne mein kaun si badi baath hai?, he asked Faisal Shariff and me once, during a visit to the Rediff office.

Check out the pic to the right: His arm is at full extension and the only place left to go is down; the ball is still in his grip. The release is clearly calculated to send the ball flat, quick through the air, and on close to good length.

Spinner in flight

Spinner in flight

And then Pragyan Ojha came on [again, check that trajectory immediately after release] — and with him, memories of the classical spinners I grew up on came back to mind. It’s all there — the lazy approach, the high arm, the pivot off the front foot, the revs on the ball, the tantalizing progress down the track at speeds of around 71-75k, a heart large enough to challenge the batsman to come after him, even in a format where it is guaranteed that the batsman will have a go… Such joy! [Ojha evokes nostalgia also in Makarand Waingankar, late of KKR and its talent development arm].

Speaking of joys, here’s Andy Zaltzman. Sample clip:

The only possible conclusion from this is that the Ashes are all but in Andrew Strauss’s back pocket already.
Arguably, I might be reading too much into it. But for those looking for omens of an England victory (in the absence of overwhelming scientific evidence pointing that way), in 2005 the Australians suffered a Twenty20 humiliation, losing to England by 100 runs, and went on to lose the Ashes.
Therefore, an England win is surely written in the stars. Admittedly, there are innumerable stars in the sky, and, if you squint hard enough, you can convince yourself almost anything is written in them.

The only possible conclusion from this is that the Ashes are all but in Andrew Strauss’s back pocket already.

Arguably, I might be reading too much into it. But for those looking for omens of an England victory (in the absence of overwhelming scientific evidence pointing that way), in 2005 the Australians suffered a Twenty20 humiliation, losing to England by 100 runs, and went on to lose the Ashes.

Therefore, an England win is surely written in the stars. Admittedly, there are innumerable stars in the sky, and, if you squint hard enough, you can convince yourself almost anything is written in them.

I’ve been ambivalent about l’affaire Andrew Symonds; Mike Atherton appears to share that ambivalence in his latest column in the Times. His opening gambit:

I am an alcoholic. At least I had to sign a form saying I was. Twice, actually. The first time was when England toured Pakistan during the 1996 World Cup, the second when we went to the same country five years later. To get a drink in the bar at the Pearl Continental in Peshawar (tragically obliterated on Tuesday by a bomb) I had to sign a form admitting to alcoholism. So did everyone else who wanted a drink. A team full of alcoholics. No wonder we were no good.

Reminds me of my friend, journalist turned film maker Mahesh [Mahesh Nair, actually, but like rock stars and suchlike, he preferred to be known just by his first name] who when we were working together for Indian Post once did a brilliant feature on drinking. His premise: He wanted to be able to drink legally — and for that you need an official permit.

His story walked the reader through the incredible bureaucracy and the miles of red tape that needed to be coped with before you actually sit down to fill out the form. And it ended with that image: him sitting down with the form — printed solely in English — and a pen.

The first question on it, he says, was: Sharaabi ka naam:

He swallowed the angst of being a self-admitted sharaabi, and filled in the name. Then came question number two:

Sharaabi ka baap ka naam:

At which point he gave up, figuring he couldn’t foist that reflected taint on his poor sainted father.