Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A One-Off Classic !!!

So where were you on Sunday evening ? Match dekha ki nahi ? These were the queries doing the rounds in my office on Monday morning as a cricket-crazy country woke up after an extra-ordinary day. It was most definitely, cricket's 'I-was-there' moment. If you are a bowler, you must probably have wished that the earth would have swallowed you up that day. In any case, I caught only the last 12 overs of the match and settled down to watch the highlights on Monday night. And what I saw disturbed me so much that I actually switched off. Even after discounting that highlights show only the 4s/6s and the wickets (there was not much of those), it was really disheartening to see bowlers being slaughtered the way they were. Good length balls, perfectly acceptable on any other day, were being routinely sent over the fence and not just in one direction. Sixes were hit to all parts of a ground (and this is not some village ground with 50 yard boundaries, it was a significantly big arena we are talking about).

Ayaz Memon has pointed out in today's DNA that after Sunday's match, one-day cricket will never be the same again. I tend to agree with him. I remember during the break, when the TV channels flashed their standard 'breaking news' lines that the Aussies had scored 434, I remember telling my Dad "These guys have broken the previous record of highest team score (395) not by 3-4 runs, but by 39 runs !!!! That is awesome !!". If that was awesome, then the South Africans bettered the record for the highest successful run chase** by a mind-boggling 103 runs !!!!!!! It is when such records occur that the game is changed forever. There is always a sense of achievement about successful run chases. India's two most-recalled wins are the Natwest trophy truimph in 2002 and before that, the Independence Cup win against Pakistan at Dhaka. Both 310+ run chases. Commentators and experts are usually asked at the start of the match 'What you do think is a safe score on this wicket ??'. After March 13, 2006 I am afraid there is no longer a thing as a 'safe' score. Ten years ago, 300 was thought as a safe score on any wicket, about 3-4 yrs back, 300 was replaced by 350. But what now ? What this might do is dissuade teams from batting first especially on a flat track (as most pitches are now). Teams might routinely opt to bat second. And if they have to bat second, they must play to their strengths. So what do they do ? Well, your guess is good as mine. They will pack their side with batsman to give themselves the best chance of chasing and winning. After all, 435 was chased, so surely scores of 350, 370 should be gettable now. So we might have an Indian line up with a decently good bat like Agarkar at No 11 !!!! Have some part-timers who can send down 50 overs somehow and then back yourself to chase any target !!!!. And what if they lose the toss ? then they bat first and try and bat the other side out of the game !!. This would result in a vicious circle where the bowling is weakened which gives rise to even bigger scores, which 3 times out of 10 are chased successfully, thereby inducing teams to further strengthen their batting and so on.... Sounds far fetched ????? Well, I sincerely hope so. But chasing 435 sounded more than far-fetched as well on Sunday !!

To round off, I do hope that Sunday's match be best remembered as a classic, but a one-off classic nevertheless !!! and that South Africa's successful run-chase record is not broken atleast in my lifetime. Or else you might see the death of the bowler in one-day cricket... :(


** Incidentally, the previous best chase was, I think, 332 by New Zealand just a few months ago against the same Aussie side. This tells you that the second rung of the Aussie bowling attack cannot even hold a candle to McGrath and Warne and also, you know what to do while playing the Aussies.

Friday, March 10, 2006

A trip at last....

The last weekend holiday that I had been to was in October 2005 to Ganpatipule. Ever since then, several plans have been thought of, discussed and finalized, only to fall flat at the last moment.
But finally last week, all things finally fell into place and we were finally off to Mahabaleshwar...

Like last time, we started off early on Saturday morning.. this allows for two things, a. you get out of Mumbai very fast (in fact, so fast that we missed the right turn that hits the Goa highway and found ourselves on the Pune Expressway..) and b. you get to see the rising sun and savour the early morning freshness in the atmosphere.. we fairly zipped through the expressway and hit Pune by 8 am for a quick breakfast before proceeding towards Satara.. Being a part of the Golden Quadrilateral, that road is quite good and we moved steadily and got to the MTDC resort in Mahabaleshwar at around 10.30 am.. taking just over 5 hrs for the 320 km journey..

A quick comment on the resort.. MTDC resorts are recommended wherever you go for a holiday.. the best part about them is that they get the best locations in town.. so invariably, you will find an MTDC resort spread over a huge area with individual bungalows, cottages separated by gardens and greenery.. It makes a great relaxing experience..and they are always reasonably priced and offer all the facilities required..

Anyways, coming back to our trip, after a quick breakfast, we were off to Pratapgarh fort (around 20 km). This historic fort is best known as the place where Shivaji killed the Mughal general Afzal Khan. It has a temple on the top alongwith a very good exhibition-sale of handicrafts.. after a quick tour of the place we were back for a long overdue lunch at the resort by around 3 pm.... the lunch was also too good.. or maybe it was because we were so famished.. in any case, after a hearty lunch we hit the sack.. initially we had planned to visit a few points before going to the Bombay (Sunset) Point.. but we got up late and just about managed to reach Sunset Point in time to see the sun dissapear over the western horizon..

BTW it is also called Bombay Point because, apparently, on a clear dark night, you can see the lights of Mumbai about 260 kms to the northwest... seemed difficult to me looking at the haze all around the point.. but nevertheless we managed to get a few good snaps there..

After the sunset, we were off to the main market (with Rang De Basanti and Bluffmaster numbers blaring in our car).. the main market street in Mahabaleshwar is a nice little street.. although it was not nearly full season it was full that Saturday evening.. and the most omnipresent item was, of course, strawberry. It was present in all forms, the fruit itself being sold on the road, or as strawberry shakes or ice-cream with strawberry etc sold at the various ice-cream parlours.. all in all, it was mostly red around.. from the market we went to Vienna Lake at around 9.30 pm.. at that time, of course, the lake was closed and there was hardly anyone around.. but we did manage to find a 'buttawala' around and had one of the sweetest corn that I have eaten.. the lake at that time was looking surreal.. darkness around, stars all over you, alongwith the mist and silence for company... that was followed by dinner alongwith a quick beer and then back to the resort by midnight..

The next morning after breakfast we checked out of the resort and visited whatever points we could cover.. prominent amongst them was Arthur's seat and Elphinstone point.. the former is a good one with a viewing platform from which one can observe the valley both on the west and east... from there we went off to the Mafco's farms and store.. this is the the main firm producing and dealing in strawberry products... and guess what, between the five of us, we picked up an astounding 15 kg of strawberry's, not to mention bottles of strawberry crush etc.. all of this were dumped at the back of the car..

From there it was back to Mumbai via Panchgani with another late lunch at Pune.. while coming back the expressway looked beautiful with the sun setting and our car blazing ahead at 130 kmph in that direction.. it gave the perfect ending to a good and relaxing trip.. here's hoping that the next one is very soon... cheers..

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Road to WC 07 !!

A second consecutive post on cricket.... could not resist it.. :-)

At the end of my last post, I had mentioned that the one-dayers against Pakistan will be a tough challenge for the men in blue, and if they can overcome it, they would be considered genuine contenders in the Carribean. Now that the test has been passed with flying colours (much to the surprise of even the most ardent of supporters), its time to take stock of the team and its chances with almost exactly a year left for the WC to start..

First the question: Is this team a genuine contender for the big prize next year ? Going by the performance in Pakistan (mind you, they defeated a very good side 4-1), one would have to think so.. Most importantly, the team seems to have all the ingredients that make up a good one-day side.. two good openers, one with the swashbuckling style while the other being the once young gun turned senior statesman.. followed by the skipper with his cool head.. then you have the young brigade led by Yuvraj and Kaif and followed by Raina and Dhoni.. its significant that none of these come from the cricketing superpowers of Mumbai, Delhi, Karnataka but from small towns.. and they carry the freshness, energy and fearlessness of youth to the crease.. be it Yuvraj jumping a la Rhodes and plucking the ball, Kaif with his quick steps and hitting ability or Dhoni taking 'just 8 balls' to warm up before going after the leather irrespective of the opponent bowlers and their reputation.. sure they will fail sometimes, but these represent the new Indian team..

The bowling remains one concern though.. although RP Singh and Sreesanth have shown much promise, the bowling needs to be good enough to restrict the opposition, especially when we are fielding second. Except for Pathan, the bowling does not measure up. Agarkar remains inconsistent (and I must confess that I have been a fan of his and am quite dissapointed - also why is he not sent at No 3 remains a mystery to me). In addition, we need Bhajji to get back to form.. because the wickets in the West Indies would probably be slow turners (atleast the ones in Trinidad - where we are playing our league games, and in Antigua and Guyana where the first part of the super eights is happening). Under such conditions, Bhajji would be an important part of the side. In addition, Piyush Chawla is rated highly by whoever has seen him, his progress would be interesting to watch..

The major improvement though has been in the fielding. Besides the trio of Yuvi, Kaif and Raina, we also have some decent fielders in the team - atleast there is no one who needs to be hidden.

The next test will be to see how they cope up in the Carribean in June this year.. we are lucky that we are getting to visit the West indies 8 months before the WC starts. It represents a great opportunity to get first-hand experience of the wicket and conditions and to decide what kind of team combination is likely to have the best chance of winning.. You can be sure Dravid and Chappell would be observing each minute detail on that tour..