Category Archives: Australia

The Harbhajan-Symonds Relationship

From Times of India, a couple of interesting quotes on the Harbhajan-Symonds relationship in the Mumbai Indians:

[Symonds]’ manager Matt Fearon confirmed the truce. “That’s definitely the case. They’ve left everything in the past. The auction for the IPL was in January. I remember calling him and saying, well, you’re going to Mumbai – with Harbhajan. He said two words: ‘Aw, true?’

“That said it all. He was a bit speechless. It would be fair to say there was a bit of uncertainty about how it would play out. There was an unknown there but yes, they are getting on great. They are both competitive animals. When two people like that are on different teams, there can be some very real tension. But put them in the same team and it’s a different story,” Fearon said.

‘Aw, true?’ has to be the most understated expression of disappointment I’ve read yet. I can’t imagine Symonds has totally forgiven Harbhajan, given his tone when asked about the affair last year by Harsha Bhogle. At the same time, there are enough other factors — namely, the need for both sides to perform and make money — that they could agree to bury the hatchet for 3 weeks.

But I wonder if Symonds insisted on an apology, or at the very least, an admittance of guilt, or if he asked Tendulkar about it once more…

A Screwy South Africa Schedule

News from Cricinfo:

South Africa’s home Test series against Australia will be played over just two matches – as opposed to the customary three of recent times – with a packed international cricket calendar being offered as the reason.

One of my bigger cricket regrets is missing the scintillating South Africa-Australia Test series of the mid-2000s. So it irks me, now that I do have time on my hands, that this latest series will be cut to just two Tests. And what do cricket fans get in return? The T20 Champions League and, of course, an ODI series against West Indies. Ugh.

The BCCI Shows Just How Mean It Can Be

Ratnakar Shetty, the BCCI secretary, on why Indians won’t be allowed to play in Australia’s Big Bash tournament:

Shetty said only the BCCI has the discretion to allow players to compete in the overseas tournaments and no one, including the new India coach Duncan Fletcher, can have any say in this.

“It’s a policy decision of the board, the new coach has nothing to do with that, and when there is a domestic tournament on I don’t think we will release any players. Sri Lanka now has some league in the month of July and it doesn’t clash with our domestic tournament. So whoever wants to go with prior permission can participate.”

You have to feel sorry for other boards (namely England, who have to face the IPL during its county cricket season). The only way this situation will end in their favor is if they can figure out a way to rejuvenate Indian hockey and soccer.

The Danger Of Indian Cricket Nationalism

Everyone’s raving about Wright Thompson, the American cricket-stranger who wandered around India during the World Cup. Regular readers know I’m skeptical about non-cricket fans writing about the game, but tackling it from a foreigner’s perspective does bring out different tones among sources. It’s one thing to talk to another Indian about the game; it’s another completely to explain it to a (white?) American.

Read, for e.g., what Rahul Bhattacharya had to say:

“The aggression, the brashness,” says Bhattacharya, the cricket writer turned novelist. “It’s now something which Indians see that this is what we have to do to assert our place in the world. We’ve been f—ed over for thousands of years. Everyone has conquered us. Now we’re finding our voice. We’re the fastest-growing economy in the world. We are going to buy your companies. Our cricket team is like going to f—ing abuse you back, and we’re going to win and we’re going to shout in your face after we win. People love that.”

That’s just awful. It’s ironic that in our bid to express our long-suppressed voice, we end up sounding so much like our conquerors. Why is there such a fascination with the Australian way of playing, with all its talk of mental disintegration and toughness? Why must we lose our sense of play and of fun for the sake of winning? Why must we lose our own distinctive style?

Martha Nussbaum, another (white) foreigner has diagnosed this trend very well:

[As] I’ve noted, the traditions contain a wound, a locus of vulnerability, in the area of humiliated masculinity. For centuries, some Hindu males think, they were subordinated by a sequence of conquerors, and Hindus have come to identify the sexual playfulness and sensuousness of their traditions, scorned by the masters of the Raj, with their own weakness and subjection. So a repudiation of the sensuous and the cultivation of the masculine came to seem the best way out of subjection. One reason why the RSS attracts such a following is the widespread sense of masculine failure.

One More Time For Bangladesh

Hope springs eternal for Cricket Minded:

Now that the World Cup is over (and I have no other excuse to stay up all night and be disfunctional at work), I look forward to the Aussies coming to Bangladesh. More so because for the first time, I have hope.

That would be hopes of a win. Yes, a win. Against the Aussies.

I had high expectations (relatively) for Bangladesh in the World Cup, and I was left sorely disappointed. For such a good team to be bowled out for under 100, twice — well, it doesn’t inspire confidence. That said, Purna makes a good enough case. I’m just looking forward to seeing Michael Clarke’s baby face ordering old men around.

In Which I Eat Crow

Yes, yes, gloat one and all — I was wrong. India did beat Australia, contrary to my predictions (but perfectly in line with my desires, I assure you!). That said, let me note that the victory came despite certain conditions most people said had to be first satisfied: India lost the toss. Virender Sehwag did not get a good start. Australia put up a score above 250.

Nevertheless, I’ve learned my lesson: I’m not going to predict anything about the India-Pakistan semifinal, especially not after watching South Africa crash out. Let’s enjoy the ride, people.

Ponting V. Tendulkar

Pitting great players against each can be tiresome (much like the Prince v. Michael Jackson debate of the 1980s). It should be enough to say that the last two decades have given us an incomparable supply of great batsmen, including J. Kallis, B. Lara, S. Tendulkar and R. Ponting.  Then again, the urge cannot be resisted (esp. in statistics-crazy cricket), and clearer answers emerge as time goes on  (after Jackson’s career ran aground in the 2000s, and lawsuits piled up, Chris Rock memorably said, “Prince won!”).

All of this is by way of introducing the great debate of our time: Tendulkar or Ponting? It wasn’t too long ago that Tendulkar, struggling against a dip in form and a dodgy elbow, seemed destined to be overtaken. Ponting enjoyed a higher batting average and had a ‘great captain’ feather in his cap (Tendulkar’s brief captaincy is hardly ever mentioned).

None of that holds true now — Tendulkar’s Test average is almost 57, while Ponting’s has slipped to 53 (a neat reversal from a couple of years ago, if I’m not mistaken). Ponting is also stuck on century #39, while Tendulkar has zoomed ahead to 51 (7 of which came last year). The last two years have been bad for Ponting’s reputation, with his average each year slipping into the high 30s. (He has also lost the Ashes twice, at home and abroad.) Tendulkar’s average, meanwhile, rose past 60 on both years.

It’s true that other batsmen could have earned better statistics than Tendulkar had they kept going (Don Bradman’s average, obviously, remains untouched). But, as The Old Batsman pointed out, this is precisely the point: Tendulkar’s endurance and ability to adapt are key parts of his greatness. It’s not just that he keeps playing (though, given how so many players have failed in this regard, it is). It’s also that he keeps playing well. He’s had off years (2003 and 2006), but on most years, he’s batted happily above 40. Watching Dravid, Ponting and Ganguly falter in recent years only heightens my appreciation for Tendulkar’s abilities.

Of course, you have to believe that once his own form begins to dip, the calls for his retirement will grow exponentially and, contrary to Ganguly’s claim that “Tendulkar’s never dropped,” the pressure will increase much as it is now with Ponting. Who exactly is planting stories about him flying off to captain an English county?

Mitchell Johnson Is Stuck On Groundhog Day

Mitchell Johnson, on how he plans to bowl at Virender Sehwag, Sept. 25, 2010:

“Last time when we were over here we came out and he was hitting good balls for four or six, you look up at the scoreboard and he’s almost 50,” Johnson said. “Sehwag is someone we can bowl a lot of short balls to. I don’t think he’s too confident with the short ball early.” (Via Cricinfo)

Mitchell Johnson, on how he plans to bowl at Virender Sehwag, March 22, 2011:

“I don’t mind bowling up into his rib-cage to be honest,” Johnson said. “He seems to struggle with that a bit.” (Via Cricinfo)

Did it work in 2010 series? For the most part, yes. Sehwag was out four times to variants of the short ball (though on at least two occasions, it seems he got himself out by steering balls straight to fielders). On the other hand, in the first innings of the 1st Test, the short ball from Johnson came too late. Sehwag had already scored 59 runs off 54 balls. More than enough for an ODI.

Can India Beat Australia?

I have that sinking feeling again. Look, I know I’ve been wrong in the past, and I shouldn’t behave like a fair-weather fan. For whatever reason, I’m stuck in the 1990s and, to safeguard myself against inevitable heartbreak, I like to believe India won’t win, only to feel the customary thrill when they do. But what fan of this team could reasonably conclude India stand a chance of beating Australia in the quarterfinal?

Do not consider the record on paper, or batsmen’s averages, or anything like that — just look at the tournament performance so far. Going into the World Cup, we knew India’s weakness was its bowling. So far, that’s been about right: without Zaheer Khan, or the occasional help from a spinner, we’re not doing too well. Unfortunately, neither is our batting: we have a strong top-order, but a weak lower one. Meanwhile, Australia’s pace strategy can go awry (as it did against Pakistan), especially when Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson form two parts of the chair. Together, though, they are a fearsome pack, out to crush toes. And I fear an intangible element is missing in India’s campaign. There isn’t the same momentum we saw in 2003, or the sheer will to win in the T20 2007 cup. I don’t know if it’s the quality of the opposition, but India doesn’t seem to have lifted, and they don’t look like winners (whereas South Africa and, weirdly enough, Pakistan, do). Will Harbhajan Singh bowl well? Will Yusuf/Virat perform? Will Brett Lee destroy India?

So, I’m taking a huge risk here and calling it: India lose in a couple of days. Achettup, please, prove me wrong. Comfort me now! (Again, just to protect myself against angry comments, I’m obviously rooting for an India victory. I’m just not convinced so far that it’s on the cards. I’m scared as hell.)

Ian Chappell Hates Shahid Afridi

I’m a bit late to this, but after watching the Pakistan v. Australia highlights (at cricket-online.tv; try it now!), I have to ask: just how much does Ian Chappell hate Pakistan’s captain?

Did anyone else notice this? For a good 15 minutes, Chappell railed against Shahid Afridi’s choices — why didn’t he have this fielding position; why did he choose that bowler; why does he keep “missing a trick”? Even Afridi’s way of celebrating wickets (like a gymnast after a somersault, two index fingers in the sky) drew Chappell’s ire — surely, he said, his teammates are getting tired of seeing that. (Why? Did teammates get annoyed when Freddie parted the Red Sea and, to quote Uncle J Rod, “became Jesus”?)

Actually, this is part of a larger pattern of behavior for Chappell. Most commentators tend to be ex-players (Harsha Bhogle aside), and some of them come to grips with their not playing better than others. Sourav Ganguly, Atherton, Nasser Hussain — these guys understand what captains and bowlers try to do, and they explain it. Chappell, Gavaskar, Ian Botham — these guys do not understand what players do and constantly berate captains for not doing things they would do.

It’s backseat captaincy at its worst, because it ruins the whole experience for viewers. Granted, captains sometimes make appalling decisions (Dhoni’s last two games have been examples), and I don’t mind commentators putting forth a question or two. What I cannot stand is hearing  a commentator go on and on, especially with that patronizing tone best suited for high school math teachers. Chappell is the worst offender in this regard, and is all the more annoying because his only mode is attack. If there isn’t a close-in fielder around a batsman (no matter what the situation), he’ll start on a tirade. If a player smiles and has a chat with the opposition, he might as well be hanged for treason.

I suspect there’s something deeper to his dislike. There’s something in Chappell’s method– a ruthless mission, an organized pursuit of victory — that simply cannot understand Pakistan. Unlike Chappell, who cannot bear any mischief (or perhaps even the pure expression of joy on the field), Pakistan excels with X-factors and hidden talents that only reveal themselves when they see fit. The Australian mind just can’t handle it.