Enjoy your Cuppa, this World Cup!

I will be writing exclusively for Dish Cricket through the World Cup!

Do follow my blog, called The World Cuppa, by visiting the Dish Cricket web site and clicking on the “World Cuppa” link …




March 5, 2007 at 2:59 pm 18 comments

Drinks Break World Cup Fever – 22 Days To Go

Runup to the Cup – Part I

Cheer for India. Cheer for Cricket. A Drinks Break Special.

February 17, 2007 at 12:17 pm 6 comments

A Method to the Madness?

A lot has been written and said about India’s fifteen for the World Cup in April. Should Sehwag have been selected? Why didn’t Powar make it? Is Kumble the correct choice? A billion people – and a zillion opinions. So, for a change, I won’t add to the ocean of comments  and criticism our eminent selection panel has been drowned in ever since they announced the squad on the 12th.

Instead, here is an attempt to understand the steps that possibly led to the selection of the final fifteen – what an engineer would call a flowchart; and an MBA would refer to as a process.

This is a purely creative exercise and has been vetted by none of the five wise men. But as it aims to justify some of their selections, I’m sure they’d appreciate it!

Selection Flowchart

Click on the image for the full chart

 What does the algorithm land us with?
Starting Likely_XI = Dravid, Sachin, Ganguly, Dhoni, Zaheer, Agarkar, Yuvraj, Munaf, Harbhajan

The RED circles show some of the choices the selectors seem to have made …
From Alternative 1: Uthappa and Pathan (from the flowchart, seemingly low confidence in the top six batsman means that a solid number seven bat is necessary – unless Pathan plays, however, the 4 seamers option is unviable)
From Alternative 2:  Sehwag and Uthappa

Therefore, Uthappa makes it in with either Sehwag or Pathan. The Sehwag-Pathan choice in the final XI will depend on the team combination the think tank wants – the aggressive but not-so-successful 5 bowler approach or the more comfortable, but defensive, 7 batsmen one.

This accounts for 12 players, leaving three spots up for grabs, with about a dozen genuine contenders. The table shows what finally happened – and tries to understand why.

The selectors have valued Kumble’s proven record over Powar’s recent efforts; rewarded Karthik and Sreesanth’s attitude and enthusiasm; and told Raina and Kaif that scoring runs is as important as saving them.

PS: Ok, can’t resist putting in an opinion here! Feel sorry that Powar missed the bus this time – he is a genuine off-spinner and is no mug with the bat. As for Sehwag, he’s done little to justify a place; but, as the flowchart shows, if you want to play seven batsmen, his selection becomes inevitable. Otherwise, I think the selectors have done a fair job – the inclusion of Pathan and Sehwag is clearly their biggest gamble, but if it comes off, India could be a formidable opponent this summer.

February 15, 2007 at 6:04 pm 6 comments

Pawar, Power and Promises

At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, I must confess that I was delighted to read that Sharad Pawar’s power games have hit a roadblock, with the West Indies and South African boards refusing to back his candidature for the post of ICC president. Given that the Asian bloc (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh) is forever at loggerheads with the England-Australia-New Zealand combine on election (and most other) matters, the West Indies, South Africa and Zimbabwe votes are typically decisive. And although Zimbabwe has extended support to Pawar, the other two votes appear to be headed the way of David Morgan, Pawar’s rival candidate from the England Cricket Board.

What prompted the West Indies Cricket Board and Cricket South Africa to take on the BCCI is not clear as yet, but by all accounts, theirs is a brave decision. Incurring the wrath of the world’s wealthiest cricket board could easily spell financial ruin for the offender. And the WICB and CSA would have been aware that the BCCI, accustomed to muscling its way to victory on the international stage, is not going to take too kindly to this betrayal. Much like American sanctions against disobedient countries, the BCCI would be exploring all the punitive techniques available at its disposal.

But revenge will not be on Pawar’s mind for some time. For now, he would be more involved with lobbying to win support from associate members of the ICC – his last shot at upstaging Morgan. If he fails, another David would have felled a mighty Goliath. But it’s not the romanticism of an underdog’s victory that we should celebrate.
We should instead celebrate that an inept cricket administrator has been kept out of world cricket’s most responsible office. A man, who swept to the helm of the BCCI on the back of an exciting manifesto, has failed to deliver on his promises – now it’s only fair that his ambitions of presiding over the ICC are spiked.

This may appear to be an unduly harsh assessment of Pawar’s performance. After all, we’ve been endlessly informed about the multiple multi-million dollar deals that have been struck during his tenure, swelling the BCCI’s coffers to unprecedented levels. It is undeniable that the rich board has got much richer. Unfortunately for Indian cricket, that is all it has achieved.

Ugly witch-hunts against political opponents have taken priority over the promised professionalization of the administration. Confidential reports and emails now leak almost as a matter of regulation, and the board chief doesn’t see anything improper in “putting in a word” for certain players to the selectors. Pay checks of domestic cricketers have not increased in accordance with what was pledged, and stadia and infrastructure in the country largely remain in the despicable state that they were in before. The selection committee chief says there is “no new talent” in India, but pumping funds aggressively into talent development is a thought that hasn’t crossed Pawar’s mind.

To be fair, Jagmohan Dalmiya, the ICC’s only other Indian president, could have been accused of all these shortcomings and more. But at the time, his marketing acumen was lifesaving for a cash-starved ICC. The ICC now finds itself in a comfortable financial position, so the only skill Pawar has on his cricketing CV is unlikely to be of significant use to them – especially as it will be available only when he is not discharging his responsibilities as Union Agriculture Minister, chief of the Nationalist Congress Party and sugar industry baron in Maharashtra.

With umpiring controversies, racial slurs, ball tampering allegations and now even match-fixing dogging the game, the ICC is in need of dynamic, able and transparent leadership. A barrel of empty promises like Sharad Pawar is not the solution.

February 9, 2007 at 7:21 pm 6 comments

The Ugly Indian Cricket ‘Fan’

The most immediate cause for concern after the attack on Greg Chappell in Bhubaneshwar before the second India-WI one-dayer, is the glaring lapse on the part of the security agencies. For a team that is living and playing under the shadow of persistent terrorist threats, one would have imagined that arrangements would have been strong enough to keep at least a deranged “fan” from coming in physical contact with members of the team. Fortunately, Chappell escaped unhurt from the attack and the man has been arrested. But the possibilities of what might have happened had something with more elaborate and vicious designs been attempted, are quite frightening.

After the dust settles on this issue – it will eventually, once a few regulation heads roll in the security establishment and the inevitable “high level probe” is ordered by the authorities – I wonder whether we will find time to address some other disturbing questions arising out of this incident. Questions that have been lurking round the corner for some time now, begging to be answered, but which we refuse to even acknowledge because we don’t want to be disturbed from the happy stupor we’ve fooled ourselves into.

These are questions that ask us to look into the mirror – and answer whether the face we see in it belongs to an aficionado of a gentleman’s game, or to an intolerant, parochial and foul-mouthed ruffian.

These are questions that ask us why, when we accept that zonal chauvinism is unhealthy for the game, we still unabashedly hold on to our own little regional biases. These are questions that ask us why we complain of racism against our cricketers overseas, when we ourselves have populated the North Stand of the Wankhede Stadium and perpetrated nasty racial abuse against a touring West Indies team. These are questions that ask us why, instead of glowing with pride that Mohammad Kaif, a young son of a railway ticket inspector from Eastern UP, has risen to represent India on the international stage, we readily deface the house that his family stays in every time he performs below our expectations.

These are questions that ask us to step out of the veil of devotion to the game which we’ve been hiding behind all this time. And expose ourselves for the fanatics that we are – not cricket fanatics, just ordinary ones.

I remember that during my engineering exams, I always hoped that the questions on sections of the syllabus I had not read through would be in the “optional” part of the question paper – I’d avoid them, and still get through. But there was always the fear of them appearing in the dreaded “compulsory” section, which meant a huge penalty for not answering them.

For long, we as the cricket-following public have tried to play the same game – hoping that these uncomfortable questions will be optional, that we’ll get by without answering them. Unfortunately, as the bigotry and crudeness that has become a part of almost everything in our lives, now takes over even our cricket, these questions are slowly creeping in to the “compulsory” section.

We better start preparing to answer them now, we better try to change the ugly face of the person we see when we look into the mirror – the penalty, otherwise, might be larger than we can bear.

January 25, 2007 at 11:57 pm 10 comments

Return of the Hungry Warrior

If Nagpur in 2004 marked the beginning of the end of his reign at the helm of Indian cricket, then Nagpur in 2007 will be remembered for being the highlight of Sourav Ganguly’s authoritative comeback to the international arena. Then, he was a beleaguered captain accused of feigning injury before a series-deciding test match; a general who appeared to have lost his winning ways and, more significantly, the trust of his lieutenants. Now, many months of cricketing exile later, the warrior has chosen the same battlefield to announce that he is back – with vintage cover drives still in his arsenal, but a new-found determination to succeed undoubtedly his most potent weapon.

This determination hasn’t manifested itself just in the aggressive intent with which he took on the Caribbean bowlers in Nagpur, or even in the manner in which he dug in against a fierce South African pace attack in the recent test series. It has shone through in every little thing he has done, both on and off the field – from his willingness to bat wherever the team has needed him to, to his refusal to be drawn in to Chappell/Dalmiya-centric exchanges with the media; from his eagerness to get back to the nets even on official “rest days” for the team, to the constant reaffirmation that he is not in the race to be captain. When he has talked – about scoring runs and using his experience to win games for India – he has ensured that he has walked the talk.

It was also refreshing to see that the inevitability of his selection into the one-day squad after the solid South African tour didn’t prevent him from turning out for Bengal in their Ranji encounter against Rajasthan. (Incidentally, he compiled an impeccable run-a-ball century in that game to take Bengal to a thumping win.) He is clearly hungry to play and hungry to score runs. And it is this hunger that ensures that a tentative first-ball nudge now sails between slip and gully, rather than into the waiting hands of a fielder, like it almost always did a couple of years back. It is this keenness to contribute that makes him punch the air in disappointment when he misses out on a juicy half-volley outside the off-stump, even when the scoring rate is decent. It is this desperation to survive that takes the pain away from being hit by a 145-kph Ntini scorcher, as long as it leaves his stumps intact.

What all this means now is that Ganguly is again a prominent feature of India’s plans in both forms of the game. Along with Dravid, Sachin and Dhoni, he is the only batsman who has already assured himself of a seat on the flight to the West Indies in March – a huge achievement in itself, given that he was out in the cold till only a month back.

But if the recent attitude he has brought to his game is anything to go by, Ganguly will not even be thinking of resting on his laurels. The last time India competed for world cricket’s most coveted prize, he ended the tournament with a pat on the back and a tag that said “second-best”. This time, in what will undoubtedly be his last shot at World Cup glory, he’s got an appetite for much more. Some advice for opposition captains: fasten your seat belts; and ya, also try plugging those off-side gaps.

January 22, 2007 at 10:33 pm 4 comments

End Game

His last 10 ODI innings: 9, 8, 1, 10, 9, 17, 65, 0, 18, 11 (average 14.8)
His last 10 test innings: 31, 65, 0, 4, 4, 33, 0, 8, 40, 4 (average 18.9)

The last throw of the dice was to accommodate him down the order in the hope that his batting finds some direction. It hasn’t.

Now the only direction he must find is the way out of the team.

For his own good and for that of a team that has laboured under the burden of his abysmal form, Virender Sehwag must go.

January 5, 2007 at 11:41 pm 1 comment

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