Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Quarter Final–1: Pakistani spinners feast on West Indies at Mirpur

At Mirpur the West Indies team was attacked by stone throwers for having bundled out Bangladesh for 58 runs in the league stage but never would they have thought that the tables would turn before they left the subcontinent. At the knockout stage it was never going to be a question of talent but about one’s ability to handle pressure and West Indies were caught napping as Pakistan humiliated them and broke their spirit by bowling them out for a paltry 112 runs, their third lowest world cup score.

The entertaining Chris Gayle’s indulgence in power hitting fills the stands but that does not discount the reality of flashiness prioritizing over responsibility in his career. If ever there was a day when his team would have wanted him to spend more time at the middle to create a platform for the likes of Pollard to break free then it was today but it was not to be. Once again the stoic Jamaican flattered to deceive on the big stage as his alter ego contributed to his perishing much before the people in his neighborhood would have finished their ablution work. If his departure was a setback then the defensive ploy by West Indies was hard to decode.

Tinkering with batting line ups on big match days has more often than not boomeranged for teams in the past and today was no different. Promoting Ramanaresh Sarwan to number 3 ahead of Darren Bravo was either to protect the youngster from the sharp Pakistani attack or to create a role in the batting line up for the veteran to fit in. Whatever the thought process was it failed as Bravo was dismissed much before he could get his eye in and Sarwan who looks to be in the last leg of his career spent most of his time in the middle trying to settle before departing for 24 runs which came off 68 deliveries, in an attempt to up the antique.

Shivanaraine Chanderpaul took 18 balls to open his account and by the 10th over with the score board reading 18 for 3, Pakistan had a strong foothold in the Caribbean camp. The spinners took over the proceeding as Pollard came and went as did the others and the score board soon read 70 for 7 with Shahid Afridi having missed a hattrick and soon it was 71 for 7……8. Kemar Roach and Chanderpaul who might have batted for the last time in South Asia took the score beyond 100 runs but it was bit too late in the day as by then Pakistan were well on their way to Mohali for the semifinals.

Shahid Afridi ended the day with a tournament tally of 21 wickets; still the highest and the Pakistani openers cruised to the target without any damage. West Indies positives from the tournament have been the emergence of some good young talent who now need to be nurtured as the rebuilding process will begin yet again. As painful as it may be but it won’t be a surprise if some radical changes are reported by West Indies Cricket Board in the near future.

Score card link to the match:

Sidhanta Patnaik

23rd March 2011, 8.11pm

Marthahalli, Bangalore

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

World cup’s marathon recap

In comparison to other globally popular ball games, cricket’s pace might be tortoise-like but to discard it as a form of sleeping pill would takeaway the connotations of the game in the lives of its fans and followers. More so in the subcontinent where the amount of dead time between sunrise and bedtime is plenty, this stop-start game is an excellent feeder to more than a billion aspirations. For the arm chair citizens the near perfect definition of a beautiful life lies in their ability to chew cashew nuts or betel-leaf, depending on affordability and speculate, scrutinize and convince every one around of how they could have been more valuable asset to the team than a Yuvraj or a Afridi, just that they could not make it to their district team of the age group competition due to petty politics and favoritism. How much imbibed is such culture in the history or what is so emotional about this syndrome that syncs perfectly with the government’s vision of progress has been beautifully explained in Mukul Kesavan’s The Men in White and Ramachandra Guha’s A Corner of a Foreign Field. But for now the International Cricket Council (ICC) has enormously benefitted out of this chaotic cricket patriotism surrounding because it had pinned its last hope on the people of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India and to an extent on that of Pakistan to approve their belief that 50 over cricket has still enough reserves left in its tank and like always the public has made ICC look good.

The 720 hours constituting the calendar from 19th February to 20th March involving 42 cricket matches has been a marathon race involving players, administrators, broadcasters, pundits and the fans who to their credit have formed a human chain and run on to pass an important verdict regarding the future of one day cricket. Strange but the truth is that Australia’s depleting resources made the stakeholders believe that this year’s world cup is one of the most open tournaments in the recent times. The Kangaroos might still prove all wrong and then brag about it the way only they can but at this point of time it still remains to be the starting point from where the romance of world cup 2011 emanated. The romanticism needed some colour and Dhaka chipped in with the best opening ceremony of a cricket tournament ever to welcome the world to the subcontinent and that set the tone for what the entire cricketing world has seen in the last 30 days.

Before the tournament began, everyone who knew a little about the game was critical of how scores beyond 300 on the flat batting bullied tracks of the subcontinent would make the contests one dimensional and monotonous. Few even were sure that by the time the tournament ended, bowlers worldwide would have signed a secret pact of faking injuries to avoid any further humiliation but that was not to be as in this cup the ball has had a slight advantage over the bat at the end of the first round. In the 82 completed innings that have been played in this tournament so far (does not include the curtailed Sri Lankan innings in their abandoned match against Australia) just 17 times have the teams scored beyond 300 runs whereas 31 times have the teams been bowled out. Further more evidence is the fact that 28 times teams have been bowled out or restricted below 200 runs (not considering the successful run chases below 200). If that does not suffice the justification then the average run rate per over which was 5.20 at the end of the 19th match of the tournament has gone down to 5.08 after the conclusion of the 42nd match and moreover the average partnership per wicket stands at 28 runs which is miniscule compared to what modern bats and compressed boundary lines are capable of producing. There might be an argument against the skewed nature of the figures because of the minnows influence in the first leg of the tournament but statistics like hawk eye has this knack of considering all other factors as constant while dishing out data.

Apart from bowlers restoring their sanity the other thing that has clicked for this world cup is numbers. Any hardcore cricket lover would secretly confess the affection for individual records even though at times it comes at the cost of his/her home team. If records would not have been the point of high in a cricket fan’s career then no newspaper would have titled their headline as ‘Sachin’s 99th international century goes in vain’. Considering cricket’s ability to either generate a new record or break an old one in every delivery of a match this world cup has been right up there. Every run and wicket of the 18275 runs scored and 643 wickets taken in 3597.1 overs bowled so far has meant something to someone. It has been someone’s 1st or 2000th or 7000th international run, 1st or 100th or 200th international wicket, 100th or 200th international catch and that has kept the hungry public from Islamabad to Colombo in a celebratory mood without any signs of fatigue at the mass level.

Staying with records it has been aptly led by the little master Sachin Tendulkar. If the country related his 6th world cup appearance as its own then his 5th and 6th world cup century and 2000th world cup run were revered for the joy he brings to the life of every one who knows who he is. Then there was a lot of talk in the town when Yuvraj Singh became the first cricketer to score a fifty and take five wickets in a world cup match. How much ever pride Indians associate with the landmarks their bleed blue boys scale nothing comes in comparison with Ireland’s historic world cup run chase against England, courtesy Kevin O’ Brien’s ton off 50 balls which now happens to be the fastest world cup century. England’s other bit of record in this world cup was when they transpired with India to register the 4th tied match of world cup cricket. The hat-tricks of Kemar Roach and Lasith Malinga (Malinga now is the first cricketer to register two world cup hat-tricks) reaffirmed the faith that nothing is more exciting than the sight of a fast bowler rattling the timber with sheer pace and precision. For the first time a bilateral series (Chappell-Hadlee Trophy) was played within the confines of the world cup and it for sure is going to be a trivia question in the charity quizzes in the pubs across Australia and New Zealand for many years to come. Ross Taylor became the fourth batsman after Vinod Kambli, Sachin Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya to celebrate his birthday with an international century and this also is a qualifier for the pub evenings. South Africa’s record claim so far in this tournament has been their victory against Netherlands by a world cup record margin of 231 runs. In between all this Sri Lanka lost its first world cup game at home to Pakistan (it had never lost a game in 1996) who also halted Australia’s world cup winning streak of 34 matches (last time they had lost was on 23rd May 1999 to Pakistan) in a match in which Ricky Ponting led his side for the 28th time in world cup cricket, highest by any captain. Somewhere the law of averages had to come into picture like it so beautifully does in the life of Rahul Dravid.

If the departure of the injured Kevin Pietersen, Dwayne Bravo, Stuart Broad, Doug Bollinger and a series of other cricketers took some shine away from the tournament then it was doubly enriched by the show of the fringe players who made a transition from the bench to the park in true Hindi film style. Ravi Rampaul, Andre Russell, Luke Wright, James Tredwell, Devendra Bishoo are not the kind of names that feature in the first eleven on a perfect day but situations made them overnight stars and in the broader perspective it augurs well for the star system of international cricket which needed new names to look up to in the new decade. James Tredwell in particular will now be remembered as the guy who was instrumental in changing England’s flight ticket from sector Chennai-Heathrow to Chennai-Colombo. However among all these extras the real ‘big’ name during the course of the world cup has been Ravichandran Ashwin who in the last fortnight has captured more mind share than the country’s Prime Minister and debates over his place in the Indian side have been material for prime time consumption. MS Dhoni finally handed him over the ball against West Indies and now he looks a certainty to start in the encounter against Australia.

Ricky Ponting had clearly nicked the ball into the gloves of a surprisingly alert Kamran Akmal but stood ground pretending oblivious of the sound whereas the faintest of the edge that was produced by a peach of a Ravi Rampaul delivery could not have caught the attention of technology but still Sachin Tendulkar, one short of his 100th international century decided to walk. To walk or not to walk is entirely a personal choice of a batsman but two similar instances and different reactions by contemporary cricket’s top most batsmen has yet again opened up the Pandora box. While it is grossly unfair to relate to an act of not walking with lack of integrity, it definitely is an indication of the contrasting frame of minds the two batsmen are currently in.

The grand welcome in Bangladesh supplemented by the stone throwers, Ireland’s inspiration, the associate’s debate fuelled by Zimbabwe, Kenya, Canada and Netherlands callous cricket, swansong of Murali, Akthar, John Davison, Steve Tikolo, Graeme Smith, the Eden Gardens fiasco, the crashing of the ticketing website, the lathi charges, Navjot Singh Sidhu’s mediocrity , a parade of replacement cricketers, the new stadiums of Sri Lanka, Sourav Ganguly’s rise, Harsha Bhogle, the theme song that has divided opinions, the eight predicted quarterfinalists, give and take for the spot between Bangladesh and West Indies and more, these are few images that come rushing to the mind away from the actual action from the field of play. This world cup has been unexpected, dramatic, action filled and at times reminder of the old days when cricket was not just about hitting the ball out of the park. The only thing that has lived up to the expectations along the trusted line is the decision to bat first on winning the toss in the subcontinent. 30 times have team winning the toss batted first and out of the 40 matches that have produced a winner, 22 times team batting first has been victorious.

What else is left to unfold? Pakistan’s clash against West Indies will decide which country needs the cup more, though at present it looks like the Pakistanis. Between India and Australia it will boil down to who bats better and which batsman decides to take the onus of guiding the innings. England might have lived another day but if asked to bat under lights then for them to crumble against the Sri Lankan spin in typical Premadasa conditions won’t take much time. On paper South Africa should have a cakewalk over New Zealand but in a clash between the ultimate chokers and perennial dark horses it is never easy to go for a choice.

This journey which has been miraculous, emotionally challenging, mentally draining, pulsating and at times dragging; actually any adjective can suit here as this world cup has surpassed all expectations has finally reached its end that matters and with less than 24 hours left before the quarterfinals begin, the next 11 days promise to be capitulated with high intensity top class cricket. It will be a perfect return gift for all the fans who have followed the game on the internet, seen it live on television or gone to the stadium. It is the paying public who deserve the man of the tournament award for many years from now they will be remembered for being instrumental in putting the debate on the future of 50 overs cricket to rest; only if ICC could now learn and reduce the number of meaningless bilateral one day series worldwide.

Sidhanta Patnaik

22nd March 2011, 10.38pm

Marthahalli, Bangalore

Friday, March 18, 2011

The World Cup is still fresh

Whoever first recognized that cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties would have loved to be in the subcontinent at present to witness live some of the most exhilarating cricket matches played back to back at breakneck speed. If the first seventeen days of the tournament were marked by a tie, an upset win, a suicidal loss and some top class display of individual brilliance then the following ten days have been about confidence and resilience. In a matter of four weeks all those doubters and critics of 50 over cricket have been put to shame and it has brought forward their shallow understanding of the subject on which they make their living on. It is true that most of the matches involving the associate nations have only been of academic interest but given the overall success of the world cup the Irish coffee, maple leaves and sundry have contributed in extending the variety of the menu card on offer; the turnstile attendance for Australia’s matches against Kenya and Canada at Bangalore’s M. Chinnaswamy stadium stand as a testimonial to the statement. Indeed decades ago CLR James was right to point, “What they know of cricket, who cricket knows.”

Predictability was the norm of the world cup’s fixture and in no way did it arouse the sentiments of a cricket lover as the quarter finalists and their table position were pretty much given much before the Visas of the players were stamped. In Group A, New Zealand was always expected to make into the next round but their track record of nine straight losses in the sub continent in the preceding summer had raised questions about their credibility against the top teams but the notions changed when all hell broke loose on 8th March at Pallekelle as Ross Taylor finally quit hibernation to celebrate his 27th birthday in style. His talent and ability to clear the fence had always been a reason for awe but for a career spanning over 5 years he had hardly ever influenced the result of a match singlehandedly. His popularity had always hinged on a few brutal hits there or a couple of exquisitely timed shots here which were invariably supplemented by the cardinal sin of throwing away his wicket either because of his alter ego or some reckless shot selection. Just three centuries in 102 matches had always made his resume look incomplete. However his first innings of high class repute against Pakistan which included his team massacring 95 runs off the last five overs not only gave him an entry to a party that had been begging his entry since eternity but also toppled all pre calculations with respect to the table position.

All this would not have been a reality had Kamran Akmal latched on to a sitter just when Taylor was still figuring out in the middle. Unfortunately Akmal’s performance both in front and behind of the wicket has been much below the par of a school cricketer and it only raises suspicious eyebrows that go beyond the cricket field for the history he comes with. It is a bad advertisement for the entire cricketing community and the faster the puzzle is solved the better it is for all. New Zealand might still be the fourth team to qualify from its group for the quarter finals; much depends on their result against Sri Lanka tonight but for sure that carnage against Pakistan significantly enhanced the stakes of the tournament and also gave their perennial tag of dark horse a timely boost. In the hindsight it was a match that warmed up the world wide audience for some bigger test of their nerves.

At Nagpur what seemed to be India’s day of batting dominance till the sun was shining all of a sudden looked like an attempt by the batsmen to rush into the dressing room for an ice cream eating competition. 9 wickets for 29 runs is absolute bizarre and no justification can provide any logic to it. Such score lines are common at age group competitions but for that to be a reality at international level requires some special skills by those who scripted it. Sachin Tendulkar might have registered his 99th international century but before anyone else he would have been disappointed by the pattern that is clearly evident. It is one thing that both his centuries at this year’s world cup have not taken India to victory but more importantly he has thrown away his wicket twice in the batting power play just when he looked set to launch an onslaught. Against England and South Africa the deliveries that have produced his wicket had punishment written all over it but in an attempt to improvise he made the bowler look good. What has happened after his dismissal is there for all to see. 16 wickets for 62 runs!

It is an indication that if the little master is set, it will benefit the team if he plays for the entire 50 overs and the power hitters can revolve around him. Considering India’s dismal record in the batting power plays it would be apt to not aim high in those five overs instead use it as a platform to go for the slog in the final overs. Whatever said and done 296 was a good score to defend and India’s bowling and fielding, presumably the two weak links rose to the occasion to make a match of it. MS Dhoni’s decision to bowl a pacer instead of a spinner in the last over was a logical one and considering Ashish Nehra’s stupendous exploits in the 50th over of a cricket match in the past, a win was all likely a formality but cricket is a funny game and it was not to be the Delhite’s day. However that should not take anything away from the spirited performance the boys put in the park after undergoing the worst batting slump in recent times. It takes some mental strength to do that and the fact that they managed to pull up the socks augurs well for team India. Now the equation is as simple as winning four matches on a trot to spark celebrations among a billion.

West Indies are a lower rated team than Bangladesh in the ICC rankings and no one can throw more light on it than England. If the loss against Bangladesh was difficult to digest then the win against West Indies have made them the hot favourites for this world cup. The Englishmen have been the talk of the town for their role in making this world cup one of the most open tournaments ever played but they would have loved a better association than this with the mass. Their unpredictability has been both their strength and weakness in the six group matches and with seven points in their kitty they should be wondering how easy it was to top the group and simultaneously must be thanking Lord for coming to rescue just when it mattered the most. Their storyline resembles a lot of similarity with teams who have come from behind to win the world cup in the past (1983 – India, 1987 – Australia, 1992 – Pakistan, 1999 – Australia) and there is no reason why they cannot script their first world cup championship title from hereon. The fact that their best cricket in this tournament has come against higher ranked teams make them spicier than ever before. Quarter finals here they come!

Ireland has just beaten Netherlands in an inconsequential Group B match which means that they have successfully chased more than 300 runs twice in this tournament. It leaves the analysts to wonder how the group of death would have looked like had the Irish managed to get past the Bangladeshis in a low scoring thriller. Take a bow Ireland. More cricket should follow their way. Similarly if Bangladesh win against South Africa tomorrow then it will be a dream come true for ICC as till the last match scheduled on 20th March between India and West Indies the final standings of the table would not be known and who would have guessed when the fixture was drawn that this would be the case! However it looks like South Africa have survived after choking against England and for them to be beaten again will need some really good cricket by the opposition. This world cup might also be their time to live to tell the tale.

In between all this Virender Sehwag has managed to score a boundary off the first delivery of all the 5 Indian innings so far. It is an insignificant occurrence but it does matter to us Indians who are so obsessed with records and statistics! So far 37 matches have produced 16230 runs for the loss of 554 wickets in 3168.2 overs but this world cup is far from over. The world cup is still fresh.

As this article is about to be published, Kumar Sangakkara has scored his first one day international century since June 2008 to help Sri Lanka post 265/9 against New Zealand. However the news that hurts is that an Indian umpire on liaison duty with ICC for the world cup has been removed from the committee for sharing inside information in a sting operation carried on by a news channel. No Indian ever since the retirement of AV Jayaprakash has been a constant in ICC’s elite panel of umpires and now this. What more needs to be said?

Sidhanta Patnaik

18th March 2011, 7.27pm

Marathahalli, Bangalore

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Celebrating Women

For centuries the robust cultural attributes of the Indian society has caught the imagination of the westerners and in the Far East alike and for that a major share of credit goes to the women of the country who have been an integral founding limb of this heritage. If today the India we live in is viewed as colorful and vibrant and relatively safe in a volatile geographical zone then anyone with the slightest understanding of the community’s societal ethos will not find it difficult to unearth the secret behind the recipe. With the mushrooming of media channels, for the dearth of topics the debates centered on women’s inequality status in a male dominated society might have found an entry into our living rooms but the fact of the matter is these agendas are superficial and have looked politically driven at times. Any man worth his salt is fully aware of the opposite gender’s overall contribution to the exercise of society building and its significance in the history books. Today the role has by no margin diminished; if at all with India on its way towards becoming a new age global economy’s go to market, the influence has only increased by immeasurable standards which at times has become difficult for a section of shallow minded individuals to come to term with.

If an independent India produced individuals of the highest repute in the global scheme of things then a liberalized India’s biggest contribution to the world has been its efficient manpower’s ability to contribute handsomely in enhancing the bottom line of diverse multi national companies. Various studies have been commissioned by the developed nations to comprehend the background of such superlative performances but to gauge the actual reasons it is imperative for a researcher to peep behind the tangibles and observe the soft part of the quotient involved in the equation. A thorough study affirms an Indian’s ability to adapt under challenging conditions with a desire to succeed, a comparatively better peace of mind and the correlation between them as the key causes behind the commitment to excellence and for that undoubtedly the woman in the family deserves the admiration and adulation for breeding an environment of dignity and respect in the kid’s life, right from the day (s) he sees the world.

Power and money may be the two biggest lure that drive a man’s business ambition but the tool to attainment lies in the emotional stability and calmness of mind and that is enabled through the chain of relationships that the man shares with the special women in his life. If it is the mother who sacrifices her ways of leading life to accommodate the interests of a growing kid then the luckier ones find a best friend in their sister and as life evolves the girl friend, for the lack of a better word and then the wife become the best companion to confide to. The amount of love and affection that encompasses these relationships is directly proportional to anyone’s professional success.

Though for a man the biggest triumph of life lies in his ability to communicate his expression to a woman yet like any change that is difficult to digest, at times fingers have been pointed at women for complexities in the relationship status of a man once he foregoes bachelorhood. However a deep introspection brings out the harsh reality and more often than not it is the male’s chauvinism that is the culprit behind tainted bonds. An essence of a woman who is the nurturer lies in her ability to take care, love and shower affection and empathetically allow herself to absorb the emotional downpour of anyone who opens up their heart to her. It is her nature that provides the basis of harmonious existence in the society and to distrust and disrespect her stature and compassionate qualities is not only a shame but is a harbinger of deep loss of happiness to the community at large. Delicacy is a virtue that has been God gifted to women and for any man filled in abundance of it around him is a fortunate soul and for those who fail to realize this are either lunatics or have lost their sense for taste and judgment.

From an Indian context the society has changed more in the last twenty years than in the last two hundred years. In a free for all education set up to create notions of divide between two genders will not only alienate realities from fantasies but will also make it difficult for the future generations of women to accept the bargain for which it is pivotal for people across political lines and poverty lines to realize the larger significance of a woman in the continuous exercise of society building beyond being home makers. Not that her profile inside the house has changed but her need outside it has increased and to allow her to fulfill her new ambition and dreams along with raising kids and cooking meals is a trend that needs to be respected and given equal space to.

The clear heart and aspiring mind of a modern woman makes the society an elated space and to be breathing the same air is an honor and privilege and calls for lifelong celebration. Period.

Happy Women’s Day to all the beautiful souls around.

Sidhanta Patnaik
8th March 2011, 10.44pm
Marthahalli, Bangalore

Monday, March 7, 2011

From above the sight screen - India vs. Ireland

A nerve cracking tie between India and England followed by Kevin O’ Brien’s fastest cup century contributing to a record chase, fiery fast bowling by Kemar Roach and then a pulsating thriller between England and South Africa in Chennai arguably makes the eight day period between 27th February and 6th March 2011 as one of the most fascinating windows of one day international cricket ever witnessed and there was no way for the contest between India and Ireland scheduled within this timeline to fall out of the radar. Ever since Ireland’s heroic deeds against their ‘big brother’, the momentum had picked up rapid pace for the Sunday encounter at M. Chinnaswamy, Bangalore and at the end of the day the expectations lived up to the standards as the day produced some good cricket all round.

The stands were packed with a capacity crowd an hour before the toss and the energy around surely had the voltage to supply electricity to half of the city. The usual habit of winning the toss and take first strike on a Bangalore track and use their strength to better their last batting performance would have been a temptation for the Indian team management but MS Dhoni’s decision to field first put things in place from a larger perspective of the tournament. If the team needed anything at this point then it was to test their ability to bundle out oppositions in order to enhance the overall confidence level before entering the knock out stages and this was a perfect opportunity for the bowlers to silent the critics who had been filling up the print space murdering the country’s thin line of attack. Zaheer Khan’s double blow in his first two overs vindicated the skipper’s trust in his bowling unit. Watching the left arm seamer from above the sight screen was a treat as the white ball was behaving the way a snake adheres to the charmer’s flute.

Just when an early finish was being predicted, the notions was proven wrong by William Porterfield and Niall O’ Brien who consolidated the innings with a 113 runs partnership. After the initial jitters it seemed as if the Irish have found an access into India’s weak link and it needed a special piece of field work by Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni to break the monotony of the duo as the senior O’ Brien was run out. Immediately the occasion demanded for some smart captainship by the Indian skipper and soon there was enough display of reasons for which he is considered as one of the shrewdest brains of contemporary cricket. Every time a bowler looked a bit wayward, he was replaced by another and by mixing up his bowlers he unsettled Ireland’s strategies and did not allow them to pick the pattern of the innings. 34 overs of spin bowling produced only 148 runs at the rate of 4.35 runs per over and it managed to hide the ordinary individual figures of Piyush Chawala which read as 8-0-56-0.

The move of throwing Yuvraj Singh’s pie chucking bait worked for India as one after the other Irish batsman failed to pick up the ball from the air. They were easily deceived by the spin and the slow nature of the deliveries and the magic of Yuvi bamboozled them hence giving him his first five wicket haul in international cricket. For quite some time he has been India’s answer to an all rounder but his first fiver signifies his importance in the bowling line up beyond that of a part timer. It is a hint of how much more is there to be derived out of his capabilities and at a time when the team’s bowling has been questioned his skills come as a luxury. Since he can do the same job as that of Piyush Chawala of taking the ball away from the batsman it opens up a spot in the eleven and gives the team an option to play either Ashish Nehra (subject to fitness) or Ravichandran Ashwin depending on the pitches and opposition. India finally managed to go to bed with DRS when Alex Cussack’s not out decision was reversed after being referred and it might be a significant moment in the scheme of things as BCCI may soon agree with the usage of technology in decision making on a regular basis.

As the lights took full effect, in walked the Indian openers and one had to be there in the galleries to experience the buzz that prevailed at that point. One more time the legend that India walks into bat with Sachin Tendulkar came alive and the roars enchanting his name rhythmically was the moment that captured the 22 years journey of an entire nation. Specialists have grown grey hair researching and writing about the phenomenon of how billion hearts skip a beat when Sachin takes guard and it still holds true as the fear of his dismissal is what differentiated the paying spectator from a free pass holder as he got ready in his customary style to start his 436th one day international innings. Virender Sehwag kick started the Indian innings for the third consecutive time with a boundary but soon the score card read 24/2 and that brought Virat Kohli to the centre. With a solid technique and smooth wrist play he was down to business from the word go and along with Sachin was on course to the target but on a day that belonged to left arm spinners across two cricket matches, George Dockrell got the better of a Tendulkar attempted sweep shot and it looked plumb in front of the wicket to the naked eyes. The little master’s consultation with Kohli and subsequently deciding to not challenge the umpire’s original decision was a transitional moment in Indian cricket as the Delhite looks to be in shape to be the next cricketer to enthrall the new generation of Indians once Sachin Tendulkar bows out. As the master started walking back towards the pavilion for an individual score of 38 runs, the crowd looked stunned for a moment but spotting the significance of the occasion every soul in the stadium stood up to clap and salute. Bangaloreans might just have witnessed the country’s favourite son for the last time in a blue jersey, though secretly the wish would be to proven wrong.

Smelling a chance, Ireland upped their game by few notches and their magnificent fielding sent Kohli back. For a moment it looked like as if there were more than 11 men inside the field and by no means would it be an exaggeration to draw comparison of their fielding standards with a certain Jonathan Rhodes. Every single that the bleed blue boys ran was cheered because for a phase in the match ticking the score board had become a game of cat and mouse. There lies a thin line of difference between an attitude of nothing to loose and something to prove and the Irish stood as an example for the later and the best of it was on display when in a particular over from BEML end, Boyd Rankin squared and bounced Yuvraj Singh for six consecutive deliveries. If there are still doubters after last night about the Irish reputation as a cricket team then it is time to do a reality check as they have not only won the hearts of many but have put forward a strong case for themselves. Here is a team that can be the link to ICC’s global vision of making cricket a truly world sport and that is exactly the reason for ICC’s role from now on in ensuring that Ireland plays more limited overs international cricket with top opponents both on home and away basis.

A 67 runs partnership between Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni settled the nerves and just when it looked like the match was in India’s kitty, Dockrell struck again to give Ireland a glimmer of hope. Intensity levels around the ground rose again and the anticipation of a close finish was speculated but in came Yousuf Pathan and with three mighty blows assured the country a good night’s sleep; richer with two points. Yuvraj Singh’s labored half century made him the first cricketer to have a double of fiver and fifty in the world cup’s history. The southpaw is slowly getting back to his best and if the first half of his career was marked by flamboyancy then his last leg as a cricketer has all the ingredients to be remembered for his contribution as an all rounder and that will be a telling point in the bigger picture of world cup dreams and topping ICC rankings.

Outside the cricket field if it was encouraging to see the presence of a lot of kids in the galleries then one had reasons to be flabbergasted observing the disrespectful and arrogant behavior of the police staff on ‘duty’ of watching a cricket match for free. If what was seen is to be believed then cricket still excites the school kids and it is a good sign but from an administrative point of view, these kids need to be preserved and moulded because in them lies the pulse of the game’s future in the country.

To sum it up the day was filled with small but significant instances that define the life of a cricket follower but if asked to pick up the best moment of the day then it has to be reserved for that minute when 35000+ Indians stood up to sing the country’s national anthem. The current that flew as the voices echoed the lyrics formed a chain of sentiment that made the experience hair rising and the thought of it many years from now is sure to be supplemented by goose bumps.

Link to the match score card -

Sidhanta Patnaik

7th March 2011, 4.00pm

Marthahalli, Bangalore

P.S – For records Debanta Patnaik, Siddhartha Dasgupta, (A stand), Sourav Majumder, Sudip Dhar and Sidhanta Patnaik (N stand) were there at M. Chinnaswamy, Bangalore on 6th March 2011

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Afridi, Roach & the anti socials

With most of the 19 matches in the first two weeks of the world cup being mismatch between the contenders and number fillers it is still early days but what is surprising is that despite the 8206 runs scored for the loss of 283 wickets in 38 innings on the flat pitches it is the bowling performances that have caught attention. The inflated egos of the batsmen might be getting bigger with each passing day of the tournament but their role remains secondary and any team aspiring to finish on the podium with the trophy on 2nd April 2011 it is their bowlers who have to be the main actors of the script. So far Pakistan, West Indies, Sri Lanka, Australia and South Africa have solved the equation and the faster the other teams get their priorities right, the better are their prospects of smiling in Mumbai four weeks from now.

As a 17 year old kid Shahid Afridi was first picked in the Pakistan side in 1996 as a leg spinner but within a couple of matches he recorded the fastest one day international century and ever since his role in the team has been assumed as that of a batsman who can bowl fast and flattish leg spin during the middle overs. Though it has taken 15 years to put things in perspective yet Pakistan supporters must be thanking their stars that the leg spinner has finally fulfilled his potential just at the right time on an occasion that they so desperately want to champion. For anyone who has been following his cricket ever since he was appointed as the captain of Pakistan’s limited over side it should be no surprise that he is topping the bowling charts of the world cup so far. Hearing him speak in interviews and other forums communicates that he is an honest soul who does not hide his expressions and after ICC’s no-ball verdict against the culprits he now has full control over his team and that is bringing out the best in him. This is probably the first time in his entire career that he is enjoying his cricket to the fullest and that is visible in the results he has been producing consistently over the last 8 to 12 months. Seeing him bowl; skidding it through the surface and hurrying through the overs reminds of a school boy who is fidgety until he finishes his homework so that he could concentrate on other important things in life. If that is not enough then his variations have been difficult to pick up for the batsmen and the audacity to go for referrals without consulting the wicket keeper after being turned down on a leg before the wicket appeal reveals the zone of confidence he is in right now. He loves the spotlight that has come along with the added responsibilities and along with Waqar Younis has turned this bunch of erratic cricketers into a business unit solely aiming at the top prize.

A line up that can afford to bench the talent of Ajmal Shahzad; it is strong message being sent out to the opponent. So far they might have faced only one stiff opponent in Sri Lanka yet the way they successfully defended a paltry score of 184 against Canada shows that they are working to a plan. Abdul Razzaq might have lost his pace but his years of experience cannot be of much better use than now. Not only he is using the crease exceedingly well but also is making the ball talk both ways. Umar Gul might not have got into full action in this tournament but he is warming up well for the big matches that start in a couple of weeks from now. And finally Shoaib Akthar’s peach of a delivery to dismiss Mahela Jayawardene gives an indication that he has understood the importance of cutting down on pace and concentrating on precision.

Having taken 29 wickets for 516 runs at the rate of 19 runs per wicket, Pakistan so far look to be the only team that can successfully defend anything below 300 runs and for them to reach there they have the experience of Younis Khan and Misbah-Ul-Haq. Umar Akmal looks to be slowly getting into the groove of living up to his potential and more often than not Abdul Razaq and Shahid Afridi will have off days with the bat but the day they switch on, God save the opponent!

There is no better sight than a fast bowler steaming in to rattle the woods of a batsman hence setting in fear in the minds of the opposition. By bundling out two sides for a combined total of 173 runs; West Indies has displayed some breathtaking bowling. Netherlands might not have ever faced the pace of Kemar Roach but his second successive man of the match performance against Bangladesh in their backyard shows what his talent is capable of achieving single handedly. Their approach in a virtual pre-quarter final against the host nation made all to stand up and notice as they virtually shattered Bangladesh’s dream of proceeding to the next round. Another important cog in this wheel is the left arm spin of Suleman Benn, who to the naked eye might appear as one of those cricketers who is aloof of his surrounding but he is as cunning as a cricketer can get and is a master in the art of choking the batsmen. For someone opening the bowling for a team that is legendary for its fast bowlers, he has a big shoe to fill and for now he has been doing it the best. They are slowly getting their act together and there are still a few gaps to be filled in their armour whose answers will be clearer when they meet the big nations but till then it is all about rejoicing the sensational performance of Kemar Roach.

Lasith Malinga’s absence turned out to be the difference between Sri Lanka’s 11 runs loss to Pakistan and the huge expectations of their fans. When he was brought into the eleven against Kenya, the slinger used his toe crushing yorkers to affirm his value as a hot property in world cricket and there will be more on offer in the days to come. Australia’s bowling is being well led by Mitchell Johnson but so far their opponents have been weak to say the least. Similarly South African spinners have come to the party but their big tests will begin in the quarter-final stage. New Zealand is one team that needs a special mention not for any superlative performance but for having recognised their weakness and playing within it. Having realized that they do not have the fire power to explode top oppositions they have made it a point to crush the weaker teams in order to enhance their net run rate and their approach has literally booked them a place in the quarter-finals.

Beyond the on field cricket action, if the unparliamentarily words of Canada’s Balaji Rao that the stump microphone captured were unpleasant to the ears then the news of West Indies team bus being stone pelted in Bangladesh does not do any good to the game’s richness in the subcontinent. Just when appreciations were flowing in from across the world for the spirit of the Bangladesh crowd and the manner in which they welcomed the world cup, the parochial act of a handful has put a black spot on the country’s international image and has brought shame and displeasure to all. It was not the fault of West Indies for the spineless show of the Bangladesh batsmen and if the fans could not muster the courage to appreciate the bowling display of Roach and company inside the cricket field then they had no rights to act like animals beyond it. Someone has to teach those barbaric people that once the 100 overs of a cricket match are over, the visiting players and officials are guests in a country that is thirsty for tourism revenue.

On a parting note I just collected my tickets from M. Chinnaswamy for tomorrow’s game between India and Ireland and something within me says that Virat Kohli will produce a Sunday special innings.

Sidhanta Patnaik

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Record chase & fastest 100 by the Irish: ‘I was there’

Last night was incredible! To be witnessing a lesser fancied team scripting a world cup record chase to topple their ‘big brothers’ by coming from behind courtesy the fastest world cup century was a double delight for all those sports lovers of Bangalore who had walked in through the turnstile of Chinnaswamy with a unassumptous objective of catching up on some cricket on a public holiday and experiencing a bit of the world cup caravan that has been in town for some time now. At the half way mark the cynics had already put their caps on crucifying the associate nations for their villainous contribution in making the world cup’s first phase predictable and boring and when the Irish skipper William Porterfield lost his timber to James Anderson off the first delivery of the chase, the whispers gained further momentum.

By the 25th over with just the nelson figure of 111 on board and half the side back in the hut, the hope of crossing the finish line of 329 runs was looking ominous for Ireland. The inevitable was written on the wall and the media personnel around the world would have started filing yet another monotonous match report, similarly the crowd to avoid the chaotic match day traffic around MG road and Infantry road was prompted to bid good byes to their fellow mates in the galleries but that is exactly when Kevin O’ Brien, born on 4th March 1984 had come to the center with a single eyed focus of celebrating his 27th birthday two days in advance in front of his parents.

A well knit 167 runs partnership between Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott had taken the game away beyond Ireland’s reach before John Mooney and Trent Johnston with some common sense wicket to wicket bowling pulled things back into the fold restricting England for a commendable 328 runs. For the first 75 overs of the match Ireland had looked good in patches but were generous in their approach allowing England to tighten the noose at crucial junctures. Graeme Swann’s wily skills had strangled them and when Kevin O’ Brien hit two sixes off a Swann over it was conceived to be a flash in the pan before he held out in the deep. Not a single being watching this ‘one sided’ affair would have predicted that it was a warm up before the launch of the main act! Those two sixes over the midwicket fence triggered off a period of 12 overs including 5 overs of power play of brutal hitting and sensible batting. The contrasting approach of Kevin O’ Brien and Alex Cusack complemented their style of play as they amassed 130 runs in 72 balls and it was that stretch of the game which shifted the momentum in Ireland’s favour. From there on it was the batting side’s match to loose and Cusack’s misjudgment leading to his run out after a 162 runs partnership at the pace of 9.43 runs per over threw the possibilities of yet another turnaround but the junior Brien found a greater alley in John Mooney who was unbeaten on 33 when the final runs were scored.

The anchor of the chase, Kevin O’ Brien during the course of his innings not only become Ireland’s highest one day run scorer but also engraved his names in the individual records book as the fastest centurion of world cup cricket, and by the time he was run out in the penultimate over of the match he would have surely booked a few appointments with some of the Indian Premier League franchisee owners. In his blitzkrieging display of batting he was particularly severe on James Anderson, Michael Yardy and Tim Bresnan who gave away 24 runs apiece to him from 6 overs between them. With Swann’s quota completed much before the anti-climax, Strauss was short of wicket takers forcing him to over attack by bringing in 5 fielders inside the ring and in the hindsight the ploy boomeranged as the batsmen got the license to go over the top of the infield. If the first 25 overs of the innings had produced only 11 fours and 2 sixes, the Irish made up for the dearth in the business end of the innings by registering 22 hits to the fence and 7 over it. In the end it was the difference in the boundaries and sixes (England – 26/5, Ireland – 33/9) that sealed the verdict in favour of the boys in green.

Once the night’s hero made his intentions clear and showed his flair and capabilities, he was backed and trusted by the nearly 10,000 people to produce an entertaining spectacle. Till then the crowd had applauded for every good shot played and every wicket taken without any loyalties but the moment a sense of history being made was felt in the air, Ireland became the home team for the evening. Every run was reciprocated with thunderous roar and suddenly the decibel level around the ground picked up, much better than what the shout meter had recorded before the lights were on. The ascending energy level impacted the English who looked brain frozen on the park, the English flags disappeared from sight and mentally England had lost before Ireland had won. The presence of a strong Irish contingent in the stands contributed to the frenzied atmosphere and the smile on their faces signified the importance of the victory against their geographical neighbours in the background of difficult political relationship between the two nations.

Unpredictability is what makes sports a beautiful exponent of joy and hope and enables it to be the biggest catalyst in a turbulent society. Miracles evoke priceless emotions that cannot be described in words and Ireland’s night with destiny on 2nd March 2011 qualifies to be one of those ‘I was there’ moments for every single soul who witnessed it live and for those who had left the stadium early, it was a hard way to learn that a game of cricket is not over till the last ball is bowled. Ireland’s next contest against India in three days time from now may be a one sided affair with Indian batsmen massaging their ego but the result will in no way diminish the degree of spark that the Irish have ignited.

Link to the match score card:

Credit to for the statistics and image

Sidhanta Patnaik

3rd March 2011,2.07pm

Marthahahlli, Bangalore

P.S – For records Rakesh Shastri, Siddhartha Dasgupta, Sanketh Katti, Sudip Dhar, Sidhanta Patnaik were there at M. Chinnaswamy, Bangalore on 2nd March 2011 to witness history

Monday, February 28, 2011

A day after Chinnaswamy shone and cricket won

Ever since the world cup schedule was drawn, the 3110th one day international match was tagged as a marquee contest and the mouth watering ingredients of top forms, star players, venue shift and ticket controversy had cooked up for a humdinger but the probable top of the table clash did not present itself with any side effect clauses. However more than 12 hours after the high voltage dramatic finish that India and England transpired to produce at M. Chinnaswamy, Bangalore, emotionally drained minds, exhausted bodies, weak knees wanting for more and floating feelings gives a silhouette of the palpitation and tension that the participants went through courtesy the classic nail biter.

The hangover takes the thoughts back to the intense images of last evening and immediately the mind springs to action for a post mortem of field placements and permutation and combination of what would or would not have happened had an extra run been scored with the bat or a few extra runs saved on the field. On one side of the fan’s psyche, the feeling is flamboyant for being privileged to have witnessed 599 deliveries of an epical entertaining episode between two strong cup contenders but the other half, that of a parochial cricket lover is busy pacifying the soul for having got out of jail, after all with ordinary fielding and without any firepower to cause real time threat to the Englishmen, the bleed blue boys managed a tie from the jaws of defeat.

A few years back a score of 338 runs posted by the team batting first would have eliminated the anxieties of betting racquets, knowing exactly where to place their penny on but in 2011 on a flat sub continent track, with the evolutionised batting technology any score below 350 is just par. India was presented with an opportunity on a platter to set a total beyond reach but their inability to press the pedal and seal the advantage while being on the driver’s seat overshadowed the little master’s obsession for centuries; around which the batting revolved. Similarly when an international team was made to look like a club side while defending a comprehensive score, few questions cropped up immediately. With bowling resources as thin as setting Sun’s rays, this match removed the mask and exposed the naked reality of India’s bleak possibility of winning the cup that matters.

If MS Dhoni and boys have to do justice to all the hope that has been pinned on them then this was a much needed reality check to shake them up and the result communicates that there is a lot of ground to cover and editions to make. Though it was a good ploy to play three spinners yet the point could not be driven home on a ground which has produced India’s top two leg spinners. Piyush Chawala might be well backed by the team management but the sight of him coming to bowl with sweaty palms, nervous looking face and then delivering more than 51% of his quota of the deliveries on the wrong half of the pitch is not pleasant for a buoyant fan who has planned his calendar around 2nd April 2011.

With a mammoth total on the board, a much more attacking field was the need of the hour so that the bowlers would have got the license to go for the kill right from the outset, instead it was more of a defensive field and the runs kept leaking till the 40th over as Andrew Strauss through his classical innings along with Ian Bell sensed the crack in the wall and drove it open. A few more men in the ring would have changed the context of the game as was seen when a man at short mid wicket was placed for Yuvraj Singh’s left armers in the 41st over. Immediately the number of dot balls increased the pressure and the gap in the equation expanded forcing Strauss to opt for the batting power play. The batting power play once again proved to be a nemesis for the batting sides in both the innings. England’s crumbliness after the departure of Ian Bell and Andrew Strauss off successive deliveries was understandable considering the pressure that had been built in by the packed 40,000 crowd but what went wrong with India?

Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir and then Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni set the ideal platform for the lower middle order batsmen to come and play a flurry of shots but that was not to be as against the run of play, the momentum was lost and in a space of 33 runs 7 wickets tumbled. This is one area India has to be careful in the remaining matches and cannot afford to slip up because this is where the team’s strength lies. However between all these glitches lies the minor issue of applying common sense and making it a mandate in the dressing room to bat out the 50 overs. Zaheer Khan’s thought process while facing the penultimate ball of the innings needs to be questioned. He not only got run out trying to force a second run when it was not on but also ran one short. He is no Harbhajan Singh and in situations like he was in, application of basic cricket brain should have taken precedence ahead of trying to go for the glory. There will be lifelong speculation of what would have happened had Munaf Patel got the strike and scored a boundary off the last delivery of the Indian innings but for now Ajmal Shahzad has become a household name across India and will always be an answer to various trivia questions that will be designed around that six, he hit off Munaf’s third ball in the 100th over of the match. The value of the point earned or lost from this contest will only be known depending on who finishes as group topper of the league stage and who their opponent is for the quarter final.

All in all, by the time the 5158th run of the 10th cricket world cup was scored and 4th tie of world cup cricket was secured, cricket had become richer and it augurs well for the competition. Special kudos have to be showered on Karnataka State Cricket Association for having fought their ways amidst controversies to facilitate a thrilling encounter and the energetic people of Bangalore deserve a round of applause whose sporty behavior has been rewarded with two top class world cup matches that are now a part of the cricketing folklore (read 1996 world cup Quarter Final match between arch rivals India and Pakistan).

On a personal note, I made up my absence at the stadium by teaming up with old mates in front of the television, with whom I have watched cricket matches for nearly 10 years now and the experience was tantalizing. Like a true adrenalin cricket junkie my mind is still fixated on yesterday and I have refrained myself from switching on the television today because then the high would lower and bubble would burst as no other cricket match for some time to come can present the extremities of the pendulum swinging from one side to another periodically. It will take some time for normal services to resume.

Link to the match -

Sidhanta Patnaik
28th February 2011, 5.06pm
Marthahalli, Bangalore

P.S – MS Dhoni is one of the shrewdest international cricket captains and a smart strategist. The technical points in this piece are mere observations from the other side of the white line and in no way intends to question MS Dhoni’s on field decisions. The writer is well aware that it is a different ball game altogether once you step inside the boundary.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Paying cricket fan deserves better treatment

Right from queuing up overnight for a ticket a few days before a contest to walking a fair distance to get to the parking area after the completion of the game, amidst pollution that can be the root for any airborne disease, it is quite a torturous process for anyone who has ever been to a stadium in India to experience its biggest entertainment spectacle – a cricket match featuring the national team. In spite of this painful journey the average Indian middle class has never failed to pay and honour its commitment of filling up the arena every time the clowns are brought to the town in their colorful attire for the circus. The marketers have lapped up this unassuming role of the fans and in an attempt to leverage their benefits have turned predators and injected greed into the business cycle. What is unfortunate however is that though the controlling boards (international, national, state) measure the pulse of this triangular relationship and have always grinned at the richness that the Indian fans generate for them yet they have purposefully failed to understand the importance of human quotient or have knowingly stayed away from a question that has been asked time and time again ever since Board for Control of Cricket (BCCI) became one of the richest sporting body of the world. Despite making cricket cash rich why is the Indian fan always taken for granted? The answer is not far away.

First of all to open the counters for selling a meager 7,000 tickets for the high profile India vs. England encounter at M. Chinnaswamy stadium on 27th February 2011 or for that case 3,000 tickets for the world cup finals in Mumbai is a systematic failure of the organizers to assess the demand for the world cup’s return to its financial haven after 15 years. One has to take into account the last minute shift of the Bangalore match from Kolkata but then the world noticed how the online ticketing agency’s website was made a mockery of when ten million people tried to get a hand on one of the thousand tickets available online for the final match. These incidents bring embarrassment to the world cup which is heavily dependent on the Indian mass to be a commercial success. It goes without mentioning that like any other business project there are sponsor deliverables and on top of that in the Indian context there are bureaucratic issues of massaging the egos of association members and local government authorities through free match passes but for that do the fans have to compromise? Like any other professional venture why cannot the fans be treated as kings in the cricket economics of the subcontinent, is it that difficult?

The episodes that have transpired over the last week clearly indicates that the organizers at three levels (ICC, BCCI, state associations) have not worked in tandem for a foolproof plan with respect to the ticket distribution arrangement and it was a matter of time before the media brought it out to the open. The audacity of Mumbai’s mayor to demand for a certain number of free passes for the finals and the reasoning behind it or the detention of two Karnataka State Cricket Association officials for their alleged role in selling match tickets at an inflated price in the black market gives a fair idea of how tickets are freely available in the air but still far from reach to the common man.

When news such as these make headlines it brings bad name to the state association for which it becomes their prerogative to set the house in order. It is time for boards to look beyond voting banks, visualize the big picture and operate like a corporate house does. As an on ground partner for ICC events their priority should be on fan satisfaction and issuing free passes to members should be restricted to minimum number and done on a pro-rata basis. At the same time it should be ICC’s responsibility to set the guidelines and take charge of the situation instead of being allowed to be kicked like a sponge ball between state and national political wires. Similarly ICC should also rethink on its terms and conditions and negotiate on free pass deliverables to its sponsors. Tapering with the quota system is bound to rage the privileged class but the big question of who is the heart beat of the game; the members or the mass needs to be asked. From an honest answer, the change will stem down the system and the ripple effect will finally make the cricket business bigger than the personalities running it and with it the magnitude of respect will grow.

The corporate representatives in suits inside glass boxes have always come to the ground to cut a deal or oblige a partner and that does not do the game any good from a socio-cultural aspect. Therefore ICC’s single motto should be to ensure that more and more paying public walk through the turnstile. For the junta (mass) who are the real lovers of the game the result of the match has always been incidental, instead the joy of seeing a player from a distance, clicking a photo with the ground as the backdrop or being captured on the giant screen is what creates an experience of lifetime for them and it should not be that difficult for a sports body to understand the long term profits of such a mind set. The fans not only add benevolent colour to the buzz and excitement around the stadium but a full house is the single most effective tool to help a broadcaster earn credible TRP rating across the globe and if not for anything else but for this role of theirs, fans deserve more respect and better treatment.

At another level the brutal behavior on the fans by the local police every time they line up over a night with a hope of ‘winning a ticket’ against the race is something that needs to stop. The recent media images of police lathicharging the fans outside M. Chinnaswamy stadium; Bangalore is a shame to a land where cricket is the biggest connecting factor. For any Indian who has been a part of that rooster camp at some point of their life and has felt the stick on the backside of the body will relate to the pinch of ego, after all only a criminal deserves such action. It does not happen in South Africa or England or Australia then why do the Indian fans go through the ordeal when they are the one’s contributing maximum to the kitty?

It boils down to the administrators to show the right intent, put their heads together, study the best practices of iconic sporting properties and work out a logistical plan that is peaceful and free from the element of nightmare. Once the quantity of tickets to be sold is reached after accommodating the free passes, the number and the process of ticket sales should be made public. Each buyer should be entitled for a solitary ticket hence negating any threat of black market. The gates to the ticket camp can open one night before the counters start operating and each fan on walking into the camp will be given a colour differentiated token depending on his/her choice of seat denomination. Just like in Wimbledon, fans can come to the camp with their canopies and other basic amenities and have a good time around it. Once the number of tokens issued matches with the tickets available, the entry to the camp should be closed. The fans have to queue as per the token number. As soon as the sun rises, the queues can start moving in the direction of the ticket counter, aided by volunteers and that would avoid any chaos and help in making the fan’s journey an enjoyable one. Just imagine the goodwill and coverage the association who implements such a plan will earn by the time the last ticket is sold at the counter.

The cricket loving people of India have always been treated like cattle for no fault of theirs but like the true nature of this democracy they have let it go and moved on however the new generation which has access to the world at their finger tips has a different mentality. They demand respect, comfort, luxury and value for what they pay. If the approach of the authorities towards the queuing public does not change in the near future then the younger generation will eventually be driven away from the stands and the repercussions of such a move will ultimately deplete the cricketing vibrancy of the country right from the gullies (lanes) to the living rooms to the international level and tomorrow our beloved sport will be dead and buried. Typing such a line makes the monitor look like a scary battle field and to avoid it in real, the administrators have to wake up now to the new demands.

Sidhanta Patnaik
26th February 2011, 12.19am
Marthahalli, Bangalore

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bravo, Tahir & a cricket match

All the cricket statistics for the next seven weeks might be emanating from the moment the clock struck 2.30pm as per Indian standard time on 19th February 2011 when Virender Sehwag characteristically hit the first ball of the 10th cricket world cup for a boundary to the extra cover region, but it is only after 2698 runs, 83 wickets and 496.5 overs and 6 one sided encounters were produced that the real moment arrived. If the first six days of the competition were meant for the fans to get into the zone of reviving their viewing habits then the next four days starting today can be categorically termed as the base on which the popularity of the world cup hinges on. If the Trans-Tasman rivalry of Australia and New Zealand or the keenness of a challenge between Sri Lanka and Pakistan or a marquee contest between India and England fails to arouse the interest level of a fan, then nothing probably will but to reach there one had to first witness the teaser that West Indies’ opening clash against South Africa offered to start an early weekend for cricket lovers.

On paper and as per the ICC ranking the result of the 7th match of the cup seemed to be a no brainer and that is how the match lived up to with the Proteas registering a comprehensive 7 wicket win hence achieving their first win over the Caribbean team in an ICC event. It was a true reflection of the downward slide that West Indies cricket has been through for more than a decade now.

West Indies cricket now is the benchmark for institutional failure in the sporting world but today for a span of 23 overs it looked like the Sun was about to rise once again over the Calypso island. Whoever witnessed the 111 runs 2nd wicket partnership between Devon Smith and Darren Bravo will not only vouch for the fluency that was on display but will also assure you that there were two talents on the park who are potentially ready to take their country’s cricket into the new horizon.

The 22 year old Darren Bravo’s 82 ball innings had class written all over it and that needs a special mention. The calmness on his face walking in after the dismissal of Chris Gayle in the first over is something that has been lacking in the West Indies line up for long. His temperament is what looks like to be his biggest asset and it was visible in his ability to rotate strike and simultaneously play fearless shots all across the wickets and keep the score board ticking. His drives off the square of the wicket reminisced comparison with the legend Brian Lara and for someone playing in his 14th One day international it is a true moment of reckoning. His perfect back lift and level headedness while playing shots marks him as a talent for the future. Just when everyone glued into their television, being refreshed by the original Calypso style batting was wishing how the party would continue Bravo misjudged a Botha delivery to be dismissed leg before wicket for an entertaining 73 and it was not long before the bubble burst and West Indies were left to defend a meager total of 222.

On the other side, there was a 31 years old man who having made his first class debut in 1997 and played in 261 matches at a level below international level for 19 teams was still unsure of his future till the last calendar year. With the arrival of the new year he not only became a legal South African citizen but was also gifted with a life that he had dreamt for ever since he spun a cricket ball from middle stump to off stump. Having travelled between Pakistan, England and South Africa to realize his ultimate dream of playing international cricket, Lahore born Imran Tahir is an epitome of journeyman cricketer. Mixing personal life with profession might not be a good idea but it is his marriage with a South African lady that helped him earn the country’s citizenship and the fact that he got a call up to the national team as soon as his legal formalities were completed gives a clear picture of the credibility he had built over 13 years and 547 first class wickets is a testimony of his skills and demand.

In a team that banks upon seamers to do the job more often than not there can be no assurance to the international career graph for this leg spinner but by taking four wickets on debut and displaying the spirit of an attacker he has finally done justice to that solitary opportunity that he had been looking for a lifetime now. Tomorrow Imran Tahir may or may not be a legend but 24th February 2011 will be a day for innumerous journeyman cricketers to draw inspiration from and continue their perusal towards earning an international cap. In a matter of few weeks Imran has become synonym of hope and motivation and that is itself a worthwhile achievement to earn someone a name for life.

May this world cup continue to produce many more such talents.

Darren Bravo’s profile -

Imran Tahir’s profile -

Sidhanta Patnaik

24th February 2011, 11.19pm

Marthahalli, Bangalore

P.S – Today is exactly a year since Sachin Tendulkar scored 200* in the Gwalior ODI against South Africa and it also marks my one year of cricket writing.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sourav Ganguly – Refreshing the face of Indian Commentary

For a country obsessed with its cricketers and contributing a lion’s share in enhancing the game’s richness, it is surprising that not many Indian cricketers have managed to ride on the wave after their on field sell by date. Except for Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri hardly has any Indian cricketer done justice to their ability of narrating and analyzing the game from the other side of the boundary line. Among the players who hung their boot after 1995 it is only Sanjay Manjrekar who comes close to comparison to the two microphone stalwarts. Barring a few who have been promising with still a lot to prove, others have either failed to express their thoughts appropriately or have been criticized for their associations with media houses that use cricket as a tool to enhance the TRP ratings of their ‘soap operas’.

Australia’s Channel 9 and England Sky Sports’ have been the favored employment destination for their cricketers who have wished to associate themselves with the game after retiring without being directly involved but the Indian scenario is quite contrasting. Not only did Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) have no constant broadcaster for its home matches for long till Neo Sports’ emergence, but the communication skills which is the oxygen for an ex cricketer have always raised questions about their credibility beyond playing the game, probably the two key reasons why popular names have slipped into oblivion until handed over a honorary post by the board.

The taken for granted Indian audience’s patience was slowly hitting the roof top and the reviews of the broadcasters was visible on social networking sites where fans have openly shared their dismay ever since the medium has been made available to them, over the quality and content of the voice that brought the game into the living rooms. Not only had the Indian Premier League (IPL) made the commentators worthy a sales manager of a fast moving consumer good (FMCG) company but for an intelligent cricket watcher who keeps a tab of the telecast in Australia, South Africa and England, India formed the bottom end of the expected standards axis. The monotony had to be broken for better ratings and financial interest, if not for anything else and if anyone has heard to Sourav Ganguly in the two world cup match analysis shows that he has featured in so far has to congratulate ESPN Star for their master stroke.

The present generation hardly remembers watching Ravi Shastri or Sunil Gavaskar bat, but Sourav Ganguly remains fresh in their memories. Right from his burst into the international circuit with his Lord’s special in 1996 till his retirement in 2008 hardly has any other cricket divided opinions, the way he has. As a captain he was pivotal in setting the foundation for India’s resurgence as a top cricket team and allowed his hand picked boys to redefine the meaning of aggression and body language. The approach not only stirred the emotion of the entire nation but also invited for handful of controversies and he soon became a synonym for India’s attitudinal shift from gentlemen to ‘give back what you take’ boys, especially after his Lord’s balcony antics on 13th July 2002.

A slight observation confirms that nothing much has changed in his role as an analyst at ESPN Star’s studio. He may not be artistic but he is blunt, straightforward and is willing to call spade, a spade. His technical view points on game situations not only leave you wondering the reasoning skills he possesses but also leaves you wanting for more. Having played his last first class as recently as December 2010 and with 424 international match experience he brings in a sense of fresh air into an atmosphere that had become stagnant for quite some time now. His insights from dressing room perspective; trusted bait for listeners since the evolution of sports commentary, have not only kept the audience on their toes but also have given the fans an entry into the thought process of the cricketers featuring in this world cup.

The passion in his presentation is visible and if his progress is at the rate what one is seeing then it won’t be late before he earns another set of original fan base for his new profession. He has got an entry into a much bigger gamut which would have been far from possible had he been picked up by any of the franchisee for the fourth edition of IPL and knowing his penchant for the big stage, this is just the beginning of his second calling. Tomorrow if the world witnesses Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid in the commentator avatar then Dada deserves to be credited for opening yet another flood gate.

May the breed grow and continue to spice up cricket discussions across living rooms.

Sidhanta Patnaik
21st February 2011
Marthahalli, Bangalore

P.S: As I am about to publish this piece Harsha Bhogle, Dermot Reeve and Sunil Gavaskar wished him on his wedding anniversary

Harsha Bhogle - The voice of Indian cricket

The animated celebration of the first two days of the world cup 2011 is a testament of cricket’s meaning in the sub continent. In this part of the world though poverty stares at most levels of the society due to unfavourable demand and supply equation yet all the worries stand still and joy takes over the moment the bat hits the ball. The Afridis, Muralis, Shakibs and Sachins have not only brought familiarity across the geographical stretch but have continuously offered entertaining content which has acted as a soothing balm in an otherwise black and white environment where the top priority has always been about the day’s next commitment. Just like the giants, the game has also produced a few who without ever having donned the national jersey have managed to enter our households. If in this world cup, after a long gap viewers are slowing starting to switch on their television set for the pre match analysis and stay glued to it right up to the completion of the post match analysis then the sole reason behind it is the screen presence of Harsha Bhogle, who incidentally is covering his 7th world cup.

For some one who has played cricket at the University level, his cricketing skills can be termed as above average but that does not earn him his stripes. It is his ability to give words to the character of a master’s straight drive or a wily foxes’ doosra that connects him with the emotion of more than a billion. Cricket had always united the sub continent but there was a lack of a story teller who could add color to the pictures and showcase the expression of the mass to the world. Till the 1990’s Indian parents were influenced by the air of conservatism that the country’s economy projected and that restricted young brains to career options in either technical, administration or medical field in pursuit of secured future but much before liberalization Harsha Bhogle had defied the trend by earmarking his area of specialization in a domain that was yet to be introduced to the middle class.

Today when illusionary notions like peer pressure, parental dreams, packages, financial security have made job placements around educational institutions a mockery and have robbed creative independence out of career graphs one can only leave it to imagination of what would have happened had IIM branded Chemical engineer Harsha Bhogle opted for the tested instead of taking the unexplored territory. Like every dreamer he had his shares of risk and hard days. Not only did he quit his advertising job but at the age of 19 in 1991 he had to domestically fund his trip to down under to work alongside Australian Broadcasting Corporation as his employer All India Radio were unable to offer financial assistance. Just like history luck favoured him as being Alan Border’s ghost writer for the tour gave him a golden opportunity to pick on his brain. Later on when Disney’s ESPN entered India in 1995, he got his first big break and since then there has been no looking back. In 16 years that have passed by he has established himself and created a niche for his profession to be titled as the voice of Indian cricket.

His title is far from being officially accredited but it is the people who have bestowed the honor on him and there is a reason behind it. His role in the game goes beyond the statistics that emanates from the cricket field. His unique talent of making composite look simple and relate with the fans differentiates him from many others analysts visible across television channels. If today cricket is the way of life for a large number of Indians who claim to know more about London or Melbourne than the respective country’s locals then a major credit goes to Harsha Bhogle who along with his friend Gautam Bhimani has been the best geography teacher of our times. Informing and sharing facts and images from Auckland to Bridgetown and effectively negating the difficulties of waking up late or sleeping at the wee hours by mastering the art of assimilating the opinions of legends have embedded him into every cricket follower’s nerve system in the sub continent.

Self awareness and working efficiently within limitations by sharing forthright views, packaging his team of presenters and connecting the experts with the fans instead of trying to be one has been his biggest strength that has enabled him to hold his own ground when squeezed in between 10,122 test runs and 916 international wickets in front of the camera. His ability to sport a naturally broad smile and using appropriate words to communicate without ever cutting into anyone’s space makes him loveable and a modern day icon. If today his views on the game are considered as a benchmark then it has a lot to do with his quality educational background and valued upbringing which gives him the freedom to alternatively switch between cricket and real life. His background allows him to accept anyone from an ex cricketer to a cameraman on ground as a teacher and learn from the environment and it has been one of the key reasons behind his longevity in the circuit dating back to much before Tendulkar took guard in Sialkot.

For anyone who follows him on twitter and has truly understood the language of his 80 odd minutes IIM-A address or of his articles on print and electronic media will acknowledge that sense has always prevailed in his successful journey. They give an insight into the dynamics of brand Harsha Bhogle and proves that for such a person accomplishments cannot be a fluke.

The brand is a symbol of hope and light for every dreamer as he epitomizes the true meaning of living one’s passion. Though he belongs to a depleting tribe of non cricketers on the big stage, it is his optimism that inspires many around him who at best are top class gully cricketers to aspire of a career in the game in a role beyond taking strike or shining the cherry.

If Richie Benaud is for Australia, Jonathan Agnew is for England and Tony Cozier is to West Indies then Harsha Bhogle surely deserves to be India’s flag bearer in this category. For someone who believes that praises for a person should be shared with him/her much before the judgment day which usually is the society’s norm, the biggest compliment comes from the horses’ mouth himself:

“I can’t be Tendulkar but mind you Tendulkar can’t be me either.”

Link to Harsha Bhogle's IIM- A address:

Sidhanta Patnaik
21st February 2011
Marthahalli, Bangalore

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sachin’s Ton & Dream: From 18th to 19th February

18th February takes me back by 15 years to the summer of 1996. Those were the days before the marketers had laid the strict dictum of scheduling all of India matches as day nighters in marquee stadiums. The commercial dynamics were evolving and within Board for Control of Cricket in India’s (BCCI) permutation and combination tier B cities were allotted their share of big time cricket, a rarity these days as the format of this year’s world cup suggests. The images of that morning are still fresh in my memories.

The 1992 world cup’s razzmatazz appeal had colored the world and India was bubbling with excitement and anticipation as the next edition came home after four years. As per the tournament fixture Mohammed Azharuddin’s India were scheduled to play their first match against Maurice Odumbe’s Kenya at Barabati stadium, Cuttack; just an hour’s drive for my residence. On being educated about this my thrill knew no bounds and with just a solo live stadium experience prior to that of an international match featuring players in white attire, I was fantasizing and reassuring about my prospects of being there at the stadium to witness my first pyjama cricket match. The unknown quotient of world cup debutants Kenya, the African spirit of their fans and India’s expected dominance set the buzz around the stadium and made the experience enriching but what makes the day eternally memorable is Sachin Tendulkar’s maiden world cup century.

Before the world cup the Tendulkar phenomena had yet to grip the nation’s demographic in entirety. Though marked as a prodigy yet his scores had not gained the weight to reflect the mood of a billion and his bat’s fascia still did not have a sponsor logo. Having made his debut in 1989 he had played a miniscule role in the disastrous 1992 world cup campaign and with 3212 runs and 4 centuries from 102 matches there was still a lot to establish. The 1996 world cup came at the right juncture of his career, just when he was looking for the first big stage to showcase his credentials as a truly international icon. 18th February 1996 happens to be that red lettered day when he scored his first world cup century (127*) and with it the juggernaut that started rolling continues to mesmerize the world without any signs of slowing down.

How he rose to conquer every target that was once considered impossible and its overall impact on the country’s post liberalized macro economics are something that is there to be seen felt and cherished; today it forms a part of bed time stories for nursery kids. 1996 world cup defined the Sachin Tendulkar that the world was to see in the coming years. Not only did he become the highest scorer of that tournament (523 runs) but also rewrote his record in 2003 by scoring more than 600 runs and today with 1796 runs from 36 world cup matches he stands unparalleled and peerless. Let it be the swashbuckling 137* against Sri Lanka at Feroz Shah Kotla in the same world cup or an emotionally draining 140* against Kenya in 1999 after completing his father’s funeral or the appeasing 98 against Pakistan in 2003 after a series of sleepless nights or taking the attack to Andrew Caddick and company, all these accomplishments have made brand SRT a part of ICC’s world cup lexicon but on that distant afternoon in Cuttack when the base was being built for the future the singular thought in his mind would have been to carry the bat through and produce a match winning innings for the country.

Exactly a day after a decade and half since that century, in his 21st year in the international circuit he will become the second cricketer after Javed Miandad to feature in six editions of the world cup and once he walks into the park against Bangladesh he will be the most capped One Day International (ODI) cricketer surpassing Sanath Jayasuriya’s 444 match appearances. His longevity and consistency is a symbol of adaptability, concentration and single mindedness focus on the goal, it is a sheer example of perfect implementation of skills in four continents that he had honed at Shivaji Park and continues to polish at MIG Grounds or MCA Grounds in Bandra. With an international experience of 32000 plus runs and 97 centuries tomorrow he will embark on a mission for probably (probably because if he wishes then playing in 2015 world cup is attainable) the last time in the blue jersey towards realizing his unfulfilled dream of lifting the world cup on 2nd April 2011 at his backyard; Wankhede stadium, Mumbai. Ever since he made his thoughts known to the public, winning the world cup has become a mass aspiration but it is time for common sense to prevail.

For a country that has grown on Tendulkar these are indications of preparing towards the Sun set. Any day from today the little master might be playing in his last ODI and now is the appropriate time to once again stand up and salute the diminutive genius and the best way of articulating it would be to allow him to enjoy last phase of a voyage that has brought happiness to countless souls across boundaries. The new decade has convinced the fans that the hopes of winning the world cup are no more pinned on the shoulders of one individual but depends on the precise execution of game plan by 11 men and this will probably be the first time in his career that Sachin Tendulkar will be accompanied by ten equally competitive team mates to share the responsibilities of performance. Lastly the faster the mass realizes that the world cup has to be won for the country and not for Tendulkar, the better are the prospects for their favourite son’s dream coming true.

Many years from now when I will be sharing Sachinlore to my grand children; as much as I will talk about that chilly morning of February 1994 in Auckland when he opened an innings for the first time or the Ganesh Chaturthi evening of September 1994 in Colombo when he scored his maiden century against Australia that much I will be expressing them of how lucky I was to have witnessed live the master blaster’s first world cup ton at Barabati stadium, Cuttack on 18th February 1996.

Sidhanta Patnaik

18th February 2011,6.25pm

Marthahalli, Bangalore

Link to the match against Kenya on 18th February 1996:

Statistics courtesy

Celebration of Cricket - World Cup Opening Ceremony

Today is a day of celebration for the entire cricket world as the editions of world cup entered double digits. The opening ceremony which officially marked the beginning of the 10th edition of the cup delivered high valued entertainment which has not only left every one impressed but also has made news for its precise execution. Sports and art have always complemented each other since their evolution but as history suggests International Cricket Council’s (ICC) relationship with ceremonies to mark events have not been occasions to savour. Let it be the Eden Garden’s pitch controversy in 1996 world cup or 1999’s weather interference at Lord’s or 2003’s drag every time ICC had ventured beyond its domain there were eyebrows raised with respect to the real need for such failed attempts of celebration. As the hype built up around this year’s world cup the world was staring with suspicion and a lot was at stake for ICC.

All doubts were put to rest as the spectacular opening ceremony at Bangladesh’s historically rich Bangabandhu stadium not only enthralled the packed house and the one billion households over 180 territories courtesy Espn Star Sports (ESS) live feed but also left a huge impact on the economic value and cultural image of the host country. Tonight Sharad Pawar and company can heave a sigh of relief.
For a young nation which gained independence in 1971 today was its time for glory. Being the only sport where their national team features in the world cup it had to be cricket that brought them the big moment they had been waiting for long. Today for a change the world did not point out at the country’s slow on field progress but stood up to appreciate the energy and enthusiasm that blew in the air and saluted the endeavor of every citizen to make the day historic. It is a moment of pride for a country where cricket is the biggest connector among various classes of the society. Right from the time when the country’s national anthem was sung which was the opening act till the last performance of the evening the glitter in the eyes of every Bangladeshi communicated the delight they took in being host to the 14 nations and a smile on their face confirmed their dream of having an international ‘I was there’ moment written down in their diary had finally come true.

Taking the captains of 14 teams to the center stage in rickshaws accompanied by kids struck chord with the entire country where public transport still largely is dependent on manual labor. The captains on the stage with their chest upright was a visual that signified the meaning of the world cup, it is indeed the cup that matters. Just when the anticipation from the evening was reaching its crescendo the tempo had to be broken in true sub continental style and that was the sole dampener of the evening.

Public events in this part of the world are more about political mileages and there was no way the world cup could escape it. Four men who are primarily politicians holding honorary positions as cricket administrators and the head of the state spoilt the momentum with their long speeches that could have been easily avoided. The crowd was least bothered of the address and was busier with antics wishing to be captured on the giant screen for a moment’s fame; the captains were engrossed in their own world thinking of the big days that lie ahead but none on the dais made an attempt to notice the pulse, after all the agendas were fixed. As predictable there were requests for grants, appreciations, ego massages, self praise for the hard work and congratulatory messages which ideally suit the script of a closing ceremony. If ICC had thought that by having Bryan Adams, Shankar-Eshan-Loy, Sonu Nigam and other big names it can get away with the monotonous nature of the speeches then it for sure lost a few points there. However considering the political hassles they operate within it is unfair to blame them or the four Bangladeshi speakers for their time in front of the microphone since this was their first tryst with international glitz and glamour. Claps that followed were more of a sign of respite. It is either time to stop such farce or grow beyond it and there is no better time than now to pass a resolution wherein ceremonial speeches in public events do not exceed beyond a minute or two. Assigning psychologists to tutor politicians on an average human being’s grasping capacity would solve a few problems too.

The trusted route of showcasing the colorful tradition and vibrant culture of the three host countries livened up the audience whose interest levels were slowly sliding. The seamless assimilation of the artists from one performance to another depicting the heritage and history of the sub continent, the melodious tunes of prominent singing sensations, dazzling fire works and the innovative concept of Ariel cricket lit like bright stars on a clear night. For the first time cricket was played on air though virtually by real men and the depiction deserved to be on the tallest building of Dhaka that had been the backdrop of Bangladesh cricket for so many years before the base shifted to Mirpur.

All in all the sub continent lived up to the expectation and Wizcraft International Entertainment yet again enhanced its reputation. Every body who witnessed the evening got good value for a Thursday entertainment and it surely boosted the spirit of the 14 nations for whom business begins day after tomorrow for the next 45 days. Many years from now when a player from the sub continent makes it big in the international arena and attributes his success to the energy that rubbed him on 17th February 2011 will ICC know whether it was able to break its jinx with ceremonies entirely or not.

Time for Cricket to begin.

Sidhanta Patnaik
Thursday, 17 February 2011 at 23:59, Bangalore

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dark side of a 'First Class' cricketer

At a time when a former cricketer has got into legal problems for alleged domestic violence it strikes a sense of fright among the country’s cricketing community and raises a few questions instantaneously. Are the country’s cricketers good human beings? Does fame permit them to take things for granted? Are their head at the right place? Is their off field conduct not important? These are delicate and debatable topics with far reaching implications in a country where cricket is a religion and cricketers are worshipped and looked up to. Out of all the revered only a handful go on to represent the country while majority of them end their career with staggering performances at the first class level. In spite of being domestic giants there is a sense of frustration written on their face for having failed to make it to the level that really matters and many a times they make it visible through the way they carry themselves. However the sliding self esteem is soon uplifted by the neighbourhood who celebrate the established status of the cricketer as if it is a collective effort of the local chaiwallah to the corner grocery shop owner to the doctor residing two houses away. These ‘first class’ cricketers are pampered with rich provincial status and everything, from the car they drive to the T-shirt they wear becomes a sign of status. These peripheral indulgence enjoyed by the cricketer influences five out of ten youngsters to be one of the seekers of luxury in spite of limited cricketing abilities; after all fame is such an easy lure and a fresh brain picks up what it senses in the air.

These first class cricketers are very much knowledgeable about their role as opinion leaders and impact in their geographical stretch and love being role models as their inner self reminds them of the childhood days, when they were on the other side of table filled with awe and respect for their seniors. Being public figures much of their appearances are stoic but the grin when amongst their peers affirms how much they relish their success. All is well as long as on field statistics of runs scored and wickets taken are being talked about but not long after the discussion shifts to character and mannerism many of the collars that were fluttering with pride come down and shame surrounds the background.

What goes wrong for such exceptionally gifted craftsmen as soon as they step on to the other side of the white line calls for thorough research but a little bit of probing delivers answers that are not out of the world. The Indian set up is such that, very early in their career kids are told whether they have it in them to make it big as a cricketer or not and if they are on the right side of the judgment then being fast tracked into the talent pool is the obvious next step. Unfortunately with that the basic necessity of completing quality formal education becomes a secondary objective, which remains unattained till the player becomes successful and uses his string in the system to obtain the certificate; by which time the value of that esteemed paper would have nullified. Early access to independence courtesy their on-field machismo and subsequent accolades subconsciously trap their egos and slowly the false sense of being bigger than life and getting away with wrong doing takes over. Much before they realize resentment would have become their best companion and on being questioned or told about subjects much beyond their specialization they welcome it with volatile behavior and unreasonable attitude.All this breeds the fear of being rejected which like a venomous snake poisons the player’s thought process and gradually closes the door on good days. How much ever a cricketer learns about values, culture and team work by being on the field yet there are still a few elementary lessons to pick up from within the four walls of a classroom.

Unlike any other profession, a cricketer’s life is much different as his entire career is an unedited format of a reality show. The pressure to perform or perish is humongous and every time he gets out of his shed to fetch the family’s bread and butter he attunes his brain to thrive on the adrenalin rush that comes along with the job. Entering the zone is much like being high on an abandoned substance and as the game gets over or career terminates, the kick fades. Immediately withdrawal symptom sets in as all the adulation and recognition that were routine grants are swapped by blankness and a mirror to look at. However big the performer might be on field, this is his toughest test and the blatant truth is that far from few have managed to undergo the transition without showing any signs of conflict.

For anyone who knows such cricketers at a personal level will vouch for the fact that the childlike innocence that had sparked the journey many years back still drives them but it cannot be denied that somewhere down the line their minds have been allowed to elude from the real world and get lost as clowns in the circus of vicious circle. Every time a ‘first class’ cricketer makes it to the news for wrong reason it threatens the country’s lifeline and brings into the discussion of who should be monitoring the timeline of the young kids coming off the block who are absorbing the good, the bad and the ugly with equal intensity? As much as it is the responsibility of the cricket clubs where careers flourish, the primary ownership lies with the parents to ensure that cricket does not become an obsession to be possessed at any cost but an alternate mean to enjoy just like any other good thing in life. Lives of many on field stalwarts have been dismantled and any more casualties will not only be a bad advertisement for the game’s legacy but will also shatter a generation of dreams. Indian streets need more ‘first class’ cricketers.

Sidhanta Patnaik