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