The Show Must Go On

Now Showing: Cricket Hungama
Starring: Sourav Ganguly, Greg Chappell, Jagmohan Dalmiya, Sharad Pawar, Ranbir Singh Mahendra
Guest Appearances: VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Freddie Flintoff
Item Number: Harbhajan Singh, Raj Singh Dungarpur

This is a riveting thrill a minute drama that will leave you stunned at the end. It has an explosive beginning with the protagonist’s very survival under threat. Ganguly as the lead character is ably supported by new comer Chappell, who has pulled no punches in an eye opening performance that almost puts to shade the work of the established star. Ganguly's five year run at the top, seems to have lulled him into complacency with specific pointers to his lack of fitness, but in the end he reveals his hidden strength by working the room, and connecting fantastically well with his co-stars.

One has to marvel at veteran thespian Dalmiya's performance, especially his scenes with the other heavy weight contender Sharad Pawar. It is reminiscent of Mohammad Ali’s rope trick in his Rumble in the Jungle with George Foreman. Silent in the beginning, absorbing all that Pawar can throw at him, before essaying another one of his masterpieces. Mahendra plays the part of the supporting actor very well with platitudes like "Cricket must go forward."

Raj Singh is wasted in an unnecessary item number, but Harbhajan definitely adds some spice to the proceedings. Laxman and Flintoff should have skipped the whole thing, but Tendulkar has a brief cameo that leaves Ganguly nodding his assent. The ending was stunning yet disappointing, but you can see that it is for purely commercial reasons. For those who are unhappy with the ending, there is a silver lining, the casting directors will no longer be appointed on a zonal basis, and this should prevent regional bias in the auditions for Team India.

The Show Must Go On, and no doubt, there will be a sequel.


This is the End

Beautiful friends, it was a saddening experience to see a brave warrior resorting to politics and media manipulation in his pathetic attempt to cling on to power. What have we done to this proud cricketer who has arguably been the best captain of the Indian cricket team?

The same man who took the fight to the gnarly Aussie in their own backyard, and made us all proud to be Indian cricket fans is now a poor imitation of his former self. Why did this happen? No, why did we let this happen? Why can’t we make difficult decisions early so as to prevent the catastrophe later? Ganguly should have been asked to step down as captain after the dreadful Pakistan series. That should have been the end. Instead the drama was allowed to continue. The selection committee didn’t have the cojones to remove Ganguly as a captain, when it was plain to see that his tenure was done, but now we have to witness this tragicomic sequence of events.

And this is only the beginning of the end. Strap yourself in, with a stiff drink to watch the show because we are bedeviled to be Indian cricket fans. But, do remember, it is only a game.


India vs. New Zealand, Final Videocon Tri-Series, Harare

New Zealand's supreme confidence overwhelmed a fragile Indian team in the Final of the Videocon Tri-Series. India did not choke this time, but lacked the self belief to win and from a dominating position they just didn't know how to finish it off.

India won the toss and Ganguly, knowing India's ability to collapse while chasing, wisely decided to bat first. Ganguly is a brave man, and he survived Bond with more luck than pluck, and chose to attack Kyle Mills. He stepped out and lofted Mills over cover for boundaries. Meanwhile Sehwag played Bond cautiously, but he slaked his boundary thirst with two slightly off target deliveries. He was brutal on both Oram and Mills and kept dispatching the ball to the boundary in the arc between point and third man. It was quite incredible as he kept up the barrage even as Fleming added more fielders to the region. India had its best start of the series, and even after Ganguly fell, Kaif stepped in and played the ideal number three role, accumulating runs without a dip in the scoring rate. He displayed his entire gamut of strokeplay, but the most pleasing ones were his on drives.

India were scoring at more than 6 an over and reached 150 in the 25th over, but that was the beginning of the slide due to an excellent spell from Daniel Vettori. He claimed Sehwag and Dravid in quick succession, as both batsmen were deceived. Sehwag was deceived in flight and lobbed a simple catch to cover and Dravid was dismissed by a beautiful arm ball. 10 overs and 2 wickets for 35 runs. It was a remarkable performance by the spinner who at this moment has got to be the best left arm slow bowler in the business. Vettori pretty much brought New Zealand back into the game. India's lower middle order could not accelerate at the end and this was epitomized by the selection of Harbhajan as the Supersub and not Nehra. Nehra came out to bat in the last over and immediately showed his daftness with the bat by swinging the ball down fine leg's throat with 4 balls left and Mohammad Kaif batting on 92 at the other end. Harbhajan sat in the pavilion! If one of the main bowlers was going to be the SuperSub, it should have been Nehra. It is a minor point, but every tiny detail is important in a Final. If not for Kaif's cool head, India wouldn't even have gotten past 250.

A total of 276 is not a trivial chase, but the New Zealand openers started out with a planned assault on the two Indian left armers and Fleming took particular pleasure in tearing into Pathan with five boundaries in one over. Without assistance from the conditions the Indians did not have a plan B, and all three front line seam bowlers were contemptuously treated. There are a few players who seem to revel under pressure and save the best for the big occassion, and Sehwag is undoubtedly one of them. After bowling half trackers throughout the series, he came up with a great spell in the Final. His flight and spin snared 3 wickets, and he along with Harbhajan slowed the galloping Kiwi run rate. It was strange that Sehwag got the wickets while India's star off spinner couldn't. Astle played Harbhajan with extra care and made sure that Bhajji didn't get any wickets. This probably was the single most important reason why India couldn't win.

In the end India dropped catches as Lou Vincent rode his luck to blast a few boundaries in his inimitable style. Astle also opened out to reach his hundred with a six and the two brought about a quick end to the match. Raina was one of the fielders who dropped a catch, and he is one of the players I have touted in this blog as a great fielder. Dravid missed one that went right through his hands and he must be wondering if he has to get some prescription lenses to correct his vision because he also got bowled 4 times in this series. But, Dravid is the hardest working player in this Indian team, and if anybody can come out of a bad patch soon, it is he.

After the match Ganguly admitted that India must be lacking something, since they lose finals from good positions too. He has been a frank captain, and maybe this is the first step to change. One remembers Allan Border similarly questioning his team's mental ability after losing a Test match to a Walsh and Ambrose inspired West Indies by one run. It was after that series that Australia started their domination of world cricket under Mark Taylor. To win, one has to first believe they can win and India sorely lack that belief right now. They need some luck and they need some belief too, and we might yet be able to see victories in a Final.


India vs. New Zealand, Harare, September 2, 2005

Mohammad Kaif played one of his best innings for India since the 2002 NatWest Trophy final and guided India to a comfortable win chasing 278 against New Zealand. This has got to be one of India’s most impressive wins while chasing a large total. Today, after the blistering start provided by Sehwag, the customary panic and choking in the end was replaced by solid partnerships throughout the innings and a brutal flourish in the end by Dhoni.

New Zealand’s bowling attack sorely missed Shane Bond’s firepower and Chris Cairns hamstring injury resurfaced to restrict him to only 3 overs. This loss causes one to reflect why Fleming would want to rest Bond and Vettori and let India enter the Final on a high. One will have to wait and see whether his strategy to keep his trump card for the end works or not.

Earlier in the day, it was the much maligned Ajit Agarkar who bowled an excellent first spell after both the left armers had an off day. Agarkar picked up the first wicket of Nathan Astle with a good outswinger that bounced more than Astle expected. Agarkar also deserve’s credit for the second wicket, as he effected a stunning run out of a dangerous looking Fleming with a sharp bit of fielding in his follow through. An inside edge of Fleming’s bat onto his pad trickled the ball onto the legside and as Lou Vincent charged down for a single, Agarkar quickly moved to his left swooping on the ball, picked it up, turned and threw down the stumps at the non strikers end to have Fleming well short of his ground. Agarkar easily is India’s best outfielder and one of the faster movers in the Indian team. Agarkar first 6 overs cost just 16 runs and he had a wicket and a run out to his name. His 7th over went for 14 runs as Lou Vincent took to him with some stunning shots on the up and a lucky top edged hook also. Just as Vincent was racing away to a big score, and even better piece of fielding from Yuvraj Singh at point resulted in his run out. Hamish Marshall slashed the ball, and Yuvraj diving full length to his left, collected the ball cleanly with his left hand, sat up on his knees and threw down the stumps to run out Vincent. Good fielding is not usually associated with India, but today they were excellent on the field. At the post match ceremony Ganguly remarked that India has fielded well in the last 3 games, and said one of the reasons was the good outfields in Zimbabwe. This reminds us that India really needs to improve all the outfields in the State cricket grounds to have a national team full of excellent fielders. I think the conditions of the Indian outfields are improving and more of the newcomers will be better fielders.

JP Yadav was bowling wicket to wicket and keeping things tight, and he snuck one in through a surprised Marshall’s defense. At 115-4 in the 22nd over New Zealnad had to be cautious and India were doing well, but McMillan and Styris played very sensibly for the next 20 overs and added nearly a 100 runs without taking too many risks. This is where India was missing Harbhajan’s wicket taking spells. Bhajji bowled well, but they played him equally well with McMillan especially, frustrating him by taking guard on off stump and working most of his balls to the leg side for runs. One didn’t see too much off Bhajji’s doosra, and I think he bowled it only once or twice. Yadav bowled well to finish with 1-34 off his 10, but one expects more from Harbhajan than is 0-46 in 10.

Agarkar cleaned up McMillan in the 43rd over, but after that Brendon McCullum played a blinder taking a heavy toll of both Agarkar and Pathan. Agarkar went for 20 runs in his last over, ruining his bowling figures to finish with 2-61. McCullum’s hitting prowess is fearsome and he smashed 3 fours and 2 sixes before Nehra finally got him. Then Jacob Oram stepped up to the party, clobbering 14 of only 5 balls before a wayward Pathan finally got him. These New Zealander’s bat deep and they bat powerfully, they didn’t even have to really use Chris Cairns big hitting and the only thing that prevented them from reaching 300 today, was India’s sharp fielding. India took all their catches and Dhoni was also neat behind the stumps, even though he conceded one bye while standing up to JP Yadav’s medium pace. In the end New Zealand finished on 278 and it was a very good score.

To win the match India needed a good start, and Sehwag and Ganguly obliged. Sehwag pummeled Andre Adams multiple times through the point region and Fleming had to keep two fielder on the off side boundary and four in the ring. For good measure Sehwag pulled the next short ball through midwicket to finish the Adams over with 4 boundaries. In fact today he played a couple of pull shots for boundaries as New Zealand tried to cramp him for room. Even Ganguly looked to be in good touch with a couple of exquisitely timed shots through the off side, but his plan to aggressively counter the short ball by pulling it didn’t pay off today as he hooked one right down the throat of the lone fielder at deep fine leg. He and Sehwag had set the platform with a 66 run opening partnership.

Looking to the future, one can’t expect Ganguly, Tendulkar and Dravid to pull of their heroics again in the 2007 World Cup and Chappell’s flexible batting line up policy has finally identified the new number three batsman for India. It is Mohammad Kaif. He displayed his maturity today and announced that he was ready for this role. His on drives off Oram were beautiful to watch and even Tendulkar would have nodded his head with pride. Sehwag’s pyrotechnics finally came to an end as Oram brought one in back sharply to knock out his off stump. Sehwag missed his half century, but he had played his part.

Kaif didn’t play many false strokes and scored his 50 at almost a run a ball with the help of the fielding restrictions of the 3 power plays. Dravid settled in for the long haul and the two played sensibly with cushion of a rate well above the required one due to Sehwag. Chris Cairns was off color coming back after his hamstring injury and he bowled a few short balls which were powerfully dispatched to the point boundary by Dravid. Dravid and Kaif reprised their roles from the 2003 World Cup super six match against New Zealand and shared another 100 run partnership. Styris, got Dravid bowled for the third time in this series, to keep NZ in the match. Yuvraj came in and started well and even stroked a beautiful six of Nathan Astle over the long on boundary. The Kiwi Super sub, off spinner Jeetan Patel, bowled pretty well on debut but today the Indian’s played him well with Kaif being pretty severe on him early on. He was brought back for another spell and the Indians continued to nudge him around for singles until they were within 60 runs of victory. Yuvraj tried to hasten the proceedings by driving Patel to the long off boundary but perished trying to sweep a quicker one. 223-4 in the 40th over and the match wasn’t over yet.

Dhoni was the next man in, and he had his eyes set on Patel. He played it easy for a couple of overs as Kaif reached his hundred, and then after elbowing Patel while completing a single, he smashed him for 2 successive sixes. The first one was a powerful blow that hit the roof of the stadium. I have said it before, but I’ll say it again this guy Dhoni is really strong, built like an ox, and he hits the ball really hard. He can turn out to be a really good late order hitter for India.

After Dhoni’s pyrotechinics the match ended quickly and India won with 15 balls to spare.

Ganguly and Chappell must be really happy with India’s performance and Stephen Fleming must be ruing not playing Shane Bond in this game. India has to play another game against Zimbabwe on Sunday before the Final against New Zealand on Tuesday. With Bond in the final, New Zealand will be a much better bowling attack and it is going to be great just watching him bowl, the anticipation is to see how Sehwag will tackle him.