India vs West Indies, July 31st, Dambulla

The under strength West Indies who really have no hope of winning this tournament, was not expected to seriously challenge India and they didn’t. Even if this is their second string side, their batting is so pedestrian that it points to a real lack of depth in their domestic tournament. The only batsman who can be classified as an international player is Chanderpaul. It really is a tragedy, because their pace bowling attack is very good, and at times can even be considered menacing and you are left wondering what if?

Jermaine Lawson can be a match winner with his extremely sharp pace and bounce. He got Sehwag in a way reminiscent of some of his earlier failures against the Hooper’s Windies team in the 2002-03 one day series, where they angled the short ball into his body and got him out caught at short fine leg. This time it was the keeper, Denesh Ramdin, who moved across so well that he made a difficult catch down the legside look ridiculously easy. Even Powell and Best were bowling at 90mph, but in the end the Windies didn’t have enough runs on the board and they ran into the Wall known as Dravid. If the Windies can put up a decent batting performance in the next game against Lanka their bowlers might be able to create an upset win.

Apparently captaincy has just spurred on Rahul Dravid’s batting. The strength of purpose and resilience he displays in batting is unbelievable and he is definitely leading from the front. He has given his bowlers lengthy spells to build up their rhythm in each match, and they might yet peak in the final. Harbhajan bowled very well again, and is looking like India’s best bowler in this series. The other impressive performance today was by Suresh Raina. He had some luck early on, being reprieved at point off Lawson when he hadn’t scored a run and later by the keeper off Best. But, he showed great skill off his pads, picking off Powell’s wayward deliveries powerfully to the boundary. He also handled the short ball well, and revealed some off side flourish from the back foot. At 18 years old, he looks like an exciting talent for India. Raina was again outstanding in the field, and earned a run out with an extremely quick chase, pick up and accurate throw to the keeper. He bowled useful off breaks too, picking up the big wicket of Chanderpaul, and looks like a cricketer who enjoys all aspects of the game.

But, the Indian batting still hasn’t taken off and if India has to win the Tri-Series the batsmen have to build partnerships. It must be pointed out that Kaif looked better against the new ball than Yuvraj Singh. Sourav Ganguly will be back for the next match, and it’ll be good for India to have his experience in the top order. Even with Dravid and Chappell stressing on flexibility in the batting order we can be reasonably sure that Ganguly will open the batting.


India vs Sri Lanka, July 30th, Dambulla

India’s batting failed to adjust to the slow nature of the Dambulla wicket and the top order was quickly sent back to the pavilion. VVS Laxman had to sit out of the match because of a stiff back, and his experience was missed at the top, especially with Yuvraj looking vulnerable to the moving ball. Sehwag began as if it was going to be another romp in the park by creaming three fours of Lokuhettege’s first international over. But Maharoof, who was bowling inswingers all along surprised him with a perfectly pitched leg cutter that opened him up and took out the off stump. It was a very impressive opening spell by Maharoof and he received good support from Lokuhettege, who castled Dhoni. In the first 15 overs they really setup the game for Sri Lanka. This was complemented by beautiful bowling by Murali which ensured that Lanka was always on top. India's debutant Suresh Raina was shaping to cut his first ball but was foxed by a fast doosra from Murali and was caught plumb in front. Kaif succumbed to the slow pitch and offered a tame catch to mid on, off Fernando.

It was left to a rear guard action from Dravid and the second debutant, Venugopala Rao, to build the only decent partnership of the Indian innings. Rao was also struggling to pick Murali’s doosra but Attapattu erred by removing Murali from the attack when India were on the mat and let Arnold and Dilshan bowl some unnecessary overs. Dravid and Rao toiled away and added valuable runs. The Sri Lankan captain’s largesse was highlighted when Murali was brought back in the 44th over and he immediately took 2 wickets in 2 balls, snaring Rao with another doosra. Rao played well, nudging and pushing the ball around, but it was more of a teaser knock and one was left waiting for him to open his shoulders. Incredibly enough Murali was removed from the attack again, and Harbhajan and Zaheer Khan added an additional 43 runs for the 9th wicket and India scrambled to 205. Maybe Attapatu wanted a challenging score to chase?

Dravid quickly realized that bowling Sri Lanka out was the only way to win the match and attacked continuously with his four main bowlers and aggresive field placements. Sangakkara was playing beautifully off his pads and got stuck into some loose balls from Khan, but Pathan who was bowling a very good line trapped him leg before to get the first breakthrough. Raina then made up for his first ball duck with a brilliant pick up and throw from square leg to run out Marvan Attapatu. He looks like an excellent fielder, with an extremely quick arm and is almost as athletic as Kaif. Dravid maintained the pressure and good bowling by all the frontline bowlers especially Bhajji ensured that none of the Lankan batsman converted any of their starts to big scores. India kept taking wickets to remain in the game, but Jayasuriya who was batting down the order because of a dislocated shoulder, an injury sustained while fielding, had enough experience to take his side home. He received good support from the lower order including a stunning cameo from ‘Loco’ Loku and solid batting from Maharoof . Even after all these years, Jayasuriya still remains the only proven matchwinner with the bat in this Lankan team. Theoretically, this should make it easier for India to beat Lanka but today, he was too good even with only half a shoulder.

What was impressive was how easily Dravid has stepped into the leadership role. On display today, was a captain’s knock while batting and aggressive field placements while defending a small total. He absorbed the pressures of captaincy like a sponge and seems to be thriving under the responsibility. The entire team responded to him and always looked to be bowling to a specific plan. Too early to say anything about the coach and Chappell’s effect can be measured only after the series, but Dravid has made an immediate impact.


Ganguly: The end is nigh?

That is the question on everyone’s mind after the selectors announced the Indian team for the tri series in Sri Lanka. Rahul Dravid is the captain and Sourav Ganguly is the 16th man.

Is there a problem?

The date for the selection of the Indian team was set as July 18th, and 2 days later, July 20th, the deadline was to expire for the BCCI and ICC to file their papers for arbitration by Justice Albie Sachs, who will issue the final and binding decision on Sourav Ganguly’s six match ban. The rival parties, i.e. BCCI and ICC have till July 22nd to reply to the stand taken by each other. This implies that the final decision may not be announced until a couple of days after July 22nd or even later. Justice Sachs has not set a date for his verdict, which is sensible because how can he decide the date for the verdict before he sees the papers? The Indian team leaves for Sri Lanka on July 23rd, and India’s first match is on July 30th.

What do all these dates mean? It means that there was no way that Ganguly could have been appointed as India captain, because there is no certainty that he can even goto Sri Lanka. Nobody wants ambiguity at the top, and the selectors made the right decision in appointing Dravid as Captain for the tri-series. People have criticized Ganguly for not accepting the punishment and face his lot like the other captains, Inzamam-ul Haq and Grame Smith who received similar punishment and took it on the chin. But why should he? Why shouldn’t he fight tooth and nail, it is his right to do so. Wouldn’t you appeal?

Greg Chappell made a telling observation, there are not many people who have the qualities to be a leader. Sourav Ganguly in many ways has been India’s best captain, so let us not brush him aside. The selectors wisely appointed him as the provisional 16th man. Ganguly is a fighter, and it would be foolish to write his eulogies, but, if India goes on to win the Lanka tri-series under Rahul Dravid, it will mark the beginning of the end of an era and will be Another Brick in the Wall!


How about a round of Kudos to Jagmohan Dalmiya?

Jagmohan Dalmiya, on July 17th, 2005, received the International Journal of the History of Sports Achievement award for administrative excellence in global sport. The scale of the achievement can be measured by the other winners, Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president and Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former International Olympic Committee chief.

He has been India's best sports administrator by far. He has often unfairly been criticized for his authoritarian style and hunger for power. Let us be unbiased and laud the man, celebrate his achievements and not pull him down all the time.

You know I have read the same criticisms of Dalmiya previously being applied to Samaranch. He is authoritarian, clung onto to the IOC post for too long, extended his term etc. etc. etc. People in power have to accept that criticism is a byproduct of the job, and the true test is to continue your job in face of criticism, instead of slipping into a quagmire by responding to it. To not respond, is against human nature, you have to be almost Gandhian to be like that, and very few people can do it. Dalmiya has responded to criticism and we have immediately labeled his actions vindictive, but for all his human frailties he has been a tremendous administrator. Just as we should not expect Tendulkar and Warne to be saints, let us not expect Dalmiya to be one. He is not, he is a scrappy doer and that is what we want from people in administrative positions.

Dalmiya made cricket a Global sport. None of the previous ICC Chairmen looked at the post as anything more than a golden parachute to enjoy their retirement. He made it professional, he made the ICC a body to contend with by enriching it's coffers and truly understanding the monetary value of the game of cricket. Not too far in the distant past, the ICC was often called a toothless tiger, and he changed that. Now all the cricket boards of the Test playing nations fear going against the ICC and its International Tours & Fixtures program. What an amazing turn around!

It is an incredible story, and one worth making a movie about. Well done Jaggu-da, I am proud of you.