Saturday, December 31, 2011


It was a mixed year - 2011. There were some incredible highs as well as some bitter lows for the teams and players that I like and support. It was definitely NOT as good as 2010 had been... from the perspective of the teams I follow.

Here are my top-10 sports memories (the pleasant as well as the unpleasant ones) from the year 2011 (sorted chronologically):

1. Cricket: England Win The Ashes 3-1 (7th January)

The Ashes had been retained already, but Australia had a chance to regain some pride after two innings losses. The redemption did not come, as England got their third innings win of the series as they sealed the Ashes win 3-1. It was a masterclass performance from the English side, bowling out Australia for 280 and 281, and scoring 644 themselves. Alastair Cook continued his golden run with 189 runs and the Man of the Match award. Playing without Ricky Ponting, who had injured himself at the Boxing Day Test of 2010-11, the Michael Clarke - led Australian team lost the Ashes at home for the first time in 24 years.

2. Cricket: ICC World Cup (2nd April)

I have far too many memories from this event. That is why I have already compiled a separate post of my World Cup Memories. But there is hardly any doubt that this was one of the highlights of the year in the game of cricket... and an event worth remembering! India became the World Champions for the first time in 28 years, becoming the first team to win the finals at home.

3. Tennis: Djokovic Rules At Wimbledon (3rd July)

It was the top-seed defending champion Rafael Nadal of Spain against the form player of the year and usurper of the No. 1 rank Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the Gentlemen's Singles Final at the 125th edition of the Wimbledon Championships. Djokovic won in 4 sets, and plucked out a few strands of the Wimbledon grass to put in his mouth. He was savouring the taste of his victory... quite literally! It was a difficult match to watch for a Nadal fan like me... mainly because he had been outplayed completely by the Serbian. Djokovic broke the Federer-Nadal duopoly for the No. 1 rank that lasted almost 7 and a half years.

4. Football: Japanese Women Triumph In Germany (17th July)

Ordinarily, this event would not have made my top-10 list. But this was not an ordinary year for Japan. The great earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 had left almost 16000 people dead, 6000 injured and 3500 missing. The aftershocks of the earthquake continued till June 2011, when the Japanese women began their FIFA Women's World Cup campaign in Germany. In this backdrop, they won the finals on penalties against one of the two favourites - United States of America, having already beaten the other favourite - hosts and defending champions Germany - in the Quarterfinals. It was an emotional moment for Japan, watched by huge crowds in Germany and a fitting end to an immensely successful World Cup!

5. Cricket: England Complete Whitewash (22nd August)

The No. 1 spot in Test cricket had already been sealed with a win in the third Test. But that was never going to stop England, as they emphatically completed a whitewash over India to stamp their status as the top team in Tests. It was extremely difficult to watch that performance from England as an Indian fan... the only solace being the realisation that the English squad was far superior. The wounds of this drubbing will take a long very long time to disappear... and even then, they may never disappear completely.

6. Rugby: All Blacks Win At Home (23rd October)

The hosts won the Rugby World Cup for the first time in 16 years (after the Springboks 1995) in a closely fought finale at Eden Park, Auckland. Like the Japanese women's FIFA World Cup win, this win for the All Blacks too came in a year where Christchurch had been affected by a big earthquake... so much so that some matches (including a quarterfinal) had to be moved out of that city due to the destruction caused. The All Blacks have always been an exciting team to watch... and there is no denying that they were the best team of the tournament, winning every single match they played.

7. Formula One: Inaugural Indian Grand Prix (30th October)

A few years ago, I would have said it's unfathomable so early! But in 2011, it actually happened. Buddh International Circuit hosted the inaugural Indian Grand Prix Formula One race weekend from 28th October to 30th October 2011... and apart from a small interruption due to a stray dog during the first practice session on Friday, it was a smooth affair. Karun Chandok set the first ever flying lap time on the circuit during the first practice session on Friday. Sebastian Vettel won the with his Red Bull car, both the Force India cars (Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta) managed to score points and Narain Karthikeyan finished at 17th position - equaling his season best with the Hispania Racing Team. Formula One had come to India!

8. Cricket: South Africa 96, Australia 47 (10th November)

What a day of cricket! If I tell you that the day started with visitors adding 70 runs for the last 2 wickets and ended with the hosts scoring 81 runs for the loss of just 1 wicket, then you might be forgiven for thinking that a lot of the day's play might have been washed out. It is scarcely conceivable that in between these 151 runs for 3 wickets, Cape Town witnessed the fall of 20 wickets for 143 runs! So the final equation - 23 wickets, 294 runs, 79.3 overs and a part of all four innings played out in one day! I watched Australia slump to 21 for 9, and then had to miss out on the rest of their innings as I was to go out. Their 10th wicket pair's 26 run partnership saved them the embarrassment of recording the lowest ever total in a Test innings, and ended up being greater than the sum of all their other 9 partnerships!

9. Cricket: Sehwag Also Crosses The 200 Barrier (8th December)

A lot of people believed that he would be the first man to do so. He wasn't... his idol was! But 652 days after Tendulkar had done so, Sehwag too breached the 200-run barrier in Men's ODI cricket and relegated that 200* (147b, 25 x 4s, 3 x 6s) to the second spot amongst the highest runs scored by a batsman in an ODI innings. The top spot is now occupied by a 219 (149b, 25 x 4s, 7 x 6s)... a phenomenal knock that could even have been a 250! Like it happened with the Tendulkar 200, I missed this occasion too. Atleast in case of the 200*, I had seen Tendulkar bat till he was about 130-odd... but this time, I was reduced to just following the scores on my cell phone. But the highlights were good enough to make you realise what a special knock that was!

10. Cricket: Sri Lanka Move On From Murali (29th December)

South Africa humiliated them in the 1st Test. There was hardly anyone predicting a win for the Sri Lankans before the 2nd Test began. But the Durban jinx struck again. Sri Lanka put up a stupendous performance to beat South Africa in the 2nd Test and level the series at 1-1, subjecting the hosts to their 4th consecutive loss at Kingsmead, Durban. The most important thing was that this was Sri Lanka's first Test win in almost a year and a half since the retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan. I was wondering when Sri Lanka would start winning again... for their year had gone nowhere but down after they had been beaten in the World Cup finals in Mumbai. This match ensured that they finished it on the right note!

There were many other moments worth remembering in 2011 - Sri Lanka's capitulation against England at Cardiff, Zimbabwe's brilliant comeback to Test cricket, Na Li becoming the first Asian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title at Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal's 6th French Open win, Jo Wilfried Tsonga's win over Roger Federer in the Wimbledon quarterfinal coming from 2 sets down, Novak Djokovic out-Rafa-ing Rafael Nadal to win his first US Open title, Manchester United losing the derby to Manchester City at home 1-6, numerous clashes between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa during the Formula One season, and many more! Looking forward to another exciting year full of great sporting action... Happy 2012 to everyone!


Just a few hours remain for 2011 to end in my part of the world, and as I looks back at it, the biggest and the most lasting memory remains that of the World Cup 2011 hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh from 19th February to 2nd April.

I was planning to write a post on my sporting memories of 2011... but since so many of them were coming from this one particular event, I thought I should first compile my World Cup memories, and then proceed to the sporting memories of 2011. So here are my top 10 memories from the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011:

1. Six And The Celebrations

The obvious first - the six that finished the World Cup! MS Dhoni's strike to win the World Cup finals and the celebrations that followed that hit shall remain memories to last a lifetime... and not just till the end of the year! Those images were magical and I can still recall them vividly - Yuvraj Singh was sobbing uncontrollably, Sachin Tendulkar was being carried around the ground on his teammates' shoulders, Virat Kohli's quote, and the celebrations once MS Dhoni received the trophy from ICC President Sharad Pawar! Cricket had never before been so emotional!

2. Ponting's Last Masterpiece

It was an eagerly anticipated match - the 2nd Quarterfinal between India and Australia at Sardar Patel Stadium, Ahmedabad. And though it came for a losing cause, Ricky Ponting played an innings befitting his calibre! It was virtually a risk-free masterclass century that guided Australia to a competitive first innings score of 259. There were other moments in this match that still remain fresh in my memory - the winning hit by Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina's first major contribution in the World Cup, Zaheer Khan's knuckle ball to bowl Michael Hussey, et cetera. But it was that Ponting hundred, eventually his last innings as the captain of Australia, that stands out... for it could scarcely have been any better!

3. Purple-Headed Destroyer

Yes, that is what he did - he destroyed them! Kevin O'Brien came to the crease in Ireland's match against England when his team was 106 for 4 in the 23rd over, and then saw them slump to 111 for 5 in the 25th over. Chasing a target of 328 to win at Bangalore, Ireland had no chance. But no one told this to Kevin O'Brien! He needed just 50 balls to reach his 100... the fastest ever in World Cup history! From the time he came to bat till the time he reached his 100, Ireland scored more than 6 runs in all but 3 overs. And when he got out on a 63-ball 113 with 6 sixes and 13 fours, they were well on their way to cause what was the biggest upset of the event. The Irish veteran Trent Johnston came at the fall of O'Brien's wicket and was present at the end when the win was sealed... just as he'd been there to hit the winning runs against Pakistan four years ago to cause their other big upset in World Cups!

4. #MOAG - Mother Of All Games

When India beat West Indies in the last league match, everyone knew that there was a chance of an India-Pakistan semi-finals at Mohali. And when India beat Australia at Ahmedabad, it was confirmed... a good 6 days before the match! A scramble for tickets, an excited build-up, cricket diplomacy in action, and the day finally arrived! The quality of cricket was not the best, but the occasion and the crowd more than made up for it. Virender Sehwag's attack on Umar Gul, the chances to Sachin Tendulkar en route to 85, Wahab Roaz's ball to get Yuvraj Singh for a golden duck, Suresh Raina's finish, Umar Akmal's attack before getting bowled out to Harbhajan Singh, and then the finish when Misbah-ul-Haq skied a catch to Virat Kohli off Zaheer Khan - some of the moments that still linger from the Mother Of All Games.

5. Muralitharan's Last Match In Sri Lanka

He was carried on his teammates' shoulders around the ground after the semi-finals had been won by Sri Lanka against New Zealand. Arguably Sri Lanka's greatest cricketer ever, Muttiah Muralitharan played his part in the World Cup for Sri Lanka. His final over in international cricket in Sri Lanka was a treat to watch too. Starting from around the wicket, he switched to over the wicket for the last few balls... and on his very last delivery, trapped Scott Styris plumb in front with a massively-turning off-break to finish off his home career in style. What a cricketer!

6. Tied At 338

The match should have been held at Kolkata, but had to be shifted to Bangalore. After a scramble for tickets where a few fans got hurt, the match began and the crowd loved it. Sachin Tendulkar hit a sublime century, which included 5 sixes - 2 of those came off consecutive Graeme Swann deliveries as he started a new spell. It was a message to the English skipper Andrew Strauss that his best bowler means nothing to him! Strauss took that message to heart as he produced his own masterclass innings of 158 after Tim Bresnan had cleaned the Indian tail with a 5-for. It took a beauty from Zaheer Khan to remove Strauss and bring India back into the match with 2 other wickets. Apart from the last ball single that resulted in a tie, there was another moment to remember from this World Cup - Munaf Patel's blinder (no pun intended) to remove Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell's LBW that wasn't! The infamous 2.50 meter rule denied Yuvraj Singh the wicket of Ian Bell after the field umpire Billy Bowden decided not to overturn his original not out call.

7. Ross Taylor Massacre

He was reprieved - twice! Both times by Kamran Akmal off Shoaib Akhtar's bowling. He made them pay! Ross Taylor, who was not in the best of form, capitalised on those errors by Kamran Akmal (which earned him a lot of jokes on Twitter) and smashed a brilliant century against Pakistan that included some violent hitting at the end. His ferocious hitting resulted in 28 runs being leaked off Shoaib Akhtar's last over and 30 runs off Abdul Razzaq's. Helped by Jacob Oram at the other end, Taylor was ferocious as they compiled an 80-odd run partnership at the speed of light! When Kamran Akmal's turn came to bat, he edged one to Ross Taylor at slip... and the Kiwi was in no mood to return Akmal's favours earlier that day! He grabbed the ball in his hands and the Black Caps celebrated.

8. The Whirlwind Start

It was arguably the best bowling line-up of the World Cup they were facing. The best fast bowler of the present era was to start the proceedings. None of that mattered! Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar began in a hurry... sprinting away to a 100 in just the 12th over. Tendulkar pulled South Africa's best bowler Dale Steyn for a six behind square leg after Sehwag had typically started the innings with a first-ball boundary. Sehwag scored a 73, Tendulkar 111 and Gautam Gambhir too compiled a 69 before the middle and lower order just gave away, as 9 wickets fell for 29 runs. The fact that India did not even manage to bat the entire 50 overs, falling short by 8 balls, eventually proved to be decisive as South Africa managed to seal a win thanks to Robin Peterson's cameo at the end!

9. Pakistan End Australia's Streak

Pakistan was the last team that had beaten Australia in a World Cup match. That had happened way back in 1999. Since then Australia had been triple World Champions and were looking to continue that streak when they faced Pakistan in their Group A match at Colombo. Umar Gul bowled beautifully and Kamran Akmal managed 3 catches as Australia was bowled out for 176. Then a young Pakistani batsman Asad Shafiq played a mature hand aided by the veteran Younis Khan, followed by another youngster Umar Akmal providing the finishing touches. A big performance was needed to finish off Australia's big unbeaten run in the World Cup... and that is just what Pakistan delivered!

10. England Keep Us Entertained

First, they almost goofed up against the Netherlands. Then they did the inconceivable against India as the match ended in a tie. Then they actually goofed up against the Irish, followed by snatching a win from the jaws of defeat against South Africa. Not satisfied, they then snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against Bangladesh before winning their most convincing win against West Indies - by 18 big runs! Lots of flashes of memory come to mind from England's World Cup campaign - Ryan ten Doeschate's magnificent hundred at Nagpur, some stuff already mentioned above from the India and Ireland matches at Bangalore, Robin Peterson's opening over and Stuart Broad's finish at Chennai, and of course the celebrations after Mahmudullah's and Shafiul Islam's rescue act at Chittagong... England single-handedly kept Group B alive!

There were lots of other moments to remember... Sehwag deciding to bat through the innings and almost doing so in his 175 at the World Cup opener, Chris Mpofu's rocket throw to run out Ricky Ponting that infuriated him to break a TV, Pakistan's tight win over Sri Lanka, Kemar Roach's and Lasith Malinga's hat-tricks against the Netherlands and Kenya respectively, West Indies skittle out Bangladesh for 58, an unknown Canadian teenager Hiral Patel's attack on the Australian pace trio as Canada scored 62 in their first 6 overs, Zimbabweans applauding and shaking hands with Steve Tikolo after the Kenyan legend was dismissed in his final match, and South Africa's choke against New Zealand amongst others.


Spoilt an already-bad MCG record!
The match fluctuated through the first 3 days, but not by much. At no point in time during those 3 days of the Boxing Day Test between Australia and India at the MCG could you say that a particular team has a clear, definite and big advantage.

On the 4th day though, only one team turned up and walked away with the match. While the match was very evenly balanced at the start of Day 4, and remained so when Michael Hussey fell in the morning, it started shifting in Australia's favour with the last wicket partnership of Pattinson and Hilfenhaus. And while Australia kept on making inroads when they came on to bowl, they sealed the deal when Pattinson had Laxman caught attempting his favourite wristy flick.

That wicket meant that two of India's Big Three were back in the pavilion. But more importantly, it sealed the deal for Australia in my mind because the wrong Laxman had turned up there and departed.

After Day 3 ended, my mind told me that Laxman would be India's key player during the chase. The thing to be seen on Day 4 would be which Laxman turns up - the one who averages 14.25 (after this match) at the MCG in his 4 Boxing Day Tests there or the one who averages 107.00 in 10 fourth innings chases between the 2007-08 and 2011-12 tours of Australia. Out of those 10 innings, 4 had resulted in Indian wins, 4 matches had been drawn and 2 were lost.

Sadly for India, the former Laxman turned up just when we needed the latter one after 3 early wickets. Well at least at the SCG, lets hope that this Laxman and this Tendulkar turn up... and most importantly, the bowlers can continue to bowl as many overs as they bowled at the MCG and help India level the series!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


I was far too young to follow India's tour of Australia in 1991-92. Once I started understanding and following the game of cricket, India has toured Australia in 1999-00, 2003-04, 2007-08 and the current one now in 2011-12... and each time, umpiring has been a subject of sharp focus!

If that is not enough, the scrutiny of umpiring decisions have started in the 1st Test on all but one of the above tours. Only in 2007-08 did the opening Test at MCG on the Boxing Day go through without an umpiring decision worthy of remembrance years later! Unhappy with how incident-free the 1st Test was from an umpiring perspective, the cricketing Gods put in all their efforts to ensure that the 2nd Test would not only compensate for the 1st one, but also supersede all other incident-involving Australia-India Tests of my living memory.

1999-00: The first Test was in Adelaide... and it will always be remembered for the infamous shoulder-before-wicket LBW decision by Daryl Harper against Sachin Tendulkar of Glenn McGrath's bowling. Even in that era, that particular decision gathered a lot of inches and minutes in print and television media respectively. I shudder to imagine what would have happened had such a decision been given in this era!

It was a marginal call, as the ball could have clipped the top of the stumps or gone over it. In normal circumstances, the benefit of the doubt goes to the batsman. Only when the batsman does not offer a shot does the benefit of the doubt go to the bowler. Was that a case of no shot offered? In my view, definitely not! When a batsman ducks under a bouncer that hits him on any part of his body and goes for runs, it is given as leg byes. When no shot is offered, and the ball is deflected of the pads of the batsman, no runs are given. This rule may be farcical, but as long as it exists, ducking cannot be deemed to be a case of no shot offered, and the benefit of doubt in that case should have gone to the batsman.

While I remember just this incident clearly from that tour, I do remember that there definitely was discontentment about umpiring during that tour. I have read that that particular tour accelerated ICC's plans of implementing the concept of two neutral umpires in Tests. This article from the Cricinfo archives points out that there were arguably three contentious decisions against Sachin Tendulkar alone in his 6 Test innings on that tour.

2003-04: The first Test was in Brisbane... and the central figure was once again Sachin Tendulkar. The bowler this time was Jason Gillespie and the umpire was Steve Bucknor. Again, the media coverage was immense and even Gillespie had admitted that his appeal had only been academic and that he wasn't actually expecting to get the decision in his favour.

While the ball pitched outside off and seamed in, even the naked eye could tell that the bounce was far too much in that ball to be able to hit the stumps. Truth be told, I think that this ball would have passed the stumps at a higher altitude than McGrath's bouncer four years previously that resulted in the shoulder-before-wicket dismissal. That same article to which I have provided the link above talks of the coverage that followed this Steve Bucknor decision.

2007-08: Like I said, the first Test at MCG was more-or-less incident-free, and the second Test at SCG overcompensated for that! There has been more than enough coverage of the Sydney Test of 2008 - both the racial abuse allegation as well as the collection of umpiring errors! Andrew Symonds was reprieved thrice (twice by Steve Bucknor and once incredibly by the third umpire Bruce Oxenford!) and Ricky Ponting was reprieved once and then given out when he shouldn't have been. Sourav Ganguly was ruled out caught by Michael Clarke by umpire Mark Benson in consultation with Ponting rather than the third umpire.

There were some more incidents (I remember Rahul Dravid too falling victim of a Steve Bucknor error), but the key one definitely was the first reprieve that Andrew Symonds received on Ishant Sharma's bowling. Steve Bucknor (once again!) failed to see/hear a very clear edge with its big woody noise and a clear deflection of the ball on its way to MS Dhoni behind the stumps. That decision was very clearly a result-impacting decision. Symonds was on 30 then, and Australia 193 for 6. Australia ended up with 463 with Symonds unbeaten on 162. Even though India had no business losing the Test on Day 5, there might have been a completely different result had Symonds been ruled out there and Australia slumped to 193 for 7.

2011-12: The first Test at Melbourne, Day 1... and both umpires in the limelight for one caught-behind decision each. Maraius Erasmus ruled Michael Hussey out for a golden duck off Zaheer Khan's bowling and soon thereafter, Ian Gould ruled the debutant Ed Cowan out for 68 off Ravichandran Ashwin's bowling.

While I wouldn't call either of those decisions a 'howler', the debate on it shall be no less than the other decisions of the past... because we live in the era that has tasted the implementation of DRS. Where I stand on the issue of DRS is absolutely unrelated to what this post is about, and so I'll refrain from getting into that. But it must be said here that there is a difference between a marginal call and a howler, and DRS is starting to obliterate that line. Had it not been for the debate on DRS, the Hussey and Cowan dismissals might have been talked about just for a few hours, and then archived somewhere in history. But now, we'll have gigabytes of data to tell the future generation different versions of what actually transpired there!

Monday, December 26, 2011


It started promisingly with the Australian captain courageously deciding to bat first. It must have been tempting to send India in, given that the Indian batsmen are known to be slow-starters on away tours... and slower still in difficult conditions. And the first hour was difficult... even though the Indian bowlers could not take maximum advantage of it!

But after the toss, the day was a bit of an anti-climax. There had been so much talk about the contest between hosts' bowling v/s. the visitors' batting (as is the norm before almost every Indian tour outside the sub-continent) that watching the contest other way round felt a bit drab.

The recovered-ankle duo opened India's attack... and might I say, gingerly! At Lord's earlier this year, Zaheer Khan had used two bouncers in his short and interrupted bowling spell. The first one had been under-edged by Strauss, and the second one was top-edged and caught at deep fine leg. Here at MCG, the first attempt at a bouncer came by the first-change bowler Umesh Yadav. And it was answered emphatically by David Warner.

So it was nice to see Yadav bang one in short straightaway after that small rain break... and he got his reward! Shaun Marsh fell soon, and Ponting got a knock to his head and fell down thrice at the crease before finding some sort of a rhythm in his batting. And all this while, almost invisibly, Ed Cowan ensured that he had gotten his eye in on his Test debut.

Then came the change in momentum. Australia consolidated with Cowan and Ponting, before someone whispered to Ishant Sharma that they were playing in Australia. He sent down an impressive spell before Yadav got Ponting caught at slip. Another brief fightback by Australia ensued before Zaheer Khan came in for a spell with the old ball.

It was Dhoni's most important throw of dice. As Cowan admitted in the press conference later, they were looking forward to blunt that Zaheer Khan spell and be right on top at the end of the day. But as Zaheer had done for India through the World Cup, he made the old ball count. A mini-collapse (which shall be debated for other reasons too) later, Australia found their Nos. 7 and 8 at the crease. Surprisingly, both Haddin and Siddle played out the day obstinately... making it a case of honours even at the end of Day 1.

A few thoughts on certain performances that made the cricket on this Boxing Day at MCG peculiar for me...

Ed Cowan looked compact and impressive. However, I did think that his judgment of the off-stump was not the best during the first session. Off his may leaves, there were a few in the opening hour that were far too close for comfort! So either he knew exactly where his off-stump was, in which case he must have nerves of steel... or the more likely tale would be that he was indeed jittery, but managed to get through that period and capitalise with a fine 68.

Ricky Ponting, without a doubt, started in jitters. Hit on the helmet early on, three of his first few leg-side shots made him lose balance and stumble at the crease, but he also got the runs at the same time. It was uncomfortable watching him bat that way, but it made for compelling viewing from my living room!

Umesh Yadav had India's best bowling figures today... but by no means was he the best Indian bowler on show! I thought he had been picked for his pacy stump-length bowling... but today, his lengths moved all around. His wickets came from a short ball, a full ball and a short-of-a-length ball. A couple more tomorrow from a length ball and from a yorker length ball would complete the entire set for him!

Zaheer Khan lasted the entire day. And he looked fit enough to last at least a few more! Every time he stretched his hamstring, I moved a little towards the edge of my seat... as if he was a time bomb ready to explode in a thriller! When he fell after having stopped a straight drive off his bowling with his left boot, I gulped and heaved a small sigh of relief when he got up with no apparent damage. But his old-ball spell was brilliant to watch. Working Clarke over, sending a snorter to Hussey, and then making Cowan fall on his back - all in the same over with an old ball. That was brilliant to watch!

While the cricket today was good in parts, there was nothing extraordinary! Maybe, it is quite unfair to expect something extraordinary on the very first day of the series, especially given that the hosts are batting and visitors bowling... but one drab day such as this surely increases the anticipation for the next day, for as Ravi Shastri would say "I just get the feeling that something's got to give here!"


My mind goes back to that morning 8 years and 10 days ago. 16th December 2003. I was 15, had just finished a class at my boarding school, and rushed out as it ended to find my Physics professor. I knew he would have the score.

When I found him, I did not need to ask. I knew. His smile (and he rarely smiled!) made it obvious. India had won by 4 wickets at Adelaide, and Rahul Dravid had hit the winning runs. "Poetic justice!" is what he had said back then!

I had followed that Test series (from Brisbane to Sydney) by snatching updates on All India Radio and begging for more updates from professors whom I knew had internet connections. Despite the fact that we were clear underdogs, I still had hopes from our team. Back then, I was less of a realist and more of an optimist! I still remember thinking that during the World Cup less than a year before that series, India had clearly been the second best team. The time seemed ripe to take on the best team in their backyard!

And take them on we did! That Adelaide Test took my love for the game to a different level... particularly Test cricket! India had won after conceding more than 550 runs in the first innings. If the Eden Gardens miracle of 2001 was not enough, this one just reaffirmed my faith that there is no game quite like Test cricket!

And then, on the next day (17th December 2003), Rohit Brijnath became my favourite cricket writer with this wonderful piece on the front page of The Indian Express. Yes, those three "architects" of our win deserved no less!

That Australian summer changed a lot of things about my relationship with cricket! I had followed India's tours to England and the West Indies earlier in the decade with considerable studiousness, but this was the tour that created an impact... an impact that made cricket a lot bigger than a mere sport for me!

An hour before the Boxing Day Test match kicks off at Melbourne Cricket Ground, memories of that match at Adelaide (and to think that I managed to watch just the highlights) create a nostalgia in my mind. I hope that this series is just as hard fought and fairly-fought, and when "dusk begins its quiet descent", the winners are wearing blue caps!

Monday, December 12, 2011


I haven't been very regular in posting here in the recent past. However, for some strange reason, I feel compelled to write here today. It's 12th December 2011 today... and it happens to be the day when a certain Yuvraj Singh turns 30.

Yuvraj Singh has never been on my list of most-liked sportspersons, but when it comes to his abilities... there has never been any doubt! He's been a match-winner for India in limited-overs cricket for quite a few years now, and there is no taking away the fact that he was one of the chief architects of India's greatest ODI triumph of this millennium.

But why am I writing all this? After all, everyone knows about these exploits of Yuvraj Singh! It's something else. He was in news recently when his mother revealed that he had been suffering from a non-malignant lung tumor for a few months, and that he was on his way to recovery and making a comeback.

At that time, I had been thinking about his career. Over the last couple of years, there is always a murmur of IPL in every cricket discussion. Even when one talks at length about Yuvraj Singh, it is difficult to refrain from talking about the IPL and its easy money.

In recent times, I have heard a lot of people on different forums question the commitment of cricketers claiming that increased remuneration from IPL and other Twenty20 leagues directly affects their desire to represent their country. In the specific case of Yuvraj Singh, there had been questions related to form, fitness, commitment, desire, and God-knows-what-else during his lean patch in 2010.

All these opinions were aided by the reporting done by our media houses, which sadly aren't the most responsible news presenters around! They never seem to present facts... their interest is more in passing judgments!

In response to all this and more, Yuvraj Singh played out of his skin and had a fairy tale of a World Cup earlier this year. There is one incident during the finals of the World Cup between India and Sri Lanka at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai that I clearly remember.

It was the first ball of the 10th over of the first innings... TM Dilshan was facing Munaf Patel. Dilshan unleashed a fierce cut that was headed between point and cover, certain to reach the ropes. However, Yuvraj Singh leaped across to his wrong side and cut it off... saving four runs for his team! This was just one of the many brilliant fielding efforts by him in that big match. Here's what the Cricinfo commentary description of that delivery reads:

"9.1 Patel to Dilshan, no run, 132.8 kph, The flying Singh again, Yuvraj leaps full length to his right at point and cuts off a Dilshan cut, which was hit hard into the ground and heading towards the boundary"

In that match, through the Powerplay overs, he fielded at point... a position that he has hardly fielded in during the last 4 years of his international career. He was diving around, and putting his body on the line, for a match that could be considered as the most important one of his career.

After that World Cup was won, Yuvraj Singh captained Pune's IPL side for a month and a half. But I don't remember seeing him at point in Pune's black-and-silver. He was back to fielding at mid-on and mid-off... and there weren't too many dives forthcoming.

In hindsight, it's easy to recognise where his actual priorities lay. He was ready to put his fragile and suffering body on the line for the glory of a World Cup win, but not for the millions of dollars of the IPL. And sitting comfortably at home, the armchair critics went on and on.

I too had been amongst those who had passed a few judgments about Yuvraj Singh during his troughs. Though I had stated in 2010 that Yuvraj Singh's good form is very important for India if the World Cup has to be won, but I had also been doubtful about whether he was still capable of putting in those kind of performances that had made him an indispensable part of India's ODI team. Those four months from February to May taught me a lesson! Yuvraj Singh's performances taught me a lesson about how woefully wrong our judgments sometimes tend to be.