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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Of Dust, Ganguly and the Ranji Trophy

This is my first blog in quite a while – I am spending valuable time with family in India and I must admit that cricket is not necessarily the first thing on my mind at the moment.

Having said that, cricket is never particularly far from my mind either and I am voraciously lapping up cricket news in every Indian newspaper and magazine that I can lay my hands on. There is no doubt that the Internet offers a world of riches in providing electronic content but there is something about good old-fashioned print that seems to still attract old-timers like me. This may seem difficult for some to understand but those who have not been born in or into the Internet era but have inherited it rather late in their lives will understand where I am coming from.

So what cricket have I been following and what are my cricketing thoughts at the moment ?

I arrived in Bangalore on the morning of the start of the Mumbai Test. That day was almost entirely washed out but I was fortunate to be able to breathe in (on TV) all of two days of Test cricket. And, if I may say so, two very remarkable days of cricket. Sure, the wicket was controversial but it was fun for me since I was able to watch the match on TV, follow the commentary on this site and chat on this site with others. It was great fun – and I must say I was pretty impressed by the speed and , very importantly, accuracy of the commentary out here.

The wicket became a “dustbowl” – the Aussies bit the dust – and understandably a lot of dust was raised in the press, both in Australia and in India. Many illustrious personalities, including current and ex-cricketers have commented on the pitch – so I will not dwell too much on this. All I will say is that, not since the dream Warne delivery to Gatting many summers ago, have I seen a ball turn this prodigiously. The very first delivery that Nathan Hauritz bowled had me going “wow !”. And, with due respect to him, Hauritz is no Warne.

While on this, an interesting comment in the editorial of a leading Indian newspaper (yes, this subject made it to the editorial – so serious is cricket in India) was that, even if the ball turned square and made batting very difficult, that in itself does not mean it is not a pitch suited for cricket. After all, the Perth pitch is tailor-made for fast bowlers and for chin music and nobody seems to complain about that. So why complain about a pitch tailor-made for spinners ?

I thought this was an interesting take – everybody is entitled to his own opinion of course.

Anyway, the dust has now settled on this series and I must congratulate Australia for a well-deserved series win. Many Indians will claim a moral 2-2 result for the series since they feel robbed of victory at Chennai but I am sure they will all agree that Australia was by far the superior side in this series. One can virtually count the sessions that India actually dominated. It was virtually Australia all the way. So let us give credit where it is due.
Both the Indians and the Australians have moved on now and are looking forward to their next challenges.

India will be playing a one-dayer against Pakistan in the coming week and will then host South Africa for a two-Test series.

Fresh from its ‘final frontier’ conquest, Australia will be hosting New Zealand in what should be an interesting series. I cannot help feeling that Australia are overwhelming favourites but New Zealand have proven me wrong on many occasions and they always seem to raise their standards against Australia, so I would not be too hasty in predicting an Aussie walkover

What else ?

Plenty else. One of the best things about following cricket in India as compared to following cricket from outside India is that you tend to feel the heat and dust (this is the nth time I am using this word, pardon me) of local events much more strongly. I am obviously referring to the current first-class (as in class of cricket and not necessarily first-class, per se, you get my drift) cricket happening in the country. The Ranji Trophy games are in full swing and I am enjoying every minor detail of these games.

But before I get into the Ranji Trophy, something else that I have to talk about. One of Indian cricket’s favourite topics : Saurav Ganguly.

You may hate him, you may love him but it seems you just cannot ignore him. Neither can the Indian press. Throughout the Mumbai Test (in other words, three days) and every day thereafter, there has been major coverage in the Indian press about Ganguly. There was this article that he was supposed to be in Kolkata for hip injury treatment while the Indian team was battling it out in Mumbai. But, apparently, instead of undergoing the treatment, he flew back from Kolkata to Mumbai – not to support the Indian side – but for some ad shoots or social event associated with some of his sponsors.

Then there was this headline item which went something like “Another surprise ! Saurav in Bengal side” with a big headline in red saying “Dithering Saurav runs out team-mate” or something to that effect.

It was a reference to Ganguly suddenly announcing himself at the last moment “available” to play for Bengal in its Ranji Trophy home game against Karnataka. Nikhil Haldipur, the Bengal opener, was rested and Deep Dasgupta made to open so as to make a place for Ganguly in the side.

Ganguly did not have a particularly great innings – he was shaky throughout – and in typical fashion, was indecisive about a run, thus causing a run-out.

Manna from the skies for Ganguly bashers (and their tribe seems to be increasing by the day). The article referred to above did not hesitate to point out that Ganguly’s sudden “availability” for Bengal was starkly reminiscent of his sudden “non-availability” for the Nagpur Test against the Aussies. Shrouded in secrecy and controversy – a delight for the media.

As if this attention for Ganguly was not enough, another thing appeared in the press which I found very odd. Apparently, the Bengal coach, Karsan Ghavri seems hell bent on making a point that Ganguly is now fit – without his having gone through a rigorous fitness test yet. Apparently Ghavri even made the statement that “Ganguly seemed to be hitting the ball well in practice and does not need to do a fitness test” but “if he does do one, he will definitely be fit”. Sorry, maybe I am thick but am I missing something here ?

A player calls off “unfit’ hours before a Test, misses that game and the one thereafter, and then suddenly decides to play in another match – and is admitted into that game as if everything is hunky-dory with his condition ? He does not have to go through a rigorous fitness test to prove he is match-fit ?

I am not a physio but I cannot help feeling that in India fitness is also something that is used or abused to suit individual interests. In my humble opinion, every player has to prove himself to be match-fit – otherwise he has no business playing. It does not matter which match it is, it does not matter which player it is. The same rule applies for a Sachin Tendulkar or a Saurav Ganguly or a John Doe, the same rule applies for a Test match or a Ranji Match. If you have missed a match because you were ruled “unfit”, you have to prove yourself to be fit before you can be considered for the next game.

No wonder the Indians had so many “injury” cases in the recent series against Australia. Compare that with the fitness levels of McGrath, Gillespie and Kasprowicz – all much older than the Indian fast bowlers and all of whom came through the series without any injury whatsoever. Says a lot about the attention the Aussie physio pays to fitness levels and tests.

So much for Ganguly. To be fair to him, much of this is not his fault – it is the media that seems to follow him everywhere and his consistently poor performance seems to be the perfect ground for the media to have a go at him. The best thing he can do is to put up a match-winning performance against Pakistan or against South Africa – hopefully that will shut up some of his detractors. The media worships heroes and Ganguly needs to return to heroic ways.

Now, onto the Ranji Trophy itself.

The games are still in progress and I am following the details closely, speculating not just on the games themselves but on some of the players.

There is Gautam Gambhir who had his baptism by fire in the Mumbai Test but who seems to have shrugged that off with a big hundred in the Ranji game. I wonder whether he will go on to deliver at the Test level or whether he will turn into an Ashok Mankad or a Parthasarathy Sharma - prolific at first-class level but flattering to deceive at the highest level of the game).

Then there is Y Venugopal Rao. We heard a lot about him in the last season and he continues to show excellent form with another fine century in the Ranji game for Andhra. And he even picked up some crucial wickets (I did not even know that he bowls).
Sure, his being a middle-order batsman makes it a bit tough for him to get into the Indian Test side but if the Indian middle order continues to be shaky and he continues to bat like this, who knows ?

As if to remind the Indian selectors of his existence, Wasim Jaffer has got another big hundred in the Mumbai game. I have heard that he is a Vengsarkar favourite and I suspect his Test career may not be entirely over – especially if he continues like this and the Indian opener slot is as shaky as it is at this moment.

But the Ranji match that has got most attention in the local press is the Bengal – Karnataka game. Understandably, since I am in Bangalore.

Bengal began very well, Karnataka fought back but then Bengal wrested the initiative back with some excellent bowling. In the second innings however the ball began doing things and that old Karnataka faithful, Sunil Joshi, once again bowled immaculately to get a five-for. At the moment of writing, the game is interestingly poised and could go either way.

I know many will not agree with me but I think Joshi deserved a few more chances for India - especially in one-dayers. He has always been a decent spinner of the ball and can whack it a good distance – he has even batted at No. 4 for Karnataka. He is not a Bangalore lad but from a remote Karnataka district – that perhaps makes his credentials a little less attractive than, for example, Rohan Gavaskar. Of course, Joshi’s time has come and gone (and with Murali Karthik around, his time has almost certainly gone) but I cannot help just feeling Joshi was a little wronged.

This Bengal-Karnataka game has also got me a bit nostalgic, taking me back to the Ranji games of the seventies and eighties. When Vishwanath, Brijesh Patel, Kirmani, Chandra, Prasanna, Sudhakar Rao and Binny played for Karnataka while Bengal had its own heroes in Ambar Roy, Gopal Bose, Palash Nandy, Sambaran Banerjee, Subrato Guha, Dilip Doshi and Barun Burman. Mumbai then had players of the calibre of Ramnath Parkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Ashok Mankad, Padmakar Shivalkar and the lesser-known opening bowler Ismail while Delhi had an all-star cast of the Amarnath brothers, Kirti Azad, Madan Lal, Bishen Bedi, Rakesh Shukla, Surinder Khanna and many others. The Ranji Trophy (as also the Duleep and Deodhar Trophies) used to be fiercely contested then – I am not sure the same fire burns in the bellies of today’s Ranji cricketers.

All in all, it has been an enjoyable week in Bangalore – and I am looking forward , like most Indians and Pakistani cricket lovers all over the world, to the November 13 one-dayer between these two cricket-crazy countries.

Before I forget, it is festival time in India and Pakistan – I would like to wish all my friends here a very Happy Diwali and Id Mubarak.

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