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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Cricket: Bangladesh Can No Longer Be Taken Lightly, Full Indian Squads Announced!

Bangladesh has ceased to be a minnow for most of the Test playing nations after their consistent display in the recently concluded World Cup hosted by Australia and New Zealand. Bangladesh almost reached the semi-finals of World Cup-2015 beating several teams including England in their march forward. Of course, Team India stopped them in the quarter finals, but not at all in an easy manner with the aftermath of the match really getting bitter.  Then in the recent tour of Bangladesh by Pakistan the hosts created history by winning the ODI Series roundly and convincingly. Therefore, requests from several key cricketers of Team India for a ‘much needed’ rest was not paid attention to by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and full-strength Team India squads were deemed fit.

Selection Committee of the BCCI today in Mumbai announced the Indian squads for the one-off Test and three one-day-internationals (ODI) for the upcoming India Tour of Bangladesh in June, 2015. Virat Kohli is there to captain the team for the solitary Test match and he has all his star cricketers. In addition, off-spinner Harbhajan Singh has been recalled after two years in wilderness for the Test team maybe because of his impressive performance in the on-going IPL extravaganza. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is also retained after his famous 'escape to Test retirement' as the captain for the ODI team with pacer Dhawa lKulkarni replacing an injured Mohammed Shami and all his regular guys to play with. Dhawal’s selection could also be directly related to his performance in the IPL-8. Harbhajan  plays for Mumbai Indians who have reached the final of IPL-8 after a sequel of charged-up performances and Kulkarni for Rajasthan Royals that has finally crashed out in the Eliminator. The Selection Committee meeting was chaired by Sandeep Patil.

The sooner the ‘minnows’ tag gets out of circulation the better it would be for world cricket as all bilateral series and international tournaments will be more closely fought and fiercely competitive, and we may not have to contend with some predictable one-sided affairs. For now, Bangladesh is set for an inspired performance against India and they would definitely like to avenge their bitter exit from the World Cup-2015. All these factors are certain to make the cricket fans happier and a lot more excited. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Not Much Ado About Taking A Break!

Earlier, commercial breaks were not as intrusive as we could anticipate the time and quantity of their coming perfectly thanks to the limited opportunities available. Doordarshan was the only television channel, entertainment-public service-news all combined, for us to confront them.  We knew that maximum ad time would be for the Sunday evening Hindi feature film and we used to utilize those commercial breaks to entertain ‘silent’ guests, discuss the movie on air and make tea. The virtual breaks that were intrusive even then were the songs of Hindi or Bollywood movies that caught us unawares as always forcing us to take a break and go out of the theater into the lobby.  However, with the advent of cable television and the flood of private entertainment and news channels intruding-annoying-agonizing breaks have become a part and parcel of our existence—you like it or not.

There emerged a rich variety of how the commercial breaks began to be presented to us. Maybe at the innermost part of their hearts the channel executives also understood the fact that commercial breaks were not so welcome things for viewers, and therefore, the underlying similarity amid the variety was the restrain that the break was ‘short’ or ‘very short’. They also understood that they were getting more advertising breaks because the main show was very popular, and so they always said ‘Now we are going to take a short commercial break. Please keep watching (or please do not go anywhere).’ If the host of the show was some legend like Amitabh Bachchan he could very well command ‘We are taking only a very short commercial break, don’t dare going anywhere else!’ Like the high-voltage drama the private entertainment or news channels are used to on a daily basis they tried to convince the viewers that those ‘short’ breaks were absolutely necessary and they had no option but to take those even at the cost of disturbing the main show.

Some other sober channels made it plain and simple or even boring. ‘Now there is a short break, we will be back after a short while.’ ‘Now we will take a short commercial break. Stay tuned.’ ‘Rest of the news (or program) after a short commercial break.’ Or a little brighter, ‘Prime time show will be back after a short commercial break. Lots more to come on the other side. Stay tuned.’ Of course, breaks in the movies or TV serials are not announced and they keep on coming of their own sweet will and timing.

As per the new guidelines on maximum television commercial time per hour the channels have to put the countdown timer on screen for the last two minutes of commercial breaks. This has made the waiting time of viewers a little more predictable as they can now do other things and get ready for the programme the moment the clock shows on the screen. This has also led to some interesting results—particularly in the movie channels. They have started mixing up the breaks taking deliriously-announced two-minute breaks sometimes and the ‘unlimited’ breaks at other time. Some channels also advertise ‘no break’ or ‘single break’ movies too from time to time. However, the viewers often have to pay the price of ‘less or no breaks’ with sudden and unannounced ‘unlimited’ breaks going up to even 10/15 minutes.

Things become easier if you think that you can also take breaks in true and full spirit as with those imposed on you or even otherwise. You must have enjoyed taking a break from one of the most one-sided World Cups where your excitement grew, and grew to fever pitch to finally end with a bitter feeling of let-down and crushing disappointment, if you had been India or South Africa or New Zealand fans. Now with the cricket extravaganza named IPL-8 in full swing you have the additional benefits of enjoying even ‘strategic’ breaks. You also must relished a break from Arvind Kejriwal who after getting an unprecedented mandate from Delhi voters for his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and becoming Chief Minister a second time despite the tag of a ‘runaway CM’ got autocratically inspired and started breaking up his own party.

After all, every living soul is entitled for taking a break. This is a very socialistic and egalitarian phenomenon. No differentiation or discrimination made on the class or creed of the break-taker on exercising his/her most democratic right. As you have witnessed only recently how a so crucially important public figure and a people’s representative went missing on a break taken all of a sudden. Yes, we are talking of the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi who decided to exercise his democratic right, went on a break and reappeared after nearly two months and a huntingly committed media failed even to hint at his possible whereabouts. So, there is nothing wrong if this writer too goes on a break now and then. It is also absolutely not necessary to mention any reason or the lack of it for the break. In this abounding world of breaks and starts whenever and wherever you feel like…do….Take A Break!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

ICC Cricket World Cup: Pakistan, West Indies In Quarterfinals!

Jonathan Carter For West Indies

Pakistan and West Indies rose to the occasion and ensured their places in the knockout stage of the ICC Cricket World Cup-2015. Notwithstanding the minnows both teams were facing they had to take the games seriously. In the first match West Indies without Gayle did win with a big margin as required for a better net run-rate against UAE. Chasing a modest target of 176 at Napier today West Indies won by 6 wickets with nearly 20 overs to spare making it almost impossible for the loser of the other match between Pakistan and Ireland to come up on better net run-rate and their place in the Quarterfinals was ensured except for a tie or no result in the other match.

Sarfraz Ahmed's Century For Pakistan
Pakistan bowling that has been responsible for the team’s great comeback stuck to their job and restricted Ireland to 237 in 50 overs despite a century by Porterfield (107 off 131 balls). Pakistan without Younis Khan did not take any chances in the chase and went steady with the only objective of a win. Their batting clicked too with Sarfraz Ahmed making the first hundred for Pakistan in this World Cup and it was also his maiden century in 38 one day internationals (101 not out off 121 balls). Finally Pakistan overwhelmed a promising Ireland by 7 wickets with nearly 4 overs to spare.

The much awaited spots in Pool-B are now final—1.India, 2.South Africa, 3.Pakistan and 4.West Indies. Accordingly the Quarterfinal line-up is clear: 

1.      March 18, Wednesday, Sydney               South Afria Vs Sri Lanka
2.      March 19, Thursday, Melbourne            India Vs Bangladesh
3.      March 20, Friday, Adelaide                    Australia Vs Pakistan
4.      March 21, Saturday, Wellington             New Zealand Vs West Indies 

Just thinking it would have been a mouth-watering prospect if the knockout stage was played as Super Eight Round Robin. I still maintain that this will be the right format for such a world event followed by billions of fans. See the irony now, the hard-fought dream of any team for reaching the next stage could be terminated with just one loss.

The winners of Quarterfinals 1 and 4 will meet in the semifinal in Auckland on 24th March. This means South Africa or Sri Lanka will meet either New Zealand or West Indies. The winners of Quarterfinals 2 and 3, that is to say, either India or Bangladesh with meet Pakistan or Australia on 26th March in Sydney. This again means India and Pakistan can possibly meet each other only in the semifinal like last time and that an India-Australia final on 29th March in Melbourne is also ruled out. New Zealand or South Africa or Sri Lanka or even West Indies are set to test their chances of reaching the final as the other team. Stay tuned. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

ICC Cricket World Cup: India Beat Zimbabwe By 6 Wickets, Maintain All Win Record Ahead Of The Knockout Stage!

India have hit a resounding six of six consecutive wins in the ICC World Cup-2015 beating Zimbabwe by 6 wickets in their last league match in Auckland today. However, the margin of India’s victory was not as comfortable as it looks. Chasing a very competitive total of 287 set by Zimbabwe India were under intense pressure at 92 for the loss of 4 top order batsmen in the 23rd over. Thanks to a rollicking unbeaten partnership of 196 runs between Suresh Raina and skipper MS Dhoni victory was finally made easy with 8 balls to spare. Man of the Match Raina raced to a brilliant hundred, his first century in World Cups, making 110 not out off 104 balls with 9 fours and 4 sixes. Raina was helped by a simple dropped catch before he made his half century and was initially living dangerously giving somewhat catching practice to the Zimbabwe fielders. Dhoni gave him solid company making a professional 85 runs not out off 76 balls with 8 fours and 2 sixes—the winning shot being a six from him.

Armed with only a solitary win Zimbabwe almost stopped Team India’s wining spree. After putting Zimbabwe under a lot of pressure at 126 for 4, Indian bowlers seemed to have let off the opposition allowing them to a free flowing run bonanza with the spinners proving totally ineffective. As you know old habits die hard it seemed like a page out of the past. However, unlike the past behavior of Team India Zimbabwe were not allowed to cross the 300 mark and instead the last three wickets were captured for just 2 runs. So, in the six matches thus far India had the opposition all out every time—a feat only achieved by South Africa earlier.

The syndrome of ‘old habits die hard’ does not end there though. As all of us are aware in all major cricket tournaments Team India start experimenting with reserve players once assured of a berth in the next round or in semifinal or finals and in the process losing matches. I was shocked to find celebrated cricket experts and journalists ‘discussing’ the ‘need to rest key players’ in TV channels and newspaper columns. WHY FOR GOD’S SAKE? Don’t anybody realize that this is the World Cup, that the team is winning with the combinations working in the best way possible and that how disastrous it would be for the team to lose a match at this stage and thus inspiring the rival teams in the knockout stage. Good, Dhoni did not fall for it. But still, it seemed like there was some plan. Because of these points—Indian top order batsmen needed some practice in defensive techniques (else why Shikhar Dhawan and Rahane were playing so slowly and in sharp contrast charging down the pitch for non-existent singles); Suresh Raina was not getting enough opportunity to get runs and so needed to be in the middle for some time; lower order of the Indian batting including Dhoni needed more exposure and the Indian tail needed to be tailored to wag enough in the knockout stage. Well, if there was indeed such a plan it was bizarre, risky and negative. The good thing is that most of India’s needs were fulfilled finally in this game! They chased down the highest ever World Cup total despite the fits and starts. And it gave the right kind of message to a resurgent Bangladesh.

Zimbabwe captain Brendon Taylor bid adieu to his team with an explosive century (138 off 110 balls with 15 fours and 5 sixes) as he will be joining an English county team for three years and would probably keep himself open for selection in the England team. Virtually in his last innings for Zimbabwe Taylor provided the momentum for a total in excess of 300, but an injury-affected team could not capitalize fully on it. 

The line-up in Pool—A is final—1.New Zealand, 2.Australia, 3.Sri Lanka and 4.Bangladesh and knockout games start from 18th March. From Pool-B top team India is set to meet Bangladesh in the quarterfinal scheduled on 19th March in Melbourne. Sunday’s (tomorrow, 15/3/15) crucial matches of Pakistan Vs Ireland and West Indies Vs UAE will decide who will meet New Zealand, Australia and Sri Lanka. If Pakistan win they will move to either second or third position depending on net run-rate with South Africa. The net run-rate will also decide whether loser Ireland or West Indies winning against UAE will finally occupy the fourth position. Stay tuned!
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