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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Asia Cup Cricket: What A Relief, India In Super Four!

Yes, it is indeed a huge relief that India have reached the Super Four stage of the Unimoni Asia Cup-2018 and that they are going to play Pakistan at least two times, the big one coming up tomorrow in Dubai. Because, Team Hong Kong has suffered two losses--one at the hands of Pakistan and the other to India tonight, the latter being a most unwelcome thriller for Indian fans. This sense of relief owes its origins to two basic reasons, like it or not.

First, after the ODI series loss and the Test series disaster in England Team India has suffered a telling loss of credibility. There, only captain Virat Kohli played with some of the bowlers in tandem, and now here in UAE even the captain is missing with the one day specialists brought in again. Therefore, you never know who in Team India will play and who will play how. Upsets are common in tournaments, and last night Afghanistan eliminated Sri Lanka, one of the main contenders for the Cup despite everything. Tonight's match was almost another upset with India winning narrowly by 26 runs. The noisy celebration of the Indian fans expressed the same sense of huge relief. With Rashid and other spinners Afghanistan is going to be a challenge for any team in Super Four.

Second and most importantly, India seems to be continuing relentlessly with its selection blues. This was India’s first match and the crucial start of the Asia Cup campaign. And yet, India have begun their campaign with experimentation. They have given debut to one and took in a few others in lieu of experienced cricketers who were available, sitting resting or whatever in the  dressing room. Selection of Dinesh Karthik is also to be questioned, because he was taken in only in the third and final ODI against England where he couldn’t do anything special. So, why select him adding one more wicket-keeper to the team? Team management defends it thus—resting important players from the sapping heat. Well, do they play the IPL during the great Indian winter back home? Of course, there is one more defense still—the uncanny schedule giving India two back to back matches. However, such games do help players warming up well for bigger games.

The basic point is that team management has deprived their most experienced players of precious match practice just a day before the all-important encounter with Pakistan. It is to be noted that Pakistan had fielded their full-strength team in their first match against Hong Kong. Pakistan have already been playing mind games, openly relishing the idea of Virat-less India, and now the Indian Experiment would further embolden their approach. After the Indian batting and bowling displayed tonight there will be more questions regarding selection in the Pakistan match.

India failed to reach the 300 mark against a team playing a major international tournament for the first time making just 48 runs in the last ten overs losing five wickets. Except for the Shikhar Dhawan century, a bright starter from Rohit Sharma and a good effort by Ambati Rayadu there was hardly any major score from anybody including the crucial factor of MS Dhoni. Of course, Dhoni is here to stay, but will they drop all others who were only experimented with? How would the selectors ensure that the experienced players to be taken in now will deliver in the very first match? What would they do with Kedar Jadhav? Get rid of him after this solitary chance? We watched tonight Hong Kong tackling Indian pacers most efficiently scoring more than 50 runs in the first 10 overs without loss, and keeping up the momentum overcoming the Indian spinners too till the match was nearly sealed by them. Would the strike bowlers to be taken in strike indeed in the very first outing?

Therefore, this profound sense of relief! Whatever happens in the next match, India will be one of the top two teams from Group A and will continue to play the Super Four matches including a second encounter with Pakistan from 21st September onwards.

Hope Team India rebuilding happens quick and fast, and the liabilities both in the team and in team management removed faster. Some sort of a ‘problem of plenty’ is setting in ominously for the Indian cricket management. With the ICC World Cup-2019 round the corner India cannot afford to go on with its mindless experimentation killing players’ spirit and confidence in the process. Identify your best 15, make them bind into a team, give them trust and confidence and give them a run till the World Cup so that they can fight single-mindedly to win it. This Team-15 is for the one day format, and ideally for all the formats with the barest minimum of ‘specialist’ interchanging.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Cricket: Asia Cup-2018 Begins, Bangladesh Crush Sri Lanka in Inaugural Match!

The 14th edition of Asia Cup of One Day Internationals (ODI) between cricket playing nations of Asia began tonight, the 15th of September, 2018 in United Arab Emirates. UAE hosts this tournament for the third time due to well-known reasons. In the inaugural match played at the Dubai International stadium Bangladesh crushed Sri Lanka by 137 runs. Bangladesh, batting first, innings was built mainly on a superlative 144 runs by Musfiqur Rahim who was the last man out setting a competitive target of 261 runs. Sri Lanka began very shakily and kept on losing wickets at regular intervals including a  run-out, the whole team finally getting bowled out for a mere 124 . With its string of successes in last two years Bangladesh has become the team to watch out for in this two-week tournament. It was nice to see Lasith Malinga back in the Sri Lanka team and also among wickets again.

Asia Cup this year has six teams with Hong Kong joining the five full ODI members—India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The tournament, normally played in the round robin format, this time is having two groups and a Super Four. Group A consists of India, Pakistan and Hong Kong while Group B has Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Winners and runners-up teams of each group will go to the Super Four stage on the basis of points at the group stage and in Super Four all four nations will play each other with the top two teams qualifying for the Final. There will be two venues—Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Omission of Sharjah is perplexing which is also pointed out by Sunil Gavaskar.

After a long while cricket lovers are set to enjoy encounters between the eternal archrivals India and Pakistan. This rivalry becomes far more interesting with the former ace pacer Imran Khan becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The two nations are set to meet on 19th September in Dubai for the group match. Supposing both teams proceed to the Super Four stage which is the most likely scenario they will meet for the second time sometime after 20th September. If both teams turn out to be the top two teams in Super Four they will meet for the third time in the Final on 28th September. Cricket lovers will really relish that possibility. Of course, as we have pointed out earlier, Bangladesh would be a tough team to overcome and Sri Lanka could come roaring back any time.  

India has a new captain Rohit Sharma for the tournament as Virat Kohli was rested after the Test disaster against England. India, the defending champions, has been consistently proving its dominance in the shorter format and the absence of Kohli is not likely to impact team performance adversely. Of course, performance of MS Dhoni is going to be a crucial factor with wicket keeper-batsman Dinesh Karthik also featuring in the team. Selection blues in Team India visibly affected team performance in the England tour, and therefore team management has to be very careful about the final eleven in each match with a lot of options available. The omission of Rishav Pant seems illogical, because he went from the IPL straight to the Tests.

With more teams, interesting format and the extravaganza spreading over two weeks Asia Cup-2018 promises to be absorbing and exciting.

All details about the tournament:

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Curious Case For Delays!

I made a discovery of sorts recently! You know, we have certain likes and dislikes, and we have been traditionally used to the reactions concomitant on these. However, I found out that such likes and dislikes are specific to the prevailing situation or circumstances. Depending on the prevailing situation or circumstances our traditional likes could very well convert into unconventional dislikes or our traditional irritation could translate into new-found pleasure. I do of course run the risk of suffering from naiveté as you all may know this or be experiencing such deferential distinctions. But somehow I am hell-bent on propagating my discovery to one and all.

Our crucial keyword here is ‘delay’.  Almost always, delays cause irritation or dislikes, and fury in extreme cases. You hate when your train or flight is delayed; you hate waiting when somebody’s train or flight is delayed; you hate to be kept waiting for a meeting; you wholeheartedly dislike late comers in office; you get furious when your spouse is late for an important occasion and so on. These are all traditional and accepted reactions. Now, I will proceed to my discovery straightway without saying anything more in this context which could be revealing prematurely.

That evening I landed up with a lot of time to kill. I had to receive a friend at the airport at a bit late hour and after office I had nothing important to do. I didn’t consider it wise to go home all the way and then come back again all the way and more. Going for a movie was ruled out because theatres were not in the vicinity of the airport and I didn’t have that much of time. And then, I was ravenously hungry too. In my earlier trips to the airport I had observed a cosy nice little restaurant right opposite to the arrival gates. Therefore, I decided on that; took a little bite, boarded a bus and went to the airport.

Surprisingly, the traffic that evening was not heavy, and when I arrived at the airport I still had at least two hours to kill. I started thinking about what courses of food and beverages should be taken so that the time killing got done appropriately as I entered the restaurant.

Meantime I decided on a drink as the first course. I took a good seat and looked around the restaurant. There were not many customers at that point of time and none of them belonged to the noisy variety. With the air conditioners working fine it was cool and comfortable. I was in.

I waited, and waited with the menu wide open on my table. The waiters were moving around on errands not exactly related to the few customers available. However, I didn’t even feel an itch of irritation as I relaxed and settled comfortably in my chair.

Finally when the waiter came I ordered my drink, but was told that was not available. After that whatever item I fixed my taste buds on was either not available or not with the appropriate flavour I wanted. But I was not at all angry or irritated. I rather smiled at him, and tried again with menu. Eventually I had to cancel my drink and settle for a snack of the waiter’s choice.

After the delightful delay in placing an order now I was in for a more appetising delay in serving the order. I was too happy watching the people eating or drinking or idling or loitering around and also the television screen where a local news channel was trying to burst out of the mute mode. Curiously, everything seemed interesting to me despite now a vehemently protesting stomach. I sat there—bemused, but contented and happy as the minutes ticked by.

I enjoyed my dish immensely when it finally arrived, and then ordered for a tea. There was another juicy delay till the hot beverage came. After I finished my tea relishing it with lingeringly tender and deliciously spaced out sips I asked for the bill. I never thought that it would be the longest regurgitating delay of all the delays. The waiters as usual moved around busily with their errands never bothering about me. If I moved out of the place quietly nobody would have noticed, such was the business that was going on. However, I did not at all dislike the restaurant or was irritated with the boys. Instead, I was beaming and merry.

As I finally settled my bill I got a call from my friend. Yes, he had just landed. I congratulated myself, wow...what a perfectly timed time killing! However, somehow I couldn’t give a healthy tip to the boys, although I was not at all irritated or angry!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Test Cricket: Team India Where Only The Captain Performs And Selects!

There was a lot of hue and cry about the humiliating loss suffered by India at Lords in London against England in the second Test match during 9-13 August 2018. Tremendous expressions of anguish surfaced at every possible public platform and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) even threatened to take the team captain and coach to task. However, it was much ado about nothing. It was just a loss like many other such losses over the decades due to absolute team failure, more pertinently batting failure. Furthermore, the match was severely affected by rains with the first day and few other sessions washed out. India was put into bat under heavy overcast conditions that hastened the end of an already battered batting line-up. Curiously when England in reply started their first innings it was bright sunshine, and with an impossible target when India replied in their second innings it was again heavy overcast conditions. So, it was an aberration or rather a freakish match not likely to repeat soon, I thought. And, it was proved in the third Test during 18-22 August at Trent Bridge that India won convincingly. But again, in the fourth Test at Southampton during 30th August-3rd September India took England out of the woods twice to lose by mere 60 runs and to enable the hosts seal the Test Series 3-1. In India people including cricket experts make a huge outpour of joy at an Indian victory and make a defeaning outcry at a loss never bothering about the problems inherent. The more serious problems lay somewhere else.

The first Test at Edgbaston should in fact be the real area of concern that India lost by mere 31 runs. It was a failure due entirely to an inept Indian batting performance except of course the captain Virat Kohli. The Indian bowlers performed quite brilliantly giving India a real chance to win the match. This match has a familiar ring to the Series against South Africa where Team India lost the Test Series 2-1, but had ample opportunities to reverse the verdict in its favour. Again, it was due to dismal batting performance, except of course the captain. This scenario has been consistently unfolding itself in all the away Test series against tough teams, and this in extreme contrast to the domestic circuit where Team India has been winning hands down against all tough rivals, perhaps thanks to the 'spinning' tracks purportedly prepared here in India.

Why? This cannot be answered in direct and simple terms. This is a complex issue plaguing a team said to be the best ever in an away series. We can make a guess taking a purview of various factors that could contribute to this perplexing phenomenon, setting aside the normal perception about the ‘swinging ball in fast-paced pitches’ or the ‘moving ball outside the off stump on green tops’. Most of the factors do veer around the selection blues. However, the crux of the matter is that ‘with little more cricket application from the Indian batsmen the away series including against South Africa could have been won’.

We must mention the unpredictability of the selection process. The marketability quotient of players seems to influence selection. This quotient is essentially derived from the most popular ODI and T20 formats including the IPL. This time in England Team India was fresh from the IPL and therefore the quotient factors of star IPL performers seemed to have influenced team selection immediately. Dropping Dinesh Karthik and selecting Rishav Pant for wicket keeping-batting was the direct result of IPL-2018. The point to be noted here is that Test match is the highest form of the game and players who excel in this format are fit for all formats, and not vice versa at all. Unfortunately, this basic principle gets ignored most of the times.

Granted that some players cannot adapt to the fast-scoring needs of the shorter formats these players constitute the section of specialized Test cricketers who are normally air lifted prior to the start of the matches. Since they are recognized as ‘specialized Test cricketers’, they need to be respected and trusted. Ajinkya Rahane is the supreme example of ‘frequent lack of trust’ in him leading to unpredictability and non-performance. For the Test series against England Cheteswar Pujara was air lifted, but not selected for the first Test. Shikhar Dhawan got in entirely thanks to his ‘marketability quotient’. Murali Vijay was included, but was dropped later without giving him enough opportunity and trust. The height of ‘selection uncertainty’ was reached when India decided to take two spinners in the Lords Test despite the pitch and the weather. Although Lokesh Rahul continued to play in the Tests his place in the team was constantly fraught with lurking dangers which had to affect his performance.

In the context of ‘giving respect to specialized cricketers’ the phenomenon of Hardik Pandya comes in too. No doubt he has been the most promising all-rounder of future, but he does not yet deserve a fully secure place in the team, at least in the Tests, due to his limited experience while most experienced ones are getting axed, taken, axed and so on. Thanks to a mostly inspired performance the bowling front was spared from selection hassles, except for continuous resting of Umesh Yadav and the spinning around of the spinners.

Virat Kohli is known for his emotions and impulsive actions. If these psychological attributes are allowed to influence the selection process too then all is not well for India. Some experts have already pointed out that Virat had never kept the same Test team for more than two matches at a stretch. The coach-cum-team manager and the national selectors need to come in strongly instead of being stooges of a ‘too powerful’ captain. Virat Kohli is a cricketer of exceptional brilliance, and just for keeping the captaincy we wouldn’t want him to perform only for himself and not for the team. As a captain he must be dexterous enough to be able to motivate and inspire all his team mates. If he fails in this, management must allow him to do his best as a batsman only. His solitary brilliance as a captain would further aggravate the distance already created between him and other batsmen of the team.

As the inconsequential fifth and final Test match starts today at the Oval in London, India would only hope for precious lessons in team building and for more insights into ‘how to win a series in foreign soil’. Indian teams of yore did it several times embedding those unforgettable moments in our memories, and Virat Kohli should desist from seeing himself as the only captain with the best possible team ever to achieve those heights. Perhaps it was because of his approach that he lost all the five tosses of the Test Series.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

“Because I Needed to Buy...!”

Got late in office, but it was not a problem. Because I needed to buy a kilo of potatoes only which was crucial for the dish I planned to cook that night. 

It was late evening when I finally left office. Across the road was the Esplanade metro railway station in Kolkata. As I descended the final steps leading to the station platform one train roared out. To my chagrin it was an air-conditioned rake. Commuting on Kolkata metro you needed a lot of luck to deserve an AC rake, because it still abounded in non-ac rakes, and if you wanted the pleasure of paying a minimum of just five bucks for a metro ride, arguably the cheapest rate across the globe, you had to pay a price in terms of lack of comfort and a consistently erratic time schedule. Also, once aboard the non-ac trains in the rush and crush you had to witness the sliding doors making at least 3 attempts to shut under normal circumstances at almost every stop and you had the unenviable option of cooling yourself with your own free-flowing sweat. Nobody really complained about this in this proverbial Indian city of joy, because they preferred the joy of accessing every possible facility at its cheapest, and protested vehemently at the slightest indication of a metro-fare increase.

The next train was due in four minutes, but ten minutes elapsed and no train came. Three air-conditioned trains came in the meantime in the opposite direction increasing my irritation. However, getting delayed further didn’t really matter.  Because I needed to buy a kilo of potatoes only which was crucial for the dish I planned to cook that night. 

Finally one train came in my way and as feared, once again a non-ac one. And it was overloaded already with hordes of eager passengers waiting to barge in. I knew that the accumulated crowds in the next three stations would make it unbearable. So I decided to wait, and luckily got a platform seat.

The train time-schedule or the related still didn’t improve. After another long interval of time one more non-ac train paddled in. I didn’t budge from my seat, wisely. In the meantime, two more trains came in the opposite direction, again both air-conditioned. I began to seethe now. Even though I needed to buy a kilo of potatoes only which was crucial for the dish I planned to cook that night. 

The next train for me was non-ac too, but it came a little early and it was less crowded. So I took it. I managed a standing space for the 22 minute ride to my destination. If you must know, it cost me just 10 bucks duly deducted from the smart-card.

As I alighted from my home station I took in a view of the vegetable vendors lined on one side of the station with their green assortments displayed on wooden raisers. I needed to buy a kilo of potatoes only which was crucial for the dish I planned to cook that night.  So I still had the distinct advantage of completing it in quick time. I selected a vendor who was entertaining a lone customer at that moment. I quickened my pace and occupied my position next to the lone customer before anybody else could come up. However, I had no idea about what was in store for me.

The vendor and the customer were somehow guided by some unwritten law of slow motion. The customer showed extreme delight in selecting very small portions of a variety of vegetables—250 grams of this, 300 grams of that, 200 grams of another, and so on. The vendor seemed to partake in this delightful game by weighing those with exemplary care and with classical perfection, putting the cuttings neatly into polythene bags of various sizes. The slow motion show was aptly followed by the mandatory drama of accounting and budgeting as I still stood there. It was an elaborate process, even though the final budget turned to be much lesser than fifty bucks.

I sighed with relief that finally the show was over. But then, the climax happened. The customer produced a five-hundred rupee note out of this pocket. Under normal circumstances any vendor would have showed bitterness and irritation at this audacious gesture. But no, not this time. The vendor tenderly accepted the note which in turn forced him to lay bare his ponderous box of the day’s collections. Rummaging through his treasure for quite some time he finally managed to settle the change. It was a befitting climax, well-deserved too. However, I wasn’t too sure for whom, me or the duo.

It was thanks to my years of immense experience that I firmly stood through, and bought my potatoes from him only.

Because...what the heck! A late supper wasn’t going to starve me to death in any case.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Breakfast Show!

Normally a breakfast show would refer to those morning shows telecast regularly on your channels. However, the point sought to be stressed upon here is that every single home of the millions around the globe does have its own breakfast show. And, that breakfast show is very important for various reasons.

It is the first ‘break’ for you to have without ‘breaks’. A time when you wouldn’t like to switch on the television set unless compelled by profession or addiction. When you wouldn’t want to remain glued to your digital devices, because like you those would also need to be charged. When you wouldn’t expect the door bell to ring much. When you wouldn’t expect unwelcome or surprise guests to land up. When, you would be far removed from the fear of being disturbed by the stakeholders seeking payments.

A real good time to unwind and freshen up; to have your belly filled with the food you would want; to relish a rare moment of togetherness with your entire family; to rejoice with the feeling of being a king or queen if you are home alone and a crucial time to start your day.

So, enjoy!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Highs and Lows of Cricket and a Commercial Break!

After some terrific cricket and some horrific related incidents during the first three months of 2018 it’s time now for a commercial break. Well, not exactly though for millions of avid fans! They have been patiently waiting for this most commercially viable form of cricket since the last season. Come April-May for over a decade now,  and nobody can stop these fans for going gaga over this movie-styled entertainers of the sport.

Right, we are talking about the 11th Season of the Indian Premiere League-2018 T20 Cricket tournament starting from 7th April till the end of next month. Many fans would be excited this time for the return of Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR) with the former Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni back as captain of CSK and Ajinkya Rahane replacing the tainted Steve Smith as captain of RR while New Zealand captain Kane Williamson replaced the tainted David Warner as captain of Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH), Shikhar Dhawan was earlier tipped for the position. Pune Rising Supergiants and Gujarat Lions that played for last two years after the two-year suspension of CSK and RR over a cricketing scandal could not qualify this time.

The buying of selling of internationally famed cricketers, euphemistically called auction, saw most of the regular players retained adding some exciting new ones. England cricketer Ben Stokes became the costliest overseas player while Indian pacer Jaydev Unadkat the costliest domestic one—both these players are bought by RR. Some known faces remained unsold including Lasith Malinga, Martin Guptil, Hashim Amla, Ishant Sharma and many others. Destroyer Chris Gayle somehow found a place in Kings XI Punjab in the third and last round of auction. Old warhorse Yuvraj Singh also found a place in this team which is being led this time by a new captain Ravichandran Ashwin. Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) discarded Gautam Gambhir who is being lapped up by Delhi Daredevils (DD) as captain. The sensation of the T20 Tri-Series Final against Bangladesh in Colombo on 18th March, 2018, Dinesh Karthik whose 8-ball 29 won India the Nidahas Trophy, becomes the captain of KKR which would definitely cheer a lot of Kolkata fans.  India captain Virat Kohli continues to lead Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) while Rohit Sharma is also retained as captain of Mumbai Indians (MI). The inaugural match between MI and CSK will be played in Mumbai on 7th April and Kolkata will see its first match on 8th April between KKR and RCB. The other venues will be Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Mohali assigned as hometowns to the different teams.  The Schedule:

This commercial break in terms of the IPL-2018 can be viewed as a much needed relief after the scandalous developments in international cricket recently. While the India Vs South Africa cricket series in South Africa was a high point in competitive spirited cricket the Test duel between the hosts and Australia cricket reached the lowest.

Although India under Virat Kohli lost the 3-Test series against South Africa 2-1 during January, 2018 the cricket was highly competitive with constant ups and downs. India nearly won the series with some superlative bowling performances, and many Indian fans believed that with some more batting application India would have seen the final result in its favour. South Africa won the closely fought first and second Tests while India won the final Test convincingly. And then, the Indians were unstoppable annihilating South Africa both in the one-day and the T20 series. Australia played the Test Series against South Africa during March, 2018 winning the first one and losing the second one. The series was looking up at that point of time despite the ugly off-field confrontation of David Warner with South African keeper Quinton de Kock during the first Test in Durban.

The ball-tampering incident happened on March 24, 2018 on the third day of the third Test being played in Cape Town involving Cameron Bancroft, and then skipper Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner—both being in the know as well as in the leadership. The deliberate and cold blooded tactic shocked the whole world, both cricketing and non-cricketing, with absolute words of condemnation coming from one and all irrespective of the highest or the lowest positions of authority. Cricket Australia was swift in its action, and the implicated players accepted the punishment with lots of public tears, but with no appealing intentions. As per the latest information Cricket Australia wants to put all the lids on this most scandalous happening which is possible because as mentioned the players are not going to appeal against the punishment handed out. Of course, a lot of questions involving this shameful episode would remain unanswered forever.

Meanwhile Afghanistan cricket team qualified for the ICC World Cup-2019 against all odds and beating Ireland in its final outing. The other qualifier is the West Indies, surprisingly.

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