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Monday, November 25, 2019

Cricket: The First Ever Pink Ball Test A Superhit? And India’s Got Pacers!

Indian cricket fans crowding the Eden Gardens stadium reportedly encouraged Bangladesh players to try prolong the first ever Pink Test a little more; because it was all over in two days and 47 minutes frustrating the general expectation that the match would last at least three days. 45-60 thousand spectators thronged the stadium on the first two days each and even on the third morning when it was apparently clear that India would wrap up the match any moment more than 25000 were present. Such attendance is unprecedented for a five-day Test match ever played in India. Therefore, in terms of pulling people from all strata of society to the stadium the first ever D/N Pink Test is a superhit. However, in Kolkata, the Mecca of Indian Cricket with the famous Eden, enthusiastic crowds are always there for at least two kinds of sports—football and cricket. Given that, one cannot still take away the ‘superhit’ tag, and the fact that the match made Sourav Ganguly, BCCI President, the happiest person on earth whose decision it was to host the event and who said afterwards that more D/N Tests would be played across different centres in India, and if conditions are met India would definitely play Pink Ball Tests against Australia in Australia. A good beginning or history is thus made, and it seems to augur well for the classical format of the game.

The scenario is a little different in terms of competition. It was an overwhelmingly one-sided match in favor of India who registered their fourth consecutive innings victory—the 7th Test win on the trot—and it was the shortest ever domestic Test played. India swamped Bangladesh 2-0 in the series, both being innings victories. This one-sidedness somewhat poured icy water on the hot suspense built over the behaviour of the pink ball. It’d take more competition to show its true colors; for example, a Pink Test against Australia or England or New Zealand would bring out the real test for the pink ball under floodlights in India. At the moment it can be said that the pink ball seems to be more lethal than the red ball when the ball is new. The much speculated ‘twilight’ behaviour of the pink ball is yet to be confirmed; India batsmen didn’t show any palpable discomfort during such a period and Bangladesh counterparts fared miserably in all sessions—day, twilight or night.

One redeeming feature of Indian cricket that has been emerging in the last 2 years or so gets highlighted again, and in view of this writer it could spell a paradigm shift of focus in near future. It’s, of course, the Indian pacers or genuine fast bowlers who have started taking more wickets even on Indian so-called slow pitches. The Pink Ball Test was played without the services of Jasprit Bumrah, considered to be the best, and yet he Indian pace-battery of Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav destroyed Bangladesh in both the Tests sharing almost all the wickets between them. The second Test becomes the first ever domestic Test where the spinners failed to take a single wicket while in the first Test R Ashwin managed 5 wickets—2 in the first innings and 3 in the second. Ishant Sharma bagged the Player-of-the-Series award—a rare feat considering the fact that on most occasions the Indian class batsmen or spinners at times used to get the honors, and in spite of a brilliant Virat Kohli notching up his 27th Test century in this particular match. Several international cricket experts have praised the Indian pace attack calling it the best at the moment. More significantly, green-top pitches are being prepared nowadays in India which sounds incredible considering the long-standing trend of preparing ‘turning’ pitches for domestic Test series. Sourav Ganguly who reportedly sat out of a Test against South Africa in Nagpur once when a green pitch emerged in spite of his specific instructions now promises to lead this ‘paradigm shift’. This augurs very well for Indian Cricket, and the already-bettered away performances stand to improve further.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Cricket—Balls Over The Years As Kolkata Gets Ready For The Pink Test!

While the game of cricket originated in England in the late 16th century and developed globally from the 19th century the red ball has been used traditionally—since at least the early 19th century. International cricket matches have been played since 1844 and Test Cricket from 1877. The color change in cricket began only towards the late 20th century; however, the traditional red ball has continued to be used till today—in test and first-class cricket matches or completions. With the changes in the format of the game the colors of the ball started changing along with the traditional white dress of the cricketers on the field becoming colored.

The ‘red’ became ‘white’ in 1977 when Karry Packer introduced World Series Cricket (WSC) in Australia—as a breakaway ‘commercial’ league. It also included colored clothing for different players from different teams, use of floodlights and white balls. The erstwhile ‘day’ one-day international (ODI) matches became day-night, and it was the visibility or sighting of the ball in the night that brought in the white ball which offers better vision for the batsman  and it is supposedly batter-friendly with less swing and seam than the red ball. The first ICC Cricket World Cup was played in 1975, but the real craze for the limited-overs one-day format began only after the WSC. Thanks to its ‘commercial’ success the white ball use became extensively official and nowadays even ‘day’ ODIs are played with the white ball. Problems associated with the white ball are mainly that it gets dirty pretty quick, and therefore sighting under lights becomes difficult. This problem was resolved with the introduction of two news balls per innings from either end.

The first ever experiment with the pink ball happened in England in 2009, and since then it has been used there and in Australia—of course, in a limited way. Soon afterwards, the pink ball was officially recommended for day-night Test matches. The first Pink Test was hosted by Australia against New Zealand in November, 2015 which the former won in three days with the pacers dominating the proceedings. Since then, cricket boards and players have been debating over its use, particularly in India. After Sourav Ganguly took over charge as President of the BCCI, the historic decision to host a Pink Test in India was taken.

So then, the first ever Test cricket match with the pink ball sets off from tomorrow, the 22nd of November, 2019 at the majestic Eden Gardens, Kolkata between India and Bangladesh. Celebrities, political leaders, cricket experts and ex-players from across the globe are expected to take part in large numbers. The players from both the sides have started practicing under the Eden floodlights 3-4 days in advance. The two most excited persons on this venture are obviously—BCCI President Sourav Ganguly and India skipper Virat Kohli.

For the first time ever too, if this is healthy for Test Cricket or not only time can tell, a traditionally-quiet five-day Test match in India has become a tremendously hyped event. Lovers of the game are very curious to witness this historic beginning, and there are reports galore in the City of Joy that tickets for the huge stadium are in great scarcity and that tickets are being sold in the black market at astronomical prices. Numerous cricket fans are coming back utterly disappointed and frustrated after a futile search for tickets at the stadium offices. Complaints are afloat that tickets are being manipulated by cricket mandarins and there are even no proper notifications for online sale of tickets. Well, with the kind of cricket following in India, particularly in Kolkata, this is nothing but natural.

Eden Gardens...Ready!
Interestingly, people are looking for tickets only for the first three day-nights. Bangladesh, at the moment, looks to be down and out after India’s innings win in Indore in the first Test. With Indian pacers, Shami prominently, in top form, the much-touted green pitch at Eden Gardens may prove too much for the visitors without the services of Shakib and Tamim. Like the first pink test in 2015 most expect it to be over in three days, in India’s favor. General curiosity peaks anticipating the possible behavior of the pink ball under lights, during the twilight period, with the wintry dew and the scoring potential of the batsmen. Play is to begin at 1 pm daily with lunch break at 3; second session from 3.40 to 5.40 pm with a break for tea and the last session from 6 to 8 pm. Kolkata becomes dark just after 5 pm at the onset of the winter now.

All set...make way for the Pink...!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Two Strangers At It!

He stared at me; I stared him back. Our eyes got locked. And he continued to stare at me, and I felt a little uneasy and started roving my eyes here and there, still aware of the fact that he didn’t follow my action, his stare unflinching.

We were sitting at a medical clinic on opposite rows, waiting for the doctors’ call. This was a multi-specialty clinic, and so the patients were in the common lounge for doctors of various departments. In all probability my staring stranger was not in the queue for my doctor.

After sometime I stared back at him to check the status; to my dismay he was still staring at me. My uneasiness gave way to plain resentment now. I must know why.

I stood up, went over to his side and sat down in the vacant seat next to him. He now looked at me with interest, his face beaming.

“Do you know me?” I asked him, showing my anger.
“In fact, a friend of mine with sharp features and a pointed nose,” he began; “resembles you. That’s why your face caught my attention... I’m now sure you’re not him.”
“He is your friend, you say, and you took such a long time to confirm! Your behavior is just not right.” I cried.
“Oh, I’m very sorry for that. Please pardon’re a good person, I really like you now. Please forget what happened. Tell me Sir, do you stay nearby?” he sounded truly apologetic.
Mellowing down a bit I replied, “Yes, within a walkable distance. What about you?”
“I also stay nearby...Hey! We could just turn out to be neighbors!” he said excitedly.

Then the conversation veered to locations and houses; people and markets and of course various local issues and problems. About half an hour later the stranger’s name was called. He stood up immediately. “Thanks a lot, friend! You know, waiting is a tedious job, you must find a way out to enjoy!” said he with a benign grin and turned towards the doctor’s chamber.

Now I could stare only at his back; however, I continued to do so till he vanished inside the cabin. Then, I allowed my lips to crack into a very tight smile, really making an effort at that; I didn’t want to invite more stares.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

IPL: A Liability or Asset?

The Indian Premiere League (IPL), as a Twenty20 cricket tournament, was founded by business and cricket tycoon of India, Lalit Modi, the then vice president of the BCCI in 2008. The very next year the IPL was shifted to South Africa for the UPA government couldn’t give security assurance due to the General Elections-2009. After the third edition in 2010 the BCCI suspended Lalit Modi thanks to a plethora of allegations and cross allegations that culminated in 2013 when the BCCI banned him for life after a series of investigations. He shifted to London in 2010 and has been living there since. Meanwhile the IPL has emerged as one of the biggest cricket tournaments of the world in terms of chiefly money—by the billions. 

From its inception many cricket purists including stalwarts and even politicians criticized it as ‘commercialization’ of cricket with buying and selling of cricketers from across the world, called auction in moderate term, and teams consisting of Indian icons, young Indian cricketers and international cricketers based on their ‘price’ which was calculated as per their performances or potential. Thanks to its money-spinning ability and increasing popularity among popcorn cricket revellers the BCCI adopted the IPL as one of their ‘must’ activities and went to lengths at times, lobbying for it internationally. Even in the post-2010 period the IPL was never rid of controversies including match-fixing and the like leading to banning of franchises or teams from the tournament on a few occasions. However, the IPL grew and grew in importance, because international cricketers also began counting on it due to the money they stood to earn. National pride and franchise loyalties came into clash.

Again, from the start, many cricket administrators and veteran cricketers including stalwarts saw the IPL as the gateway for young talents—it is not clear if they just approved it naturally or due to the money-oriented vested interests. It cannot be denied that young Indian talents did get opportunities through the tournament in terms of both recognition and some assured money; but the point of concern was that the national selectors started looking at the IPL as a yardstick for selection in Team India despite the various domestic cricket tournaments being available since decades. Obviously, competitive cricket is being played in the IPL with team rivalries for the coveted trophy; however, the intensity generated by national pride—representing one’s own country in international cricket—can never be compared with the club-centric cricket of the IPL involving players of various nationalities. Problem is, the revellers started enjoying IPL matches as three-hour ‘cricket movies’, and the hype only magnified over time. We’ll now consider the scenario in the last two-three years.

Thanks to the IPL, an ocean of ‘talents’ opened up before the national selectors, and IPL became a somewhat ‘entrance test’ to find a place in the national team. In the roughly two-year period prior to the ICC Cricket World Cup-2019 Team India was ‘different’ in almost every match played by them—in any format. In the name of ‘finding the perfect team for the World Cup’ a process of experimentation began that turned out to be endless—and often mindless with players of dubious record finding repeated chances to play in the national team. An artificial syndrome called ‘the number-4 batsman’ was also created to justify this. As part of this process various ‘lobbies’ also began to form around certain ‘talented’ young cricketers with even cricket stalwarts joining these. One of the biggest examples was the peculiar case of ‘Rishav Pant’.

It is well-known that Rishav Pant has nothing to show in terms of one-day international cricket till now and yet when he was not selected for the World Cup team, a national hue and cry was raging across ranging from local protests to social media to editorial pages of national newspapers. Perhaps due to such national ‘outrage’ Indian strongman-opener Shikhar Dhwan got injured in the very first half of the World Cup. And what happened? Naturally, Rishav Pant was selected superseding various other ‘established’ options like Ambati Rayadu, Ajinkya Rahane and the like. And what Pant did in the matches he played thereafter? Well, he only contributed to the ‘decimating’ process of MS Dhoni who was persisted upon during the period for his ‘experience’ only, and the so-called hitters like Pandya and Pant came in to bat ahead of ‘experienced’ Dhoni, repeatedly—including in the crucial semi-final against New Zealand which paved the way out for India.  It was ludicrous to watch Pandya-Pant duo trying to win matches after just 3 or 4 wickets down. This is also to mention here that Team India had 3-4 wicket-keepers, 4 if we include KL Rahul, playing in certain one-day international matches on various occasions. This absurdity got extended even to a few World Cup matches too. As a devout cricket lover since ages I must say that any team that includes 4 wicket-keepers in the playing eleven can never aspire to win a major tournament.

With the ICC T20 World Cup-2020 less than a year away the experimentation process started again with the IPL becoming the all-important platform to select from. In the first T20I match against Bangladesh on 3rd November, 2019 in Delhi Team India didn’t look like a national team—it was more like an IPL franchise. That the match was lost was a foregone conclusion—notwithstanding the fact that Bangladesh was playing without Shakib and Tamim.

If such kind of a mindless IPL-centric experimentation goes on unabated only Team India and millions of fans are set to suffer from the syndrome of snatching defeats from inevitable victories apart from demoralizing so many other tested cricketers. The essence of IPL is commerce, and it must be accepted by all stakeholders. Domestic cricket should get back its lost relevance. In this context it is reassuring to see the new BCCI President Sourav Ganguli giving such a promise for a new era of Indian cricket. Else, the IPL will continue to be a great asset in terms of money-spinning, and a liability in terms of Team India’s winning ability at the international level. This writer had expressed the opinion earlier that any cricketer who excels in Test cricket can easily excel in all formats of the game—it is proved by so many legendary players. The upcoming introduction of day-night cricket Test with the pink ball between India and Bangladesh in India this month is bound to increase interest in the classical format.

Monday, November 4, 2019

T20 Cricket: Fans Defy Delhi Pollution, Bangladesh Tigers Register First Ever Win Against India!

About 25000 cricket fans defied severe levels of pollution and thronged the Arun Jaitley stadium in Delhi on the evening of 3rd November, 2019. Their love for the game and eagerness to support their team prevailed over pollution; as it were, to vindicate BCCI President Sourav’s Ganguly’s decision to go ahead with the match. The efforts taken by the authorities try cut down the pollution level around the stadium were eye-catching; in the sense that no such devotion is as yet to be seen to save the common people of the national capital from AQI levels that reached over 500-mark in some places. Well, this is cricket in India—and the money involved with the game!

Now over to the cricket played. The defying fans were ultimately disappointed with their home team’s efforts, and Bangladesh somewhat easily won the first T20I match by 7 wickets. In nine T20I marches played so far between the two sides this was the first ever win for Bangladesh, and that too in India. The joy of the conquering Tigers, obviously, knew no bounds, and they deserved to win in the final analysis, overwhelming India in all the departments of batting, bowling and fielding. Winning the toss was a distinct advantage for the visitors; however, their bowling was far more disciplined with their captain trying as many as 8 bowlers and keeping India in check from the beginning. Their win is more significant due to the fact that two seasoned players—former skipper Shakib Al Hasan who was banned by the ICC for two years from all cricket, later one year pardoned, for breaching the anti-corruption code which will prevent him from playing the ICC T20 World Cup to be played in Australia from 18th October, 2020, and Tamim Iqbal who pulled out for personal reasons—were not in the team. For India, Rohit Sharma captained as Virat Kohli was rested for the T20 series. 

For the cricket lovers the Indian experimentation proved to be a bigger set-back than the pollution. We had seen earlier how the Indian cricket management indulged in mindless experiments with the playing eleven for two years prior to the ICC Cricket World Cup-2019 that finally saw Indian losing to New Zealand in the semi-final. With the ICC T20 World Cup coming up next year this kind of experimentation (more of this in my next piece coming up ‘IPL; A Liability or Asset?’ in this space soon) is well anticipated. However, fielding a totally inexperienced team, particularly in the bowling department, against a formidable side like Bangladesh, was a fatal mistake that cost Team India the match. We can only hope that the ‘experimentation’ doesn’t go mad trying just anybody considering only their IPL record. And most of all, we must congratulate Bangladesh for their brave victory against India in India. The competitive spirit is set to get heated up in the next two T20I matches between the two countries.

Friday, November 1, 2019

New Rivalries: Cricket Vs Delhi Smog; Dada Vs Dew!

New cricket rivalries are emerging at the moment in India, immediately after former India captain Sourav Ganguly took charge as President, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on 23rd October, 2019. All cricket lovers including cricket commentators and top players welcomed taking over charge by Ganguly, mainly because for the first time a real cricketer—and an aggressive one too—has occupied the most important position. True to his nature, Sourav has already started planning for a productive era of Indian cricket; he met the present India captain Virat Kohli too. In the course of this he took two crucial decisions which are loaded with suspense and tension.

India-Bangladesh Series-2019 is set to start with a T20I match to be played in Delhi on 3rd November and there was a hue and cry over it due to the pollution levels in the national capital spiking to severe levels, particularly after Diwali celebrations and the continued stubble burning in the countryside. Cricketer turned politician Gautam Gambhir recently commented that pollution is far more serious than a cricket match; many others including environmentalists also objected on the ground that continued exposure of the cricketers to the ‘severe’ Air Quality Index (AQI) might cause serious damage to their health. Sourav Ganguly took the first decision—that now it was too late to shift the match to other venues. Players have already started practice in Delhi’s Arun Jaitley stadium (Firoz Shah Kotla ground renamed after the demise of the great leader), and it is reported that more masks are on the way for Bangladesh.

Delhi pollution repeatedly interrupted play during a Test match in Delhi in December, 2017 between India and Sri Lanka, and it was the first instance of such a kind, internationally. Sri Lanka players wore masks on the field and reportedly vomited again and again due to the pollution. Therefore, what is going to be the scenario on the evening of 3rd November remains tense and suspenseful.

Sourav Ganguly’s second decision was more historic and bold. He ushered in day-and-night Test cricket for the first time in India, which was pending for quite some time, after convincing BCCI officials, the India captain and Bangladesh cricket. So then, the first ever day-and-night Test match between India and Bangladesh is to be played from 22nd November, 2019 at the majestic Eden Gardens, Kolkata, Sourav’s hometown where he is popularly known as ‘Dada’. Now, since it is the start of winter in most parts of India the dew factor is going to be crucial, particularly for the bowlers. It will be a new rivalry between Dada and Dew, and what is going to unfold during those five days is also laden with suspense and concern.

This Series between dominant India, after their Test white wash against South Africa and a highly competitive Bangladesh side is, therefore, being looked upon by all with tremendous interest and worries. Immediately, we are looking at the first T20I in Delhi where the AQI is still over the 400 ‘severe’ mark at the moment. Pollution forecasts are also not so reassuring for the coming days. We can only hope competitive cricket happen without causing any harm to the cricketers and excited fans and spectators. Would ‘Dadagiri’ be able to prevail over the new cricket rivalries? Let’s wait and watch.

P.S: As on 01.11.19, health emergency declared in Delhi, all schools closed till 5th November, all construction work stopped till 5th November, some industries also closed. And of course, BCCI refuses to consider changing the venue for the T20I match.

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