RIP Phillip Hughes

During my time growing up back home in Chennai there was one routine that was done every year. Once school closed for the summer break, my mom with my sister and I would make the trip across to Kerala for a month’s stay at my mom’s ancestral home. My grandparents lived there along with one of my aunt and uncle. As the youngest grand child I knew that pretty much most of my whims & fancies would be catered for there, my grandmother used to ensure it. It’s that unmistakable bond between grandparents and grandkids, and one that I see now between my parents and my niece & nephew.

One summer it was thanks to my grandmother’s insistence that my uncle ensured I was able to watch an ODI game from Sharjah, grainy footage and all in one of DoorDarshan’s channels.

So when I got a phone call from my mom during the summer of 2001 when I was doing my masters in Germany informing me of my grandmother’s passing away, I was heartbroken. When I had left India in Nov’2000 I had made a promise to my grandmother that I would see her next December and now that promise would forever remain unfulfilled. The summer of 2001 – that was the last time I had to deal with a loss that affected me personally.

Until I woke up this morning and saw the words – RIP Phillip Hughes.

It’s heartbreaking and immensely hard to write this down. A life so young taken away so cruelly. I am still struggling to come to terms with the news I woke up to this morning. A life taken away just shy of his 26’th birthday.

I really shouldn’t have stayed at my desk post lunch today. In the morning work ensured my concentration was focussed on it. However once I got to read a couple of tribute pieces I almost lost it at work. It took some effort to regain my composure but I knew then and there that the rest of the working day would be hard to get through. I somehow managed to keep my composure for the remaining few hours and the drive back home was thankfully incident free.

Cricket grounds and cricketers have always been seen as avenues to experience exhilarating highs and lows but not bring the very harsh reality of life and death. It’s all changed after today.

A journey cut short abruptly in the midst of doing something he always wanted to do since childhood. Numb, shocked and while life must move on, the cricketing world is poorer with the loss of Phillip Hughes.

RIP mate

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Playing Hookey for Shorty

Superb read this

Boundary Conditions

Published in Cricinfo, February 12, 2014

The call always arrived after dinner. Located in the living room, the telephone offered little privacy. Pesky and nosy busybodies (siblings and parents) were always hovering and any spilling of the beans now that half the school day had been kissed goodbye would create mayhem. Poker face and minimalist was the way to go.

The voice never wasted time on pleasantries; straight to the point:

“Did you go?”

“Mmm…”

“How much?”

“27”

“Brilliant?”

“Two flicks. One cover drive. A leg glance. Two back-foot cuts behind point. Later than God. Where were you rotting away?”

“Had a chemistry lab report to finish, dude. That son-of-Hitler professor would have killed me if I didn’t.”

“Sure. Rot in hell, will you?”

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Dear Fan, You Are Complicit

Deep Backward Point

Dear fan,

Are you planning to watch the IPL this year? Cheer for CSK? Wear Royals blue? Howl at the auction and moan about your uncapped wonder?

Congratulations. You, my friend, are complicit in a great con. You are guilty.

The next time a spot is fixed, it’s on you. The next time an owner makes a shady side deal, it’s on you. The next time one of the game’s caretakers takes a gamble that’s not cricket, dear reader, you are responsible.

Every time the powers are asked about the sickness in the sport, they respond that we’re giving the people what they want. The people keep watching. The people want the spectacle and we give it to them.

You are the people. You are bought and sold and sold again. The BCCI sells you for a cent. Star Sports buys your eyeballs for pennies, and sells your soul back to Pepsi…

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Adios FIGJAM

It was only a few days after Australia completed the scarcely believable 5 – 0 Ashes whitewash that the talk started doing the rounds. The talk being of Kevin Pietersen having played his last game for England. The addendum to that was the fact that Andy Flower had supposedly given a ” him or me ” ultimatum. Given the success Andy Flower has had with the English team and given for Kevin Pietersen’s past indiscretions, there was only ever going to be one winner if that was ever true. As one would expect, the ultimatum was denied by Flower publicly, even if privately he may have thought so.

A few weeks later Andy Flower resigned from his post citing that it was the right time to go and that a fresh approach to take English cricket forward was the right way. When that news broke, one suspected it didn’t spell good news for Pietersen. Would the ECB allow him to out last two coaches given the often thorny relationship they have had ? Today, the ECB answered that question through a press release which has effectively ended Kevin Pietersen’s international career.

Was it the right decision though ?

First some statistics. Over the last two years Pietersen has averaged 43 in tests and 45 in ODI’s. Over the same time period Cook has averaged 41 and 40 and Bell 41 and 47 respectively. For Pietersen and Cook, those numbers don’t reveal the true picture though. 2012 was a pretty good year for the pair of them irrespective of the format. One could rationale these numbers a lot more ( when were the runs scored, did England win and the like..) but with just bare statistics, Pietersen performed equally well or badly as his two main English team mates. Based on this to then draw a line on his career is unfair.

However, unlike Cook or Bell, Pietersen hasn’t always been easy to manage/handle. Right from the time in South Africa, through his years at Nottingham and beyond, the one constant line has been that Pietersen has been difficult to manage. While it’s easy for the likes of Michael Vaughan to say the English team management should have tried to manage him for the next year and bit, isn’t it equally true that he has been managed to a certain extent for so long ? When Vaughan retired, Pietersen had only had about 3 years of international cricket. He wasn’t at that stage quite the star albeit he did have a swagger about him. How else do you explain that faintly ridiculous hair styles he sported , in addition to his sublime batting.

As he got more established in the team, he seemingly started to get more difficult to manage. How much of this is Pietersen’s fault and how much of it is the failure of Strauss and Flower is open to debate. However since England’s fortunes took a turn for the better at that time, he seemed to be a happy headache to manage. A genius, a maverick, a player who stands out from the rigid English batting approach.. That was mainly what you read / heard about him albeit the fact that he is a different person to handle wasn’t far away. At times Pietersen himself didn’t help his cause or image.

While Pietersen got flak for that, the continuous success that England had and which resulted in them getting to #1 in the rankings meant that he was an headache worth dealing with. However when South Africa landed in England in 2012 all things broke loose. For a few months he was out of the team and then back. It was all about re-integration and how the process was moving along fine and that bizarrely ( however premature) four tests later the process was seemingly complete !

Now a year later that re-integration seems to have transformed into total dis-integration. The ECB press release said it was an unanimous decision of the England management, including the selectors and also had the line (emphasis mine) : ” Therefore we have decided the time is right to look to the future and start to rebuild not only the team but also team ethic and philosophy “.

In the aftermath of the horror tour of Australia, this seems too drastic a step to take. Is it though ?

Pietersen would turn 34 this summer, his knee not entirely in the best shape and how much of an international future does he really have ? Is he really part of the re-building of the English team when at most he would be around for a year or at best 18 months ?  Enough of having to manage him ?

It’s easy for fans and folks away from the team to say ” no, he should be managed differently because he is so much different to the rest of the team”. I’ve held on to that view point as well. At some point, everyone’s patience reaches a limit. This might be where the ECB’s and the team management’s has run out. A chance to wipe the slate the clean and start afresh. Is it really that wrong ? Personally I don’t think so. As much as I’d love to see Kevin Pietersen bat this summer, it’s a decision that doesn’t rankle me as much as it does for a lot of others. Wouldn’t it make sense to start the process now with the summer ahead against modest ( Sri Lanka) to potentially good (India) opponents ? Short term pain for probable long term gain ?

That said, four times Ashes winner, T20 WC winner, leading run scorer for England, the switch hit and those innings when his outrageous batting talent shone through. He wasn’t coined FIGJAM by the Australians for nothing.

Bubbling up nicely

It’s taken up to the fourth day of the fourth test for me to watch from start to finish a complete day’s play in the Ashes series. I did catch the entire play on the final day at Trent Bridge, but that lasted just over 20 minutes past lunch. Today was a proper 6 hours of cricket viewing. It made for fascinating viewing, and a thoroughly enjoyable one.

It took exactly 2 overs for Australia to take the last wicket and bowl out England for 238. On paper that looked below par, possibly by about 50 – 75 runs. However those two overs, one each bowled by Siddle and Bird gave enough evidence to suggest it was a bowling day, and Australia’s batsmen had their task cut out. How would they cope with it ? At Manchester, they had the best of the batting conditions in their first innings, and they racked up over 500 runs. Getting to half that score here would be a challenge.

12/1 – when Warner got out to a pretty decent delivery from Broad which then soon became 12/2 after Khawaja feathered an toe edge to Prior again of Broad’s bowling. I then expected Watson to walk in, with Clarke going back to his preferred position of batting at 5, but it was Clarke instead.  Clarke though didn’t look remotely comfortable in his brief stay and he then got out to a pretty irresponsible shot aiming an expansive drive with no feet movement. 49/3 and things didn’t look good for Australia. Stuart Broad was in the midst of ” one of his spells” where he get wickets in a burst. However Steven Smith then gave company to Chris Rogers and Australia went to lunch without further damage. That was the first important passage that went Australia’s way.

In that entire first session of play, Chris Rogers played and missed so many times of Broad’s bowling, one lost count. Importantly though, it didn’t seem like Rogers was keeping count either. Play and miss at one, forget it, and on he went. It was ungainly at times, but he didn’t get out, which in the end is what mattered. In the midst of all the playing and missing, he was on the look out for any chance to sneak a single. All those years spent playing county cricket under similar conditions were coming to good use.

Soon after lunch, Tim Bresnan got Steven Smith, who until then looked reasonably at ease, nicking one to Prior. 76/4 and Watson joined Rogers with Australia in some trouble. The two of them had to get a partnership going to get Australia back into the match. It didn’t look like it was going to happen. Watson initially looked like he would rather be somewhere else, than having to graft his way to a score. At the other end, Rogers continued in his pre lunch vein and bother enjoyed slices of luck with catches dropped. Then slowly but surely, due to a combination of the ball getting older, and aside from Broad, lack of penetration from Bresnan and Anderson, the pair settled in.

Watson started to look a lot more assured in the crease. It possibly also helped that the English bowlers seemed fixated on trying to get him out LBW. With a slight adjustment in his technique he was countering that mode of dismissal pretty well, and aside from it, it didn’t appear the bowlers had any other plans for him.The century partnership and Watson’s first half century of the series duly arrived and while on the pitch one is never IN, it didn’t look like either of were going to get out either. It was one of those passages of play.

Then Chris Rogers entered the 90’s and in sight of his maiden century. His tortured tale to go from 96 to his maiden century is beautifully captured here. If ever there was a day the Australian selectors had in mind when they selected Chris Rogers for the squad, this was it. He didn’t let himself, his team or the selectors down.

In the midst of Roger’s struggle to his hundred, Watson got out in a tame way. Caught down the leg side of Stuart Broad’s bowling. For once, his knock needs more praise than criticism. He didn’t get to a hundred, but his partnership with Rogers first stabilised the Australian innings, and then the pair were slowly taking Australia into a dominating position.

12/1, 12/2, 49/3, 76/4 and in comes Watson. From there, to finish at 222/5 under conditions which weren’t entirely conducive to batting was pretty impressive. Especially when you consider this was the same line up with one change ( Warner for Hughes) that went from 42/0 at Lords to 90 odd for 6, under pretty good batting conditions.

That said, the match is pretty evenly placed. England are one wicket away from Australia’s tail. With both Pattinson and Starc out of the playing X1, Australia have a pretty weak lower order. Siddle can hang around, but from Harris onwards one shouldn’t expect much runs. Not on this pitch and under cloudy skies that are predicted for tomorrow.

So it’s imperative for Australia that Rogers and Haddin get another partnership going, and get the team into a decent lead before they are separated. Conversely, England should fancy their chances of wrapping up the innings quickly, if they manage to get one of them early tomorrow. As the cliched saying goes, the first hours play tomorrow is now absolutely crucial for both teams.

Ideally, to set this match up beautifully Australia gets bundled out with a lead between 50 – 75 runs. It would then make England’s second innings fascinating to watch on a  pitch that would only get worse to bat on. Can Australia’s bowlers stand up and be counted yet again or can England’s batsmen deliver under pressure.

A day of possibilities awaits.

What awaits ?

242 runs scored, 5 wickets taken, an uncharacteristic Kevin Pietersen century, a pretty good Ian Bell knock and some fine Australian bowling on display. That pretty much sums up day 3 of the third Ashes test.

My post last night ended with stating that Australian pretty much had to do all the running since they are the one’s chasing the win needed to keep the series alive. Would be fair to say they gave it a good shot at it today. It needed some hard grind from Pietersen and for Bell to continue his good form to keep the Australian bowlers from having a near perfect day. Getting rid of Trott and then Cook in the first session was big, since they were the two who generally bat time, and one which Australia don’t have lots to play with. Add to it the fact that only 242 runs were conceeded made it a pretty good day for the bowlers, even though ideally an additional wicket would have capped off the day well.

England need another 34 runs to avoid the follow on, but that frankly isn’t an issue. Whether England get there or not,  the best way for Australia to win, is to bat for a session, session and half, and then put England back in. Already the Australian bowlers have racked up 120 overs and the pitch is showing some signs of turning and that you think will only get more prominent. Under these simple circumstances as it stands today, it doesn’t make sense for Australia to think of the follow on. Now when you consider there is still the matter of 3 more wickets to take, it quite simply won’t make sense. True, the weather forecast for the last two days isn’t the best, but it’s not that dire to think ” if no follow on enforced, the test is doomed as a draw” 

The first hour tomorrow is absolutely crucial. If Prior and Broad can survive it, Australia’s task will get that much more harder. Not only will time be lost but you’d think runs will also be scored at a decent clip considering how they both bat. Runs which Australia’s batsmen will have to then score again at an even more faster clip when their time comes to bat. Equally it could be that Prior and Broad just decide to bat time thereby eschewing their natural instincts. It might or might not work. If England are batting close to lunch or even beyond it, and it’s not exactly beyond them with Prior/Broad and Swann, Australia might as well be kissing a win good bye, and with it the Urn as well.

Even if Clarke dangles a target in front of England, I don’t expect England to bite. They simply aren’t that kind of a team. Safety first, dour approach has served them well for a few years, and not even the temptation of a whitewash will work. It’s not how England play. So for Clarke it’s simply a case of get the remaining three wickets quickly, bat for about 3 hours to give his bowlers some rest, and then ask them to bowl out England again.

What awaits, and how much of a spoil sport (or not depending on where the support is ) will the weather play in all of this ?

Hard grind ahead

In my post last night, I had asked the question : would Australia’s main batsmen ensure that the advantages of day one was not squandered. It was emphatically answered today. For once, it was in the affirmative for Australia. The team batted close to 150 overs, more precisely they batted for 146 overs, which was two overs more than what they had managed in two innings at Lords.

As turnarounds goes, this was pretty much a 180 degree one achieved. As much as it was a flat pitch to bat on, it still required quite a mental effort considering the shambles that was Lords.

In the first two sessions that I managed to watch, things went pretty much as how Australia would have wanted. The not out batsmen Clarke & Smith looked relatively untroubled and got close to seeing out the first hour when in a moment of hot headedness, Smith charged out in Swann’s first over and literally threw away his maiden test hundred. It was pretty much there for the taking and he found a way to shun it. Enter Warner to a chorus of boos, a brief stay which ended with a review, which on initial viewing made no sense at all, and he left to laughter and mirth. On replays, while the thick edge was obvious, what had also transpired was that he hit his pad at the same time. So I guess he could be forgiven for thinking he didn’t hit it. However, what was Clarke doing ? Surely if the umpire had seen the edge, which in itself was a big deal, surely Clarke would have seen it too ?

The post lunch session then saw Clarke finally dismissed for 187 when he looked set for yet another double hundred. This was soon followed by Siddle’s wicket and at that stage Australia had 430 runs on the board, with three wickets left. Mitchell Starc came in and played exactly the innings the situation required and ensured Australia ended up with a more than a healthy total.

Missed the post tea session in it’s entirety, albeit was checking the phone to see how the session was unfolding.  While the Australian bowlers seemed to keep things tight, and to be fair Cook and Root are not the type to get fast starts, the column next to the wickets simply didn’t change for the most part. So much so I resigned to having England get to stumps with all 10 wickets in tact. So was quite a nice suprise when I tuned into TMS to hear that Bresnan was at the crease, and then later on when I checked the score, he was also gone. Albeit he didn’t review his dismissal when he should have. Post day’s play reaction from the England camp was along expected lines ” Bresnan thought he had hit it, and hence didn’t review”. That being the case, didn’t understand the discussion which happened with Cook, as I saw in the highlight’s.

On to day 3, and one which basically also has to go Australia’s way completely if they are to win the test match amidst the poor weather forecast for the last two days. It’s as simple as that. Should England get to stumps with only 4 or 5 further wickets down in the day, you’d think a draw is good odds. England won’t force the issue at all, and they don’t need to. A draw is enough to retain the Ashes. So it’s entirely up to Clarke and the bowlers at his disposal to do all the running.

Can they show signs of it tomorrow ?