Monday, January 07, 2008

Unhappy New Year

India had a strange 2007 on the cricket field. To the ICC's dismay, we crashed out of the 2007 World Cup in the group-stage itself. To the Indians' rejoice and the ICC's worry (after penning a historic 8-year deal with ESPN), we won the T20 World Cup (the better organised tournament). We had a historic Test series victory in England, and a more artificially-created one against Pakistan (whoever trumped up the first home victory after 28 years statistic). But we started and ended the year on the same note, by losing out on subcontinental pitches at Cape Town and Melbourne to traditionally very tough-to-beat foes.

India went in to challenge Australia based on their awesome series four years back, backed up by a Fab Four line-up. (To put it in perspective, gauge Jaffer, Yuvi and Dhoni in the two Tests, and just figure out what will happen when these Four go). We again had a walking-injured/recuperating bowling line-up, who performed admirably in Melbourne. The biggest worry was the despicable batting collapse, especially in the second innings at Australia.

The New Year at Sydney started on the most promising note possible. However, soon India realised they are actually up against 11+2+1 (the 3rd umpire). As Ian Chappell put it, "Batsmen usually say to each other 'you take care of this bowler etc'. this match the Indians might have to say 'you take care of Bucknor, I will take care of Benson'." To say that the umpires had a horror is an under-statement. To say we were really really unlucky to be on the wrong end of eight of them, with two from Bucknor standing out, would be apt. To get a better picture, read

Dickie Bird was a favourite with players as he won their confidence. Steve Bucknor rubs the (Indian) players the wrong way because of his arrogance, or maybe over-confidence in his own eyes. More than a decade back, a young Bucknor did not refer Jonty Rhodes' run-out in Johannesburg to the 3rd umpire, turning around a match in balance. Here, his failure to spot Symond's thick edge in the first innings (which according to Peter Roebuck, was heard by pals sitting in the hullabulloo on the boundary's edge), and then imagine one from Rahul Dravid in the second innings, has simply closed a wide open series. During India's last trip Down Under last series, Parthiv Patel's failure to stump Ponting apparently cost India the series. The result - Patel is displaying his wares for Gujarat. Wonder if Bucknor will also be now packed off to Jamaica!

Umpires make mistakes, and my perpective on technology is somewhat on the lines of Moreover, in the Symonds' innings, the third umpire, with all the access to technology, also goofed up. Charles Colvile on Sky TV was rightly perplexed, 'How can the third umpire not see that? He's not got anything to do other than watch TV'.

It might be a cliche, but bad decisions should even out in the end. Lest one forgets, Bucknor also saved India at Lords' by refusing to acknowledge a tight one against Sreesanth by Panesar. What hurts is the way it was almost conceived, by the Lord up there (Sachin was unlucky in his dismissal), and his two representatives on the cricket field.
After the infamous Sarwan-McGrath spat, Cricket Australia woke up to its representatives boorish on-field behaviour. More importantly, the Aussies lost that match. Here, when Bhajji openly claimed Ponting as his bunny, and to everyone's shock, went on to prove it (Dhoni missed a stumping), the Aussies turned on the heat by alleging racism. For a change, the umpires were caught unawares. Yet, as of now, Bhajji stands to miss the remainder of the series and beyond, all on the basis of his opponents' claim.
Kumble was extremely graceful in defeat, and effective in pointing out Clarke's refusal to walk after an edge to the slip (and then becoming the decision-maker for Mark Benson in the Ganguly catch). He himself got the raw deal, by getting stranded after a very courageous knock (made up for his first innings waft). India should have negotiated the 70 overs, and Jaffer deserves to be socked for giving the start he did.

Whatever Peter Roebuck might think (, the cricket was of high quality. Ponting, the 'infant terrible' who was made to grow up by CA for his captaincy, showed that he is yet to achieve the softer skills necessary for a leader. The Man of Match Symonds played a knock for the ages, which lost meaning because of his granted escapes. Moreover, he refused to applaud Sachin's hundred.
Last year, Roger Federer played a classical final with Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon last year. Then, he cribbed about technology, which is never fool-proof primarily because of two reasons: i) television companies are driven by commerce, ii) if it goes wrong, what do you judge it against. Yet, simply because of his grace, Federer remains a very popular champion.

Harsha Bhogle has a valid point. Aussies (with the exception of Gilchrist) do not walk. Aussies (including Gilchrist) appeal for non-existent dismissals (Gilchrish actually got into a spat with McCullum I think over his refusal to walk). But when they take catches, they want to trust fielders.
I am sure that pre-series pact is off. And if there is a God, Kumble will come back with a 2-2 draw, with victories at Perth and Adelaide. But who said life is fair!

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