Monday, August 20, 2012

Very Very Special

Its been a couple of days since VVS Laxman announced his retirement with "immediate effect" from international cricket. Millions of blog posts have already been written about the man in the interim. Here is one more tribute to the man who made Indian fans believe in miracles.

I have actually seen him bat. That was in 1998. It was a Ranji Trophy match between Bihar & Hyderabad played in Keenan Stadium. To be honest it wasn't VVS whom I had gone to watch. It was the 2nd or 3rd day of the game. Hyderabad was batting. VVS and Venkatpathy Raju were the batsman. But I was more interested in getting a glimpse of my then idol, Mohammed Azharuddin, who would occasionally wander into the pavilion balcony and receive loads of cheers. That I got to see a triple hundred from VVS was a small sideshow at that time.

I was too young to probably realise it at that time. But that certainly was an example of how a beautiful innings is constructed. I am no master of words. And hence won't be able to do any justice to the artist that was VVS Laxman. "Lazy Elegance" must have been a phrase coined to describe VVS Laxman. The elegant wristwork, the flicks, the cuts. An inninigs could be built at a great tempo without the man even breaking into a sweat. An example of a great innings when all was lost was Sydney, 2000. India staring at a 3rd consecutive defeat while Laxman pulling off one shot after another to get to his maiden century which included 100+ runs in a single session of play.

Probably that was the innings which set up his love affair with the Aussie bowling attack. Guess that explains why the first cricketer to comment about VVS's retirement was the Aussie Captain Michael Clarke :). Jokes apart I doubt there has been any innings greater than the 281 at Eden Gardens. It was a freakish innings and had a Dravid special to complement it. An innings which has changed the way captains worldwide have perceived the follow-on. Enforcing the follow-on has become more and more debatable amonst captains worldwide.

A look at the Greatest Innings of Modern times.

If Laxman hadn't done anything else he would still have been remembered for that 281. But of course he isn't called Very Very Special for nothing. There were a sequence of 4th innings chases. The Aussies were sick of him. There was a case where Laxman got a big score and Australia lost even though they were playing in different continents.

Its a question often asked about geniuses. Individually brilliant, but was he a team-man? Well, all I can say is he refused the marquee player status in the 1st IPL and let Deccan Chargers pick him at a much lower price than he would have got otherwise (15% higher than the highest bought DC player). All this to ensure that limited money is spent wisely. That his team failed him is a different matter altogether.

With the retirement of Laxman coming soon after that of his most-oft partner-in-crime, the Indian Test batting order will bear a totally different look. Their retirements have been much discussed. But now that the reality is here, how the replacements will perform is still to be seen. And it is not just the batting lineup which will become different. There is big void created in the slip cordon. No Dravid at 1st slip and no VVS at 2nd. Who will be the replacements to fill in these legendary boots? Pretty tough to fathom.

In the end, thank you VVS Laxman for giving endless hope to the Indian fan. After all till you were at the crease, miracles did happen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cricket & Olympics

The Olympics are over. The India-New Zealand Test series is still 10 days away. And there is no India-Sri Lanka series to fill in the vacuum that has been created.

Cricket's involvement in the Olympics has been bare minimum. It was part of the Paris Olympics in 1900, with Great Britain beating the Gentlemen of France (?) to win the Gold. Silver went to the French team. And there was no other participant due to withdrawal of cricketing powerhouses like Belgium & Netherlands. Easiest medalists ever in my opinion.

There have been a few cricketers involved in Olympics through other sports e.g. Johnny Douglas, The Nawab of Pataudi Sr. etc. But still cricket has such hasn't had much to do with the Olympic movement as such.

This time around there was a big involvement. Though not many would have noted that. And I am not talking about Lord's the home of cricket being used as an archery range. It was the England-South Africa 2nd Test at Leeds underway at the same time. Olympic movement has had quite a few sports as Demonstration sports which are not counted in the final tally going on in parallel with the main event. Though ICC or IOC may not be acknowledging it, but this was a perfect example of a Demonstration Sport as a sideshow to the Games.

Friday, August 10, 2012

India-Sri Lanka - July-Aug 2012 edition

So while the whole world, including yours truly was busy watching the Olympics, the Indian cricket team came out of  hibernation by playing against their familiar opponents, Sri Lanka. Here are a few thoughts on the series went by.
  • The India-Sri Lanka series reminds you of your boyhood days. Every evening you went out into the ground with the same bunch of kids and played cricket. And returned the next day to play some more. Thanks to the mandarins at BCCI & Cricket Sri Lanka for making us relive those old days.
  • This was "supposed" to be a Test series. Then why was it converted into an ODI series with one meaningless T20 thrown in? Just maybe, Tony Grieg was right (:P)
  • If the idea is to prepare for the T20 world cup coming up in Sri Lanka, then why play just 1 T20 and not more instead of the ODIs.
  • Did we learn anything new from this series? From an India perspective - nothing. Except that Rohit Sharma has some very very powerful backing in the squad. Performances & recent form certainly don't justify his continued place in the squad.
  • The others were usual - Virat Kohli continues his astounding run, Gautam Gambhir continues to give the occasional good century, Suresh Raina is a very good batsman on subcontinental pitches, Manoj Tiwary still does not get a chance and performs on occasion. And the bowling lineup continues to be dodgy.
  • Irfan Pathan - the mystery continues. He has become a bits and pieces player rather than a specialist bowler. The bowling towards the end of the series was good. But the questions still remain. He is a more than capable 5th bowler, but a place amongst the 4 lead bowlers remains a question mark.
  • India for some odd reason doesn't know how to handle left-arm spinners. Pragyan Ojha's entries and exits continue to confound.
  • Lasith Malinga over 10 overs is much easier to handle than over 4 overs.
  • And the last query - Is Sehwag interested in playing any more? Maybe he was bored of another Sri Lanka series, but how long do we go with his maverick nature.
  • Just hate it when product placements are done during commentary. Where is the "spirit of cricket" business here?
So thats it. One more meaningless series over and we learn nothing new.

P.S. Looking forward to the Test series against the Kiwis. After all someone has to come up to replace Rahul Dravid. Who will raise his hand to do that?