Victor Hugo, Chris Rogers and Chester le Street

The French poet, novelist and dramatist Victor Hugo bestowed upon the world an epochal quote when he remarked that “no one can stop an idea whose time has come”.

On an intriguing second day of the 4th Ashes Test at the picturesque Emirates Durham International Cricket Ground in the staid town of Chester Le Street, the time was preordained for an idea unraveled by a battling Australian southpaw, an idea the stirrings of which was felt a decade and a half ago when it was decreed to be still born and deemed appropriate for a nondescript burial.

When Chris Rogers came striding to the crease after a Jackson Bird master class on setting up a tail-ender-for-the-kill had flummoxed James Anderson, few could have had an inkling of the noble idea that was being formed, fermented and fostered in his mind. An idea that was in all probability even older and frayed than the uncouth arm guard which has now become synonymous with the left hander’s identity at the crease.

A concrete and tangible glimpse of the idea peeped out at the world in general and at the English in particular, when with a minimum of fuss and an even more minimal back-lift, Rogers began his inimitable and unpretentious negotiation of various variations of deliveries being hurled at him by an egregious unit of humankind boasting a fine pedigree of swing and spin. But Chris Rogers had an unwritten tripartite contract involving his body, mind and heart. A contract which required him to be sensible, yet not susceptible, stationary, yet not a saviour and sagacious, yet not serene. Rogers in executing his part of the bargain was delectably immaculate.

As Australia’s tormenter-in-chief, Stuart Broad ran rings around a trio of baffled batsmen before snaring them with the sympathy displayed by one eradicating an endangered species, Rogers stood as firm as an ancient relic, scarred by time but never surrendering to circumstances. With splayed legs and ungainly prods he pushed, nudged and pinched every run that was on offer. The occasional poking, fishing and lunging constituted mere aberrations. With the score at 34-2, Rogers got a bizarre and confusing reprieve when after a successful appeal by England for a caught behind decision, he decided to seek the succour of the dreaded DRS. While the replays clearly showed the ball missing the bat, they also revealed that Rogers could have been declared out leg before on the basis of the umpire’s call as the ball brushed the pad.

At a time when the modest score of 238 posted by England was being made to look like a total of ominous proportions, Rogers supplanted lingering doubts with an enduring idea. Warner’s demise, Khawaja’s departure and Clarke’s doom were all episodes that were to be relegated to the periphery as minor and even unavoidable bumps in an otherwise smooth virtual highway. The stray full tosses were still ripe for the plucking and the odd ball pitched at the legs were begging to be flicked away. When 49-3 read 76-4, Rogers knew that his idea was in desperate need of an ally, a perpetrator in crime who could both understand and relate to its broad and ambitious contours. Enter the out-of-form Shane Watson, a temporary human euphemism for a terminal disease which was symbolically ravaging the Australian team from deep within – apparently.

With Watson after a quiet bout of settling in, playing the relative role of an aggressor, Rogers meticulously donned the mantle of an accumulator. His courage was ably supported by the proverbial fortune when inside edges viewed the stumps as untouchables and the English slip cordon metamorphosed into Good Samaritans with Graeme Swann showing the road to be taken. An edge was grassed by the brilliant off-spinner and the idea now began to take a full bodied shape.

A mixture of sustained caution, substantial gumption and selective aggression brought Chris Rogers to 96. Just when the idea seemed to have reached the brink of its culmination, at the point of manifestation into a beautiful outline, it seemed to have lost momentum, direction and focus. Buffeted by the guile of Graeme Swann and the bracing against the banter of an extremely vocal Matt Prior, the idea slackened, swerved, and shuddered as Rogers spent an agonising 20 deliveries trying to calm his nerves and collect his bearing. The faithful accomplice in the form of Watson also departed for a crisp 66 that was punctuated by some strokes that could only be described as “Watsonesque”.

Finally a full blooded sweep, uncharacteristic in its selection and ungainly in its execution saw the ball make blissful contact with the square leg boundary. 96 was history and 100 was the present. As Chris Rogers, without displaying even the faintest signs of euphoria or exultation, and with just a trace of smile adorning his lips smeared with zinc cream, calmly proceeded to lift his bat up, remove his helmet and acknowledge the rapturous applause of the crowd, colleagues and competitors alike, he knew that in achieving his maiden Test hundred after notching more than 20,000 first class runs, the time had finally arrived for his idea, an idea whose sweeping wake was too powerful to be stopped either by the contrivance of fate or by the machinations of an aggressive bunch of Englishmen.

The Atonality of Virender Sehwag

Watching Virender Sehwag bat is more akin to getting to grips with the atonality of a rebellious Igor Stravinsky, than being soothed by the mellifluous temperateness of a sedate Chopin. Yet there are few batsmen in the world who can bestow upon their audience Proustean bursts of ‘moments bienheureux’.

Possessing a style of batting that is more apt to be described as ‘speculative cavort’, Sehwag is more audacious than assiduous, substitutes sagaciousness with savagery and prefers the phenomenal over the prosaic. Sehwag seems to possess an unswerving belief which espouses that in addition to line and length, a bowler’s mind is also malleable to suit the hedonistic needs of a batsman. An impetuous repertoire of stroke making is ably assisted by an incredible hand eye co-ordination. As delectable wrists combine with powerful forearms to send seemingly good deliveries soaring over the third man boundary, screaming through covers and searing the blades of grass abounding the on-side, the destruction of many an egregious ego is accomplished with a precision that can only be termed surgical. This devastatingly unique style of batting was best summarized by the candid Ian Chappell when he remarked “Sehwag can change the course of a match with the ease of Moses parting the Red Sea”.

The unassuming may be forgiven in concluding that Virender Sehwag is more a fan of Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” than Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”. But beware; Virender’s is a beguiling ‘Charge’ with a very significant difference. It is more a “Charge of the Light Brigade – Redefined” than redux. In this Charge, it is the opposition who wilt under the remorseless rage of the sword or rather the willow; a charge which embodies a philosophy that is fundamental yet fascinating – the philosophy that when it comes to batting, there are no philosophies. Profound and sage theories considered sacrosanct by acclaimed Pundits are debunked as being merely puerile. While bad deliveries need to be necessarily put away, good deliveries ought not to be accorded discriminatory treatment. Swing and spin are treated in an impeccably impartial vein. The distinction between the longer and shorter formats of the game is considered irrelevant and inconsequential. The first ball of a Test Match as well as the final ball of the 50thover in a One Day International is treated with equal equanimity, impeccable impartiality and absolute irreverence.

While Sehwag in scintillating form is an intolerable headache for a bludgeoned opposition, it is an unbridled delight for his own team. A Sehwag blitzkrieg not only ups the morale of the Indian team but the pace at which he goes about his business also provides ample time for his side to have a dig at the opposition batting twice, if not bowl them out. This results in more opportunities to win a Test Match than would otherwise have been possible.  A classic case in point being the memorable triple hundred in Multan which enabled India to win the game comfortably. Even though this particular encounter would be famously or rather infamously be remembered for the declaration made by Rahul Dravid with Sachin left a mere 6 runs short of a double hundred, the most indelible feature of this game was the savage decimation of the Pakistani pacemen by Virender Sehwag. Sehwag driving, cutting, pulling, slashing and flicking with aplomb and extraordinary disdain was a rapturous delight to his fans neutrals alike. This was an innings that would have received wholesome approval and warm accord from the likes of Gilbert Jessop and Victor Trumper.

This boisterousness of Sehwag is incidentally exemplified by this famous quote attributed to the mercurial talent himself – “It doesn’t matter if you have one billion rupees in your bank account or one rupee. This is one life you get, and you’d rather spend it enjoying whatever you have, rather than thinking, ‘Oh, I should have scored seven more runs, or I should get more money.” More often than not when Sehwag succeeds in going about his merry ways, it is money in the bank for the team that he is representing.

Yet it is this atonality that has made this wonderful batsman cricket’s Auguste Escoffier. The delights that he serves up are undoubtedly original and undisputedly breathtaking. The sight of Sehwag carting Shoaib Akthar down the ground with an effortless swing of the bat or sashaying down the track to dispatch Murali over cover with a glorious inside out shot is one which has a lure that can only be termed ‘lambent’.

As Stravisnky himself said “I haven’t understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it”.

Very few batsmen feel the art of batting more than Virender Sehwag.

Gentleman’s Game or a Middleman’s Playground?

“XXX”; “Murky”; “Sleazy”; “Sexual Favours”……No this is not a concise review of an online pornographic release. Yet these are not words that one usually attaches to a game of cricket either – normally. But we are not living in placid or normal times. The former New Zealand international Lou Vincent’s damning confessions before the Anti Corruption and Security Unit (“ACSU) bear ample testimony to the fact that the gentleman’s game is now a middleman’s playground. A boiling cauldron where webs of deceit are woven, dainty damsels rule the roost and dollar bills decide overstepping the popping crease and the outcome of a game. Cricket, once pure and unadulterated is now firmly trapped in a miasma of rot and ruffians.

The innocuous colours of bat handles and ingenious rotation of strikes are now perverse symbols of rancid undercover dealings. A mow towards cow corner or a misdirected delivery represents not indiscriminate or indignant follies, but discreet and unrepentant acts of greed. The vice like grip of vulturine bookmakers on the game is now complete. It is time to act before such a deadly clutch totally asphyxiates and annihilates this beautiful gift to the world of sport. The time for instituting token probes and timid investigations are long past. An iron hand has to be wielded and wielded without care or concern. The prostitution of cricket at the altar of rapacious middlemen ought to be nipped in the bud.

We are at a crucial cross road that would determine the future of cricket. The untrammeled commercialization and unashamed bastardisation threaten to unhinge the game of its very sanctity. “Fixers” and betting syndicates have permeated every level of the game and patiently abide their time in the form of unsuspecting Trojan horses. The ICC needs to step in and step in urgently. However the indications provided by world cricket’s governing body are far from comforting. A proposal has been instituted to review the functioning of the ACSU by cricket’s three ‘big daddies’ with the watchdog being possibly asked to report directly to the chairman of the board rather than the chief executive of the ICC. This astonishingly means that the ACSU might find itself reporting to a powerful individual who has been severely chastised by the Supreme Court of his own nation in addition to being ordered to relinquish his position as the President of the Controlling Body for Cricket!  A laughable and damning proposition if ever there was one!

The ICC instead would do well to identify an internationally acclaimed independent body capable of possessing the requisite resources and boasting a proven record of handling cases of financial racketeering and corruption. By a charter, this body may be bestowed with independent powers to handle all investigations and issue a final report. It may even be constituted as a Company for the limited purposes of conducting a probe, and to be dissolved after its purpose has been fulfilled. The ICC’s tentacles ought not to be an interfering irritant in the functioning of this entity. The officers constituting this body need to be provided with all relevant assistance including immunity from prosecution. Based on the findings of this independent body, the action to prosecute the guilty may be taken and given effect to by the appropriate Courts under the relevant statutes and legislations.

The Vincents’ and the XXX’s of the cricketing world are undeserving of either sympathy or forgiveness. Their dangerous dalliances with the worshipper’s of Mammon have brought cricket down on to its haunches. Revelations and confessions do not detract from the damage and disrepute that have wreaked havoc. Only firm measures of deterrent would restore confidence and resurrect belief. Until such time a seemingly bland signal by a batsman towards his dressing room could mean just that – a signal of moral decay, ignoble decadence and dissipation of faith.

An Open Letter To Lou Vincent

Mr.Lou Vincent,

When you made your sparkling Test debut against Australia on the 30th of November 2001, I happened to see the match live on television. I thought that your stroke play was dazzling. Since I am entirely bereft of the gift of prescience, I had no knowledge that in due course the dazzle would be overshadowed and trumped by damage and deceit. I vividly remember seeing yet another game, a One Day International this time, wherein you were caught with your pants down – literally. In a gallant attempt to prevent the ball from making contact with the ropes, you pulled in a slide which divested you of your trousers. Now that you find yourself with your pants down metaphorically and have been reduced to a shamed cricketer sputtering out venomous confessions, I want to clarify a few things with you. I neither profess myself to be an investigator nor is this an interrogation. I am just a shell shocked, let down and angered cricket fan, who is unable to come to grips with the muck, which selfish people such as you have succeeded in pulling the game deep into.

Your transformation from a prodigious talent to a pernicious influence merits complete and undivided attention. Was the lure of cash so overarching and powerful that even the pride of representing country and club came a distant second? Or was cricket all along just a feigned pretext and a matchless opportunity to accumulate briefcases of profligate sin? While I express surprise at your asinine confidence which never bothered considering probable consequences, I am also left to ponder about the role which was being essayed by your conscience (if you possessed one) throughout the course of your devious escapades. Was it as crooked and unrepentant as your pre-decided mows toward cow corner and exquisitely enacted episodes of shambolic dismissals? Did you revel in the realization that poor Sussex had given you a nice and bright uniform with the word “Shark” unwittingly emblazoned on it? For you were undoubtedly a vicious one with your sights firmly set on wealth and your bloody jaws hooking on to every possible opportunity to accumulate it.

A more sober and moderate namesake of yours Lou Reed once said “I am in this business for too long to be half hearted about anything.”  From a gist of your now famous and grisly confessions, the notion of half heartedness never seems to have crossed your thoughts. You were certainly an accomplished player (not in the cricketing connotation) who was in the business for long. Did you find it to be a soul enriching business as well? You must have else why would you have continued on your merry way? I am not yet ready to completely believe that you pushed away a foresight which revealed you and your poor family being assailed by “cheat” taunts and “traitor” jeers. It might have taken a stupendous degree of foolish bravado for you to have relegated such thoughts to the confines of posterity.

What about all those young and aspiring children waving autograph books at you with a twinkle in their eyes? Did you have the temerity to look them in their eyes while acknowledging their requests? To quench my curiosity, what did you sign your name as? Have there been instances when racked by guilt riddled with a sense of culpability, and seeking a semblance of solace and repentance you have deliberately put down your name as Lou Vincheat, in an indecipherable scribble? Have there been times when you have wondered in Shakespearean manner: “Is this a dagger which I see before me?”

Today you stand before the Anti Corruption and Security Unit (“ACSU”), a shattered man, peeled of all pride, and with the proverbial begging bowl of mercy in his hands. Do you believe that by merely spilling the galling beans of many a sordid and despicable whodunit, you would be deserving of immunity from prosecution? Do you firmly feel that a verbal atonement detracts all your wrong doings and treachery? Your pandering to persons of disrepute and greed for money have not only eroded the confidence of your fellow team mates and colleagues in you, but has also had the most vicious and intolerable impact of bringing this glorious game down on its knees. You have betrayed the very game that made you. So long as people of your breed continue to exist, thieving bookies and unscrupulous deal makers would continue to abound and make hay. For deterring the sprouting of a multitude of more Lou Vincents’, a strong and remorseless form of punitive action by means of prosecution is an absolute necessity. And it is my sincere wish that your are prosecuted sooner rather than later.

Mr. Vincent, you have let down your family, friends and fans. You have exploited the wonderful game of cricket to satiate your ungodly pursuits. You have been a veritable Macbeth for whose good all causes have had to necessarily give way. You are undeserving of sympathy and pity and I do wish that you get none. The least bit of service which you can do as a matter of damage limitation is to come out clean and reveal each and every garish detail of the rot that has enveloped cricket. This will at least ensure that your mirror images are expeditiously taken care of by the concerned and relevant authorities.

Even though a simmering and raging part of me wishes for you and your unholy ilk to be damned to perdition, a more humane and logical side wishes for you to lead the rest of your life with honesty. While such an act might not necessarily have the bright effect of obliterating the pejoratives being heaped upon you, it might at least bestow upon your conscience a feeling of redemption!

Without even a semblance of regard,

Venkataraman Ganesan

Thou Art IPL

  1. Thou art IPL, the very agonizing death of cricket

The Faustian fiend who in bargains proceeds to revel;

Offering nothing genuine between the wickets

Alas! In you every cricketer desires to unabashedly bejewel

2.Thou art IPL, the remorseless butcher of the genuine

A throwback to the times of Bacchanalian greed

Beguilingly deceptive from what is actually seen

You accumulate victims by the dozen, slaves to your creed

3,Thou art IPL, instant gratification’s ruthless and remorseless purveyor

Four hours of unabated festering and unheeded lunacy

Sacrificing aesthetics and character at the altar of glamour

To see succumb to your contrived devices is an unrivaled pity

4.  Thou art IPL, a cauldron of nubile nymphs and foreign flesh

With dances prevailing over drives and playboys snubbing players

Leering spectators and salivating adults in unison progress to enmesh

You peel cricket of its joy in long strips and painful layers

5. Thou art IPL, the tempting Mammon’s trusted chieftain

Catching the game by the scruff of its neck and plunging it into a spiraling hole

As the lure of fame and luster of fortune firmly possesses many able men

Congratulations! To you the beautiful game of cricket has sold its pristine soul!

Rahane the Cure for Kohli’s Woes?

The contrast between the two teams preparing to take the field at the Oval this Friday could not have been starker – buoyant hosts (in spite of a fast bowling spearhead nursing a bruised nose) taking on a battered bunch of visitors boasting performances that would warm the cockles of their opponents’ hearts. What started as an impossible pipe dream for M.S.Dhoni’s men has quickly metamorphosed into a lurid nightmare.

While the batting performance has displayed a shambolic degeneration after the bright sparkle at Nottingham and Lords, floundering against pace and flummoxed by spin, the most disconcerting and disturbing aspect has been Virat Kohli’s apparent lack of form. A batsman once described by the legendary Vivian Richards as one who reminded “Viv of himself”, Kohli this series has been a pale shadow of his ebullient self.  More often than not, this free flowing, attacking and prodigious right hander has been the pivot around which India’s successes revolve. However on this tour Virat Kohli has been miserable with the willow. His mode of dismissals has been eerily consistent. An otherwise cavalier blade which meets the ball with candour and confidence is now unhesitatingly reduced to the state of a reluctant piece of wood hanging limply just waiting for a delivery to make contact with the outside edge. The rasping drives, resounding pulls and racy flicks have all but disappeared. This expletive muttering enforcer, the clichéd angry young man of Indian Cricket looks drained of ideas, devoid of passion and deserted by footwork. Poise at the wicket has been usurped by a peculiar impatience.

While it would be ludicrous to even remotely moot the possibility of Kohli being dropped from the Indian team on the basis of his most recent performances, or to ‘rest’ him – an irritating and condescending euphemism substituting ‘drop’, it is also extremely imperative in India’s interest that this champion batsman gets back into his stride sooner rather than later to bolster a middle order that has been most un-assuring on this tour. Nikita Khrushchev once said “call it what you will, incentives are what get people to work harder”. What Virat Kohli needs is precisely what Khrushchev suggests – an incentive – an incentive that will be viewed by him in an almost incendiary vein and shake him out of this inexplicable reverie.

Such an incentive can bring about by a slight alteration of India’s current batting order. Apart from Murali Vijay and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the one batsman who has been admiringly consistent in this series has for the touring side has been Ajinkya Rahane. The architect of a fascinating rear guard action at Lords, this unassuming right hander has exhibited calm, courage and composure. Looking assured and sure of himself (barring the odd momentary lapse of concentration at Headingly which made him heave wildly at a long hop from Moeen Ali thereby bringing both an untimely and ungainly end to his innings), Rahane has been a rare thorn in the flesh of the English bowling attack. For a team to put up at least a respectable total, logic dictates that the batsmen in form ought to play/face the maximum number of deliveries. More often than not in this series, Rahane has had to construct his innings in the company of the lower order (although Bhuvaneshwar Kumar’s talent with the bat precludes him from being categorized under the ambit of bunnies), having to skilfully rotate the strike and lash out when necessary.

Hence India would do well to promote Rahane up the order and bring Kohli down by a spot. This would not only ensure that Rahane spends more time at the crease and in the company of established batsmen (although the term ‘established’ is a misnomer for a team which does not last even a whole day), but would also have the effect of riling Kohli’s ego. This might just be the spurt required to make the star batsman regain his bearings and form. While for Rahane, who has been used to facing the new ball, this ought not to impose any insurmountable hurdle, other than the irritating niggle of being juggled around the batting order, Kohli might be bolstered to have a relook at his technical foibles and taking immediate rectification measures.

The fact that the proposed arrangement is purely a temporary one might come as a dampener to Rahane especially if he continues in his rich vein of form. He might also perceive an element of injustice if Kohli were to regain his favourite position once he bounces back into form. However since the interest of India prevails over personal preferences, this measure if proved successful would only augur well from the perspective of the prospects of Team India.

Till such time it is yet another Test Match; yet another trial by fire.

Philip Joel Hughes – In Memoriam

“Do you know what my favourite part of the game is? The opportunity to play” – Mike Singletary

Philip Joel Hughes was given an opportunity to play, and play he did! He played the life affirming sport that he not merely loved but lived. He played, insouciant to the inherent perils, inevitable praises and the intimidating pitfalls. On the 27th of November 2014 Phil Hughes made an untimely and entirely unexpected transition – a heart wrenching transition that shocked and ravaged the very soul of this precious game. A transition that mercilessly led to this bristling talent being referred to in a past tense just when a beautiful future beckoned.

But still such time he was felled by that ominous, yet innocuous looking bouncer, the young lad played. Unorthodox in style and unconstrained in stroke making, he enthralled and enlivened friend and foe alike. The fact that he was not devoid of limitations was nullified by the fact that he played within and despite any obvious and apparent flaws. For Phil Hughes knew that he played, therefore he was there. The cold contrivance of fate and an attempted forceful stroke that was a fraction of a second late has ensured that Hughes is lost forever to the cricketing world. This was a stroke which this gifted cricketer would have essayed a million times in the ordinary course of tenure at the crease. However when he attempted the hook against Sean Abbot, after having made a solid 63, destiny had other ideas. It was a score that was reserved for posterity, permanence and preservation. Now we all realize that Philip Hughes was meant to be 63 Not Out until perpetuity, not a run more and not a run less. It is only that we will never accept the occurrence. While the inescapability of mortality is purely acceptable, in this particular instance it is the isolated manner that causes intolerable grief and uncontrolled anger.

Not since the immortal Archie Jackson was taken away in his pristine prime, has the death of a young cricketer evoked such passionate and poignant feelings (notwithstanding the absolute tragedy befalling India’s prodigious youth cricket Dhruv Pandove). Today tributes the lengths of the Nile are flowing in from all corners of the world. While some are melodramatic, others are beautifully minimalist. A most evocative one being the beautifully austere scoreboard at the Adelaide Oval displaying just the name of Philip Hughes. But they all are united in their purpose and intent – celebrating the short albeit memorable career of a cricketer, a sportsman, a colleague and a son.

Sean Anthony Abbot was also given an opportunity to play, and play he did as well! By a wretched quirk of circumstance, he has also delivered the ominous, yet innocuous looking bouncer that felled his friend and countryman. But the greatest tribute that Sean Abbot can pay to Philip Hughes would be to continue to play – to play the game that has made him what he is and to play the game that will define what he will be. Sean Abbot faces the sternest test of his character, mettle and nerves. We all hope and pray that this promising fast bowler will face the winds of change head on and succeed by resorting to the method which was the hall mark of his departed friend – PLAY ON!

Philip Joel Hughes – THANK YOU & REST IN PEACE!

The Adelaide Chutzpah

The word ‘Chutzpah’ is derived from the Yiddish language and denotes the quality of audacity, for good or for bad. India and Australia epitomized this audacity in incredible measure in the nail biting test match concluded today at the Adelaide Oval. Michael Clarke, to the best of my knowledge is bereft of the gift of prescience. For if he would have had the gift of crystal gazing he would have been thrilled to possess the knowledge that the home and the host teams would engage in a tooth and nail epic to ‘dig in’ to preserve their honour and reputation – a ‘dig in’ befitting the brilliant eulogy delivered by the Australian captain at the funeral of Philip Hughes.

The Adelaide Test played out in the somber backdrop of the untimely and unbelievable tragedy striking Philip Hughes and the entire cricket world not only provided some of the tautest and nerve racking moments but also has set the tone of things to follow in the series. This match has been full of Chutzpah. The temerity of David Warner, the tenacity of Nathan Lyon, the titillating brilliance of Virat Kohli, the talismanic genius of Michael Clarke, the tempestuous resurrection of Steve Smith and the telling gumption of Murali Vijay combined to contrive one of the most competitive and clinical clashes epitomizing the beauty of this wonderful game.

Apart from the obvious cliché of cricket being the winner, the first Test Match between Australia and India has symbolized in no uncertain fashion, the primordial tenet of the game taking precedence over all extraneous factors. The last day of the game at Adelaide was a classic illustration of the pure magic that is the sole prerogative and privilege of cricket. An attainable target being defended by a bunch of attacking bowlers who pitted their might against a set of adroit batsmen whose singular objective was to thwart the in intention of their opponents.

The baggy green numbered 408 leaving its imprimatur on the turf was a benevolent spectator to the horripilation adorning the day’s play. While Nathan Lyon cunningly wove rings around a bunch of bemused batsmen, Virat Kohli exuded authority and oozed audacity. The aura of the chasing specter which had put paid to the hopes of many a vaunted bowling attack was looking to establish its reputation against the desperately fighting unit from Down Under. When the day’s play began the stage was set for a riveting climax to 4 days of entertaining and explosive cricket. Australia’s run feast in the first innings was given a fitting riposte by the adamant response of the Indian batsmen. When the Aussies aided by a second successive century by David Warner declared their second innings, they left their hosts 364 runs to get on the 5th day to clinch the first test match. What followed was Test Match cricket at its glorious best.

Shikar Dhawan departed early with the scoreboard showing a paltry 16. The attacking southpaw, as the replays showed later, was desperately unlucky to have been judged caught behind with neither the bat nor the glove being remotely close to the ball. When the reliable Pujara nicked Lyon to Haddin, India were firmly on the back foot, having lost two wickets for a meager 57. Enter Virat Kohli. The India captain leading his side for the first time had already notched up a memorable century in the first innings, unfazed by a blow to his helmet off the very first delivery he had faced. He has to do a Houdini act twice in a row. Ably supported by the dour Murali Vijay, he proceeded to blunt the Australian onslaught with a combination of finesse and fury. Snappy wrists and scintillating footwork combined to send the ball scurrying to all parts of the ground. With Vijay commendably holding his own, India reached a position of near impregnability by tea. It was after the small break that the proverbial uncertainties of the game took a stranglehold on proceedings. Kohli reached his second century of the match, matching David Warner’s exploits and securing a place alongside Greg Chappell as the second captain to have scored two centuries in his first match as captain. A nervy Murali Vijay departed at his score on an agonizing 99, courtesy the guiles of the wily Nathan Lyon. Having secured the rub of the game on more occasions than one by surviving a few palpable leg before appeals, Vijay finally perished to the delight of the Australian contingent. Rahane’s tenure at the crease lasted a mere 5 balls before he was wrongly given out caught off his pads by the close in fielder off Lyon. When a visibly clueless Rohit Sharma top edged Lyon to Warner at leg slip India had proceeded from a phenomenal 242-3 to a precarious 277-5. All the while Kohli was holding his own with a judicious blend of aggression and alacrity.

Wriddiman Saha rewrote the rules of stupidity by recklessly charging Lyon only to get his stumps castled. A stroke in perfect indiscretion especially considering the fact that in the same over he had carted the spinner for a soaring six and a swept four off successive deliveries. With the score at 304 and the new ball yet to be taken, the prize scalp of Kohli was secured by the Australians when a rasping pull led to a clumsy catch by Mitchell Marsh. Marsh later in his post match interview was candid enough to admit that he almost “shat himself” while attempting the high pressure catch. Lyon had bagged 10 in the match and the game was now Australia’s to lose. The former World champions as expected completed the last and formal rites and won the game by 48 runs deep into the last hour of play by dismissing the three remaining Indian batsmen.

A Test Match to cherish had come to a climactic end and the winners after huddling into a tight embrace rushed towards the turf where the number 408 had been imprinted as a tribute to the departed Philip Hughes. It was a moment of utter sobriety for both the victors and the vanquished. Cricket had triumphed against all odds and the portentous apparition in the form of the Philip Hughes tragedy had been wrested. News that Sean Abbott had bagged a career best 6-14 in a first class game also gave the added fillip to a demoralized word of cricket.

Shane Warne once remarked – “To me, cricket is a simple game. Keep it simple and just go out and play”.
Two spirited teams adhered to this basic credo and simply played a game of game of cricket from the 9th of December till the 13th of December 2013. Their simplicity created a beauty unsurpassed in splendor and unrivaled in quality. They simply went out and played, played what might have turned out to be the best game of their lives.

A game that Philip Hughes would have accorded his whole hearted approval. A game of sheer Chutzpah!

Dreamy Eyes and Daring Deeds

Twitter trolls and Facebook fanatics alike had a field day, when riding high upon the back of (yet) another World Cup victory against a diminished arch-rival Pakistan, Dhoni’s men upset the apple cart by routing the much vaunted Proteas of AB De Villiers. While Shikhar Dhawan’s flamboyance contrived with a miracle bowling effort to stun one of the tournament favourites, the flavor of the day was unmistakably Ajinkya Rahane.

Droopy eyed and deathly calm, this unassuming, unpretentious and unperturbed right hander at the packed Melbourne Cricket Ground demonstrated his immeasurable worth to the team. Time and again, Rahane has done everything that has been asked of him, and more. Mercilessly rotated like a Ferris Wheel in the batting order, he has been at various times commanded to open, cover for the foibles and failings of fellow team mates and also to hold fort when it mattered the most. None of these seemingly disruptive moves seems to have rattled this burgeoning talent. The blunder at Adelaide, when Suresh Raina was sent ahead of Rahane was not repeated at the ‘G’ and wisely so.

Dhoni, after calling the spin of the coin right had no hesitation in opting to bat on an overcast, albeit humid afternoon. When the luckless Rohit Sharma slipped mid-way down the pitch responding to Dhawan’s call, a horrified sea of Blue saw the unerring sniper AB De Villiers swoop down upon the ball, and score a direct hit at the non-striker’s end, sending Sharma back to the pavilion for a blob. With the scoreboard reading India 9/1, one particular faction engaged in the production of cracker advertisements must have seen their hopes soar, much to the chagrin of their competitors!

Enter Virat Kohli, the centurion at Adelaide and One Day cricket’s most prolific batsman. However with Dale Steyn steaming in and Philander dropping on a nagging length (before doing a hamstring), the going for India was pedestrian. A whippy bottom handed boundary by Kohli of Steyn through extra cover and a riding-the-bounce four by Dhawan of Philander in the same region interrupted the lull in proceedings. A clip to the mid-wicket boundary by Kohli of a Morkel (Mornie) delivery signaled the end of the 10th over with India at a tentative 36/1.

It is not often that Virat Kohli gets overshadowed in a major partnership. However the MCG turned out to be Dhawan’s playground. Sustained stay at the crease birthed the inevitable confidence and invariable form and the left hander produced a flurry of magnificent shots signaling his intent loud and clear. Wayne Parnell came in for some particular punishment as ferocious pulls, screaming drives and deft clips opened the scoring flood gates for India. A ‘Tendulkaresque’ ramp shot played to a short and angling ball in the 24th over sent the hollering fans into raptures of ecstasy. Soon after the hundred partnership was raised, Kohli perished dragging a half tracker from Imran Tahir straight to Faf Du Plessis, who made no mistake being positioned at mid-wicket. India 136/2 after 27.1 overs.

The fall of Kohli’s wicket brought Ajinkya Rahane to the crease. The busy right hander lost no time in building upon the platform constructed by Dhawan and Kohli. Rotating the strike with deft nudges and firm pushes, Rahane acted the perfect foil for a marauding Dhawan. A rasping shot through point courtesy, the hapless Parnell, raised a spectacular ton for the southpaw, his first in World Cup competitions. With the century out of the way, both batsmen progressed from the emphatic to the expressive. A screamer over Morkel’s head displayed the repertoire of skills possessed by Rahane and also raised the 200 of the innings. This was followed in quick succession by a contemptuous cover drive off the same bowler. After two stupendous sixes off Steyn and Morkel, the latter a gorgeous and elegant pick up flick off the legs, Dhawan departed for a majestic 136, looping Parnell to long leg where a grateful Amla held on not before displaying a peculiar catching technique wherein his knuckles touched the ground with the ball safely nestled in his palms. India 261/3 in the 44th over. When Suresh Raina departed a mere 8 runs later, flat batting Morkel to substitute fielder, RR Rossouw, a few anxious Indian supporters could have been forgiven for whispering “Death-Over Travails – Redux”.

With 278 runs on the board, the dazzling innings of Rahane was terminated when he walked across the stumps to a straight one from Steyn. His 79 was studded with 7 boundaries and 3 energetic sixes and took only 60 deliveries to compile. Dhoni, Ashwin, Jadeja and Shami heaved, hoicked, holed out and huffed away and after 50 overs were done and dusted with, India had finished at 307/7 – an imposing total but not an impregnable one.

What followed next tore all predicted scripts to tatters and left self professed Pundits scrambling in search of new theories. India put up a show of resplendence in the field that shone even brighter than the brightest of the lights blazing and bathing the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Prowling like tigers and purring like predatory felines, eleven men wearing Blue proceeded to put paid to the hopes of a renowned and feared batting line up. The first to depart the scene was the most alluring baby faced cricketer currently plying his wares, Quinton de Kock. Having built up his reputation as a century monger against India, de Kock for once failed to live up to his reputation spooning one off Mohammed Shami to Kohli at mid-off after notching up a paltry 7 runs. South Africa 12/1 in the 4th over. The early breakthrough, although welcome was a cause only for muted celebrations. The reliable Faf Du Plessis strode to the crease and along with Hashim Amla proceeded to scratch and scour producing a trickle of runs. Shami and Umesh Yadav were unrelenting in their intent to not allow the Proteas to settle down and at the end of the 10th over, South Africa’s score of 38/1 only marginally bested India’s position at the same juncture.

The stylish Amla seemed to be missing his groove and after surviving a perilously close double run-out chance hooked a well directed bouncer of the nippy Mohit Sharma to Shami at long-leg. The fielder while moving backwards after pouching the catch just stopped short of treading on to the boundary ropes. South Africa was now at 40/2 and in some strife. In walked Abraham Benjamin De Villiers along with the specter of a 31 ball scorcher of a century and a reputation as the finest one day international batsman gracing the game today. He displayed his intent quite early in his innings when he wafted down the track to Mohit Sharma and crashed the ball through the extra cover region for a glorious boundary. When he punched Umesh Yadav between the bowler and the mid-off area and the ball made contact with the boundary ropes, stirrings of danger were swirling around in the air.

De Villier’s presence had the effect of bolstering the confidence of Du Plessis and the latter proceeded to rack a few boundaries of his own, although most of them were mistimed and fortuitous heaves behind the wicket. The duo soon raised their 50 partnership and the scoring was no longer strangled. With the score on 108, the most dramatic moment in the match occurred which brought the MCG cauldron to boil. De Villiers drove the penultimate delivery of Ravindra Jadeja’s 6th over to sweeper cover and hared down the track. After completing the first run, he charged back to the stricker’s end, with legs pumping and arms heaving, Mohit Sharma, fielding at sweeper cover, grabbed the ball and released a bullet throw to Dhoni who, after perfectly positioning himself to collect the missile, dislodged the bails leaving the dangerous De Villiers short of the crease by mere inches. South Africa had lost their talismanic captain to a brilliant display of fielding, an exhibition of which they themselves would have been proud of!

Aided by a resonating self belief and egged on by a reverberating noise of support, India proceeded to rout the South Africans. Du Plessis flat batted one to Dhawan at mid-off charging Mohit Sharma. J.P.Duminy decided to get into the Glenn Maxwell mode. But possessing neither the expertise nor the elan, the left-hander timidly reverse swept (or tried to) Ashwin into the waiting hands of Raina at slip. South Africa 147/5 in the 32nd over. David Miller, one of the heroes against Zimbabwe showed token resistance before perishing to yet another extraordinary fielding marvel by the Indians. Sweeping Ashwin to deep square leg, Miller decided to take on the throwing arm of Umesh Yadav headlong. The ripper of a throw had Dhoni flicking the ball on to the stumps with Miller’s bat hanging above the crease. India completed the last rites by rooting out Philander, Steyn, Morkel and Imran Tahir, thereby inflicting South Africa’s biggest ever defeat in a World Cup – a margin of 130 runs.

An impeccable bowling performance coupled with an incredulous effort in the field ensured that India had snared their opponents once again to not only make it two win in a row, but also exorcise a ghost in the form of a South African jinx.

In the words of Dennis Waitley “You have all the reason in the world to achieve your grandest dreams. Imagination plus innovation equals realization.” A pair of droopy eyes seems to have grasped this realization to the fullest extent, for it has begun to dream, a dream splendid in its sweep and grand in its wake!

Rain God Redux – The Protea Curse

The Proteas need to desperately assuage the Rain God of their presumed innocence. The Maker of Storms seems to be nursing a wrath that is singularly peculiar, and unerringly directed towards a successive bunch of hard working and talented South African cricketers. If in the year 1992, the visage of McMillan morosely facing up to a delivery off which he needed to score a ‘mere’ 22 for his nation to progress beyond that England game, was a wretched dampener, the memorable mess-up with Arithmetic by an ebullient Shaun Pollock in 2003 was an absolute damp squib. To a Protea fan, the sight of Mark Boucher tamely patting down a Muttiah Muralidharan delivery, all the while blissfully unaware of his captain’s phenomenal blunder would have been enough to drive him into a fit of apoplexy.

On the 24th of March, 2015, Eden Park, Auckland contrived to wreak a havoc of merciless proportions on the hopes and aspirations of an entire continent. For, South Africa again came face-to-face with their meteorological nemesis and as is to be expected the heavenly power overcame a mortal resolve. Rampant Rain God Redux has ensured that, yet again the enigmatic team in green crash out of the quadrennial event in a smother of heroics and heart break. The pestilent rain chose to make an appearance in the most inopportune of moments. Just when the old firm of Faf Du Plessis and AB De Villiers were beginning to build a partnership of significant proportions after having weathered an initial human storm named Trent Boult, the skies poured forth and forced the teams into their respective dressing rooms. When nature finally relented, the number of overs was reduced to 43 as the incomprehensible firm of Duckworth & Lewis took over charting the course of the game.

Earlier in the day, far from the unfolding drama, South Africa won the toss and AB De Villiers had no hesitation in electing to bat. Soon the Africans were in trouble with Amla castled by Trent Boult and Quinton De Kock holing out to Tim Southee stationed at the off side boundary. De Kock’s innings could only be categorized as an inexplicable cross between Afridi without common sense and an Afridi bereft of sense. Du Plessis and Rossouw then initiated a salvage the situation operation, calmly nudging and pushing for singles and braces, while in between dispatching the odd one to the boundary.  The well set Rossouw fell for 39 when Martin Guptill, flying to his right plucked a one hander at backward point off the bowling of Corey Anderson. This bought the magical Devilliers to the crease and once the batting wonder settled down, runs began flowing in an aesthetic and easy vein. At the end of the 38th over, when things were beginning to brighten up for De Villier’s men, the brightness in the sky was replaced by a gloom of darkness which bought along with it the added malice of rain.

When play finally resumed, the game was shortened to 43 overs with South Africa’s final target to be adjusted upwards to correspond to the esoteric conditions of an obscure piece of algebraic farce. Soon Du Plessis got out for a well compiled 82 gloving Anderson down the leg side to Luke Ronchi. Enter David Miller. This powerful and well striking left hander played the most defining knock in the South African innings as he proceeded to cart the Kiwis all over the park. Sumptuous drives, smote sixes and searing mishits adorned his innings as Miller came within a hair’s breadth of recording the fastest fifty in a World Cup. He fell just a solitary run short when he edged Anderson behind the stumps for Ronchi to pouch the nick. But the damage had been done and at the end of the curtailed 43 overs South Africa had made a challenging 281/5, a total which was made even more daunting after the addition of 17 further runs as the D/L norm envisaged.

If at all there is a word or a phrase that is crying out to be legitimately eased into the lexicon of cricketing terms, it is “McCulled!” There are very few bowlers, plying their wares in the current day cricketing circuit whose very soul has not been scarred and morale culled by the rapier like blade of the marauding Kiwi Captain, Brendon McCullum. When New Zealand came out to bat in response to the seemingly unnerving total of 298, McCullum took charge and for a brief period of seven blitzkrieg overs, made the South African total look pityingly inadequate.

He flashed, flailed, flayed and flicked with aplomb in a display of astonishing batting rage. The South African bowlers in general and the intimidating Dale Steyn in particular came for some irreverent thrashing and irascible disdain as strokes flowed from McCullum’s willow in an unabated manner. Like the very Nile in vile torrent, he charged Steyn, flat batted him and also for good measure, hoicking, heaving and hooking him out of the ground. Steyn’s third and South Africa’s fifth over went for a whopping 25 runs and within the blink of an eye the Big McC had notched up a blazing fifty of a meagre 22 balls. However with the score at 71, McCullum played one shot too many, swinging Morne Morkel to Steyn at mid-on. Some reprieve that for the ‘Steyn’ Remover!

Morkel struck another resounding blow when he scalped the prolific Kane Williamson who in horrific anguish saw the ball careen off a bottom edge and disturb the bails. The African dream was beginning to revive as sagging shoulders straightened and drooping heads were back to being held high. With Imran Tahir sticking to his consistently nagging length, De Villiers was able to rotate his hapless fast bowlers who had earlier been plundered by McCullum. Ross Taylor partnered the double centurion of the previous match, Martin Guptill in a steady accumulation of runs. Disaster struck in the very first ball of the 18th over; when with the score at 128, Ross Taylor lamely pushed a ball towards backward point and went tearing down the track. The brave Guptill responded, but to no avail and the latter fell comfortably short of his ground as De Kock whipped the bails off after cleanly collecting an Amla return. With three in form batsmen back in the hutch, South Africa’s hopes acquired a pair of wings, but they were not just yet ready to soar.

A sedate looking Grant Elliott came striding to the crease to join a visibly shaken Ross Taylor. With the addition of a mere 21 runs, Taylor compounded the combined misery of his team by nicking one down the leg side to an ecstatic J.P.Duminy. The Kiwi track record of having never progressed past the semifinal now looked a little less likely to be threatened. But Corey Anderson seemed to think otherwise. The burly south paw ably assisted Grant Elliott and the duo played with confidence and conviction. A couple of rank long hops and half volleys did nothing to harm their endeavours as the batsmen gleefully put away the bad balls to and over the boundary. A portentous omen reared its ugly head when with South Africa desperate for a wicket and the scoreboard showing 203/4, a golden opportunity arose. An ill judged attempt at a single resulted in Elliott shooing back Anderson to the non-striker’s end. With the scurrying Anderson light years away from regaining his crease, AB De Villiers collected a flat throw and attempted to dislodge the bails. However instead of using the ball, he ended up with his hands disturbing the bails. In a vain exhibition of acrobats gone awry, De Villiers somersaulted plucked the ball and tried to uproot the stumps. The act turned to be an exercise in futility and Anderson made his ground, a relieved man.

Just when things seemed to be at a point of no return for De Villier’s men, the irrepressible Morkel provided the breakthrough yet again snaring Anderson, but not before the latter had made an invaluable 58. New Zealand 252/5.  46 needed off 30.

Luke Ronchi soon followed Anderson by flicking a Steyn delivery down the legside to Rossouw. It was at this juncture that things started falling apart for South Africa. A seemingly rejuvenated unit for inexplicable reasons metamorphosed into a ragged, dazed and confused bunch of pitiable junkies. Elliott coming back for a second was given an unexpected reprieve wen De Kock failed to collect the ball from Rossouw. This would be the first of a miraculous stream of lives for Grant Elliott.

Vettori backing up too far was lucky as a De Villiers shy at his stumps missed much to the chagrin of the South Africans. 23 now required with 18 legitimate deliveries left. The tension both on and off the pitch was becoming quite palpable now. To the second ball of the 41st over, Elliott mistimed a pull shot and the ball soared toward the very skies. Two fielders in the mid-wicket region engaged in a mad scramble to scoop the catch, but the ball landed smack in between the two competing fielders. 20 to win from 10 and it was anybody’s game yet, but with Elliott as the indispensable factor.

After stroking a rasping shot through extra cover for a boundary, Elliott was the beneficiary of yet another display of magnanimity from his opponents. Elliott again skied the last ball of the 42nd over, high into the night sky, courtesy an ill executed pull off – whom else, Morne Morkel! An expectant Berhadien positioned himself perfectly well under the catch only to be knocked over by a tackle from J.P.Duminy who running in from fine leg had gone for the same catch. In the ensuing melee, Elliott and Vettori ran a couple, but not before standing in the middle of the pitch contemplating the trajectory of the swooping ball. This move cost the Kiwis a precious single. At the end of the 42nd over, with 6 deliveries left, New Zealand needed 12 runs.

The final over of this seminal game was entrusted to the indomitable Dale Steyn. This was an opportunity to relegate to the confines of a forgotten and lurid history, all the sullying of his bowling and to forever remove the stain of ‘chokers’ preternaturally attached to his team. It was the time to exorcise the ghost of Brendon McCullum. Grant Elliott and Daniel Vettori also had their own motives. An unflinching objective of obliterating, six previous disappointments. New Zealand was the new King Robert Bruce and this time they did not need a spider toying with its cobweb to derive inspiration. It was time to exorcise a spectre called the semi-final ghost.

Vettori scampered a bye off the first ball of Steyn’s over to put Elliott back on strike. 11 to win off 5;

Elliott banged a full toss to cover, albeit for just a single off Steyn’s second. 10 to get off 4;

10 off 4 soon became 6 off 3 when Vettori squirted attempted Yorker just inches past a desperately diving Morne Morkel for a boundary in the third man area;

The circus of lives was completed when an attempted bye provided a glimmer of opportunity for running out batsmen at either end. But as fate would have it, both De Kock and Steyn missed at either end, but not before taking clumsy swipes at the wicket. 5 off 2 and this could even end up in a tie!

The hopes of two nations were cleaved right down the middle when the fifth ball of the 43rd over was heaved over long on by the unrelenting Grant Elliott for a huge six! As 45,000 delirious fans, rose to their feet swept away by enthusiasm and exhaustion to cheer their hero in unison, the brave South Africans slumped to the ground demoralized, devastated and disgusted.

As just a single game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground stands between New Zealand and their pinnacle of cricketing achievements, De Villiers and his men head home, but with their heads held high. Maybe South Africa have a genuine cause to believe that on account of a certain inexplicable contrivance whether attributable to nature or Providence, they are destined or rather chosen to remain the Children Of A Lesser God!