Wednesday, December 23, 2009


First it was the dodo...

Then it was the Titanic...

(Photo from

And now it is Shane Bond's turn to be felled in full flight. Say it ain't so!  I just lost one of the big reasons I had for watching Test cricket.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A mirror turned inwards

In the late 1980's when my sporting world was crying out for someone to root for, along came Andre Agassi. Ivan Lendl was (and still is) my favorite tennis player ever, but I knew that his days at the top were close to being done, especially after the gut-wrenching twin Wimbledon finals losses in '87 and '88. I liked Andre Agassi for his game and not his looks or fashion sense. I was ambivalent about all that extraneous stuff.  To each his own and all that jazz.

As the years rolled on I watched Chang, Sampras, and Courier (in that order) win Grand Slams while Agassi came close but never sealed the deal.  I despaired for the fellow, feeling that it was my fate in life to root for almost-can causes. And then 1992 happened. After shunning Wimbledon for years, Agassi finally chucked his flamboyant, fluorescent gear for some whites and acquited himself quite well in 1991. The following year he came through and won it all beating Goran Ivanisevic and his (then) Wimbledon record 37 aces in the final (208 for the tournament). Agassi had broken through and, incredibly, it was on the least-expected of surfaces - grass. He had done what Lendl could never do.

It was at the press conference afterwards that he said something that changed the way I perceived top athletes and what drives them. A reporter asked him if he was as surprised as most other people were at winning Wimbledon. Agassi deadpanned, "I am not surprised that I won.  Why would I play a tournament if I did not think I could win it?" Conditioned as I was to years of hearing about how it was the path that was important and not the winning, it served as a jolt to my senses. Since that day I have never been satisfied with moral victories on the playing field. If you don't play to win, you don't play to the best of your abilities. No matter how overmatched I am, I have not lost till the final scoreline is set or the final wicket has fallen.

As the years went by Agassi went through a series of ups and downs (more downs than ups) and re-emerged in 1999 in his latest avatar - a suave, articulate, and sage senior citizen - quietly putting together a stirring bookend to his career, cementing his place in the pantheon of tennis greats. The punctuation on his life was set when he and Steffi Graf settled down together.

Which brings me to Andre Agassi's autobiography, titled Open. The book is exactly that - an open examination of his life and his times from his point of view. Starting from the time he was a young kid to the present day, Agassi takes us with him on a journey of self-discovery and awareness. Co-written with JR Moehringer, the narrative style is in the present tense and is meant as more than an effect. Agassi tells us what he was thinking at that point in time about the events unfolding around and to him. This has led to some wildly misinterpreted outpourings in the media as writers have taken his words as a representation of his current way of thinking. More on that a bit later.**

Open is a shockingly vivid and honest examination of Agassi by himself. Like all of us, he tells things as he perceives them but he is honest enough to admit that. So, if your memory of events differs from his, there is nothing wrong with that. Do you see what I mean?
At last I let my mind go where it's wanted to go. I can't stop it anymore. No longer asking politely, my mind is now forcibly spinning me into the past. And because my mind notes and records the slightest details, I see everything with bright, startling clarity, every setback, victory, rivalry, tantrum, paycheck, girlfriend, betrayal, reporter, wife, child, outfit, fan letter, grudge match, and crying jag. As if a second TV above me were showing highlights from the last twenty-nine years, it all flies past in a high-def whirl.
There are numerous revelations, most of them highlighted over the past few weeks by the media, but I am not here to list them or belabor the importance of those statements. Instead what I want to talk about are the two persons he admires above all - his trainer Gil Reyes and his wife Stefanie Graf (Steffi, he informs us, was a name picked by the German press and she does not like being called that!).

Andre's father was a man possessed with the thought of ensuring that one (or more) of his children lived his dream for him. Andre was lucky that he had a gift - to be able to spot a moving ball better than most mortals - that enabled him to survive the harshness of his father's training sessions. Not everyone can be so lucky. I sincerely believe that one of Agassi's main intentions with this book is to show people that even (superficially) successful people like him have had troubling pasts and to overcome them is hard but it can be done. In Gil Reyes, Agassi found the elder brother/father that he sought. No man engenders more respect from Agassi than Gil does in this book. Agassi-Graf named their first child Jaden Gil in honor of Gil and one of the tenderest moments in the book is when Agassi describes the moment when he told Gil about this.

For a long, long time Agassi admired Graf from afar. The icy Graf does not hate or dislike Agassi. No, in the worst scenario possible for him, she is indifferent about him. Open begins by talking about Agassi and his hatred of tennis but, along the way, transforms into the love story of Agassi and Graf. Even as Agassi's views on tennis and the world change, so does the reader get pulled into this aspect of his life.

Agassi never had a formal education beyond the 7th or 8th grade and he openly acknowledges that tennis gave him the security that most other people with his level of education lack. Therefore, his driving passion these days is his school for underprivileged children set in the middle of Las Vegas' worst neighborhood - the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy. Agassi's labor of love is the focal point of the last chapters of the autobiography and, by then, a more crystallized view of the man emerges. The book ends with a fairytale-ish finish but that highlights a very important change in the man - he does love tennis, after all.

**(Note: Since the book is written in the present tense, Agassi tells us what he is thinking about persons or events as they occur. Like all of us, his opinions change over time, and that is reflected in the book, too. Unfortunately for him, many writers picked up on the subtext from particular times and drew erroneous conclusions from it. Agassi did think that Pete Sampras would never make it in tennis. He did think that Sampras had other defects. But in time, Agassi changes his opinion of the only man who truly outclassed Agassi on the tennis court when he was in his prime. Agassi and Sampras are acknowledged to have had one of the best rivalries in tennis history, but hearing from Agassi you find out that after the initial years he never was Sampras' equal. Any wins he had against Sampras were against the grain as opposed to some deciphering of the Sampras code.
Our rivarly has been one of the lodestars of my career. Losing to Pete has caused me enormous pain, but in the long run it's also made me more resilient. If I'd beaten Pete more often, or if he had come along in a different generation, I'd have a better record, and I might go down as a better player, but I'd be less.
At the very end of Agassi's career he acknowledges that he has run into an opponent far more formidable than Sampras, a player he feels is "well on his way to being the best ever" - Roger Federer. Talking about the 2004 US Open final loss to Federer, Agassi says:
... he (Federer) goes to a place that I don't recognize. He finds a gear that other players simply don't have. He wins 7-1....We were dead even. Now, due to a tiebreak that made my jaw drop with admiration, the rout is on.

Walking to the net, I'm certain that I've lost to the better man, the Everest of the next generation. I pity the young players who will have to contend with him. I feel for the man who is fated to play Agassi to his Sampras. Though I don't mention Pete by name, I have him uppermost in my mind when I tell reporters: It's real simple. Most people have weaknesses. Federer has none

Winter wonderland

One of the biggest pluses of living in a place that experiences 4 distinct seasons is the snowfall that signifies winter is here. I like driving in it and I love how it blankets the countryside hiding any imprerfections.

A freak snowstorm in October was followed by a prolonged period of dry weather and, just as thoughts of climate change were entering people's minds, a deluge of historic proportions has followed.

(C.S. Manish 2009)

(C.S. Manish 2009)
The snowplows had a fine time clearing the roads and parking lots and the piled up snow is everywhere.

(C.S. Manish 2009)

(C.S. Manish 2009)

Even the rivers have frozen over.  Here's the scenic Elkhorn River in all its beauty.

(C.S. Manish 2009)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Titanic's other avatar

It is no secret that one of my (all-time) favorite movies is Titanic. If you have seen the movie, then this "preview" should put an entirely different spin on Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett's performances. How could I have not see it before?! Titanic is a Hollywood-made Bollywood movie. Karan Johar would have loved to have helmed this masterpiece:

[Just in case you were wondering: My opinion of the greatness of Titanic has not diminished even after watching this "preview" of what it actually was!]

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Maggi Noode Review - Avatar

It has been a long time since James Cameron made a movie that was not expensive. His movies are a visual spectacle of the highest order and his latest, Avatar, took 10 years to come to fruition. And it is worth the wait. In the hands of a lesser director the focus of the movie would have been on the action and the set pieces. There are numerous set pieces of wow-inspiring nature but Cameron side-steps the easy route and takes his time, giving you over 2 hours and 40 minutes of viewing pleasure. Okay, the last 30 are action but by then you have been given ample time to soak in the movie.

The action sequences themselves should be made mandatory "reading" for action directors like Michael Bay and Tony Scott. At no time are you unaware of who is doing what to whom and the results are spectacular.

Okay, I have talked about the movie without touching upon the very critical elements of story and acting. The story is cut from the standard White Man's Burden prototype that is the fare of most such movies. Working within that simplistic storyline, Cameron weaves in a lot of interesting characters, both human and alien. Most of the movie comprises of CGI in the alien's world. [Or are we the aliens, since the action is not happening on Earth?]

Overall, by taking his time to tell us the story Cameron lets us become vested in the motivations of the characters and none of them display behaviors contradictory to the way they are revealed to us. The man knows how to make movies and he has made another one here. I haven't even touched upon all the wonderful flora and fauna of Pandora. I will leave that to your imagination. Believe me when I say that Cameron's imagination has far exceeded ours.

Note: It can be seen in 3-D or 2-D. Either option would be fine, but if you can do it in 3-D, do it. It is a movie that was meant to be seen in 3-D.

Old bottle, new wine

Who knew the Ramayan could be made into an action comic that rivals the Mahabharat? Virgin Comics did. Here's how they re-imagined the story of the most famous leader of the Ikshvaku dynasty.

It must be the water

A few weeks ago Jeff Fisher, the coach of the Tennessee Titans, was in hot water for his antics at a charity dinner. At that point in time his team was winless (0-6) and he tried to lighten up by doing this:

Since then the Titans have gone 7-1 while the Colts (led by Peyton Manning) are the only undefeated team left in the NFL at 14-0. So, Coach Fisher, you were right - it WAS the jersey. By channeling your inner Manning you found the path to victory. By the way, should you naysayers point out the solitary loss on the Titans' record. That loss was to the, you guessed it, Indianaoplis Colts!

The secret to success is not hard work, it is Peyton Manning.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Strike rated feature

From Andy Zaltzman, the funniest man on CricInfo's roster, comes the first part of a feature on the Test cricketing highlights of the past decade (in his humble and highly biased opinion, naturally). Combining out-of-the-box stats with quirky humor, Andy finds the right balance between entertainment and incredulity.

Here's a sample of exactly what I mean:
Finally, here’s a stat for you: the highest Test innings played by Virender Sehwag in which he has scored at slower than a run every other ball is... wait for it... 13. Only 19 times in his 123 Test innings has Sehwag scored at less than 50 runs per 100 balls – ten ducks, eight single figure scores, and that mind-numbingly tedious 13 off 29 against South Africa in his second Test in 2001-02. I used to be quite satisfied if I reached double figures in the first ten overs of a village match. I am honoured to be a member of the same species.
(Jaunty's note: In comparison, over his career Rahul Dravid has batted in 237 innings and his career strike rate is 42.26!)

Memorable matches

As the 00's wind down, all over the Internet people are compiling their "Best of the Decade" lists.  Sports Illustrated is certainly not lagging behind in this and gives us a list of what they consider to be the 10 best tennis matches of the past decade. Even if you are not a big fan of tennis, just check out the videos for some tennis of the highest quality. You will not be disappointed.

Not surprisingly, Roger Federer figures prominently in that list, meriting as many as 5 mentions.  Surprisingly, though, he was the winner on only one occasion, reaffirming the notion that to bring down Darth Federer players usually need to come up a very special effort to do so.  GOAT status reconfirmed.

(By the way, even though the commentary is in French, check out #7 for a rare glimpse of Fabrice Santoro, whose nickname (The Magician) was well-earned.

Trolling for cricket

a) Of the many articles written to commemorate Sachin Tendulkar's service to Indian cricket (20 years and counting, in case you did not know), I like this one by Rahul Bhattacharya the best. Admiring the man without being overly gushing, it stands out for the little gems that are thrown about here and there. Gems such as these:
Memory obscures telling details in the dizzying rise thereafter. Everybody remembers the 326 not out in the 664-run gig with Kambli. Few remember the 346 not out in the following game, the trophy final. Everyone knows the centuries on debut in the Ranji Trophy and Irani Trophy at 15 and 16. Few know that he got them in the face of a collapse in the first instance and virtually out of partners in the second. Everyone knows his nose was bloodied by Waqar Younis in that first Test series, upon which he waved away assistance. Few remember that he struck the next ball for four.

This was Tendulkar five years after he'd first handled a cricket ball
b) Suresh Menon positively raves about Rahul Dravid here but does so in a manner that makes it a must-read for anyone who likes sports journalism. It is a qualitative and quantitative description of the highest order.
To be defined by what he has missed has sometimes been Dravid’s fate. When he made 180 in a Test match, he was upstaged by a man who made 281; that innings by VVS Laxman is rated as the best by an Indian batsman. When Dravid made his then highest one-day score of 145, Sourav Ganguly made 183 in the same innings; when he topped that by making 153 against New Zealand, Sachin Tendulkar made an unbeaten 186. Is Rahul Dravid the best supporting act in the history of the game or a great player born in the wrong decade?

He is the best supporting act in the history of the game (a world record 78 century partnerships in Tests) and a great player (over 10,000 runs in both forms of the game). It is tempting to conclude that he was born in the wrong decade, forcing him to play in the shadow of Sachin Tendulkar, but that hardly matters to the man who is in competition with no one but himself, and who was secure enough to say at one time, “Most people want me to get out quickly so they can watch Sachin bat
c) Virender Sehwag is the subject of a simple statistical study by CricInfo who provide a list of all the partnerships he has been involved in as a Test player. Not surprisingly, Rahul Dravid is his companion at the top, though it is a matter of time before his position is usurped.

(Just for kicks, here are Rahul Dravid's partnership stats for his career).

d) Sambit Bal, the Editor of CricInfo, is also a fine writer when he does put his thoughts to paper. Here, he reflects on a gripping Test encounter at Dunedin between Pakistan and New Zealand, reaffirming why the long form of the game is unparalleled for all the different types of scenarios it can throw up in just one match. He finishes with a thought I can empathize with:
The experience of watching cricket on TV in India has grown progressively worse. One of the joys of the Dunedin Test was the cleanness of the TV feed. You could watch the bowler start an over, and indeed end it; no creepy-crawlies invaded the screen while the game was on; and between overs you could watch the captain change the field. Also, somehow it felt like the commentators spoke only as much as they needed to. In India, enduring cricket on television has itself become a test of loyalty.
Test cricket needs an avenger. It needs men with vision and a sense of mission. It needs ownership and drive. Now, someone needs to convert Lalit Modi.
e) Reading this article sent shivers down my spine at the thought that it might be true. S Aga speculates that the third Test between India and Sri Lanka may have been the last time SRT, Dravid, and VVS Laxman batted together in a home Test match.
Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have played 183 home Tests between them, scoring 13,665 runs and 37 centuries. They also have a combined age of 107 and, with few countries actually adhering to the Future Tours Programme, there might be no home Tests before the World Cup in 2011. Next year's series against South Africa will feature only ODIs and it's hard to see much enthusiasm on the part of the BCCI for a tour by New Zealand just three months before the first ball is bowled at the World Cup.
(Subsequently, there have been rumors that South Africa may play a couple of Tests so there may still be some time left for this triumvirate).

f) If the Indian Test team bats at an average of over 4 runs per over for an innings, an essential element is that it features a blitz by Virender Sehwag. When Sehwag is on song (and it happens too often in Tests to be a fluke) the overall picture of the game looks rosy from an Indian point of view. But if you dig deeper, his batting actually masks a big deficiency of the middle-order, namely the inability to grind the hapless bowlers into the dust. Here are a couple of articles on that theme. First, an older one by Rahul Bhattacharya that goes deeper into this than anyone before.
Since Australia are the benchmark - and in batting the Indians ought to be meeting them eye-to-eye - it is instructive to note that when Matthew Hayden makes a score (fifty or more, for the purpose of this exercise), those who follow him score marginally faster than they would do had he fallen cheaply (at a rate of 3.79 against 3.75, from September 2001 onwards). When Sehwag scores fifty or more, however, the rest of the Indian line-up make their runs discernibly slower (2.96 against 3.15, in matches where Sehwag has opened) than they otherwise would. So where Australia are taking a man's success and building on it, feeding off it - the cornerstone of their cricket in general - India are using it, bizarrely, as an occasion to play inside their abilities.

Some of India's recent post-Sehwag dawdles make damning reading. At the MCG last season, when Sehwag was fourth man out, having made 195, the run-rate plummeted by 1.75 points (or 157 runs per day). At Kanpur against South Africa this season, when he was second out, having scored 164, it dropped by 1.52 (137 runs per day). At Kolkata in the following Test it fell by 1.02 (92 runs per day) after he was gone for 88. And at Mohali most recently against Pakistan it dipped by 1.46 (131 runs per day). Of the above matches India could only win the Kolkata Test. And there too South Africa, had they shown more resolve in the second innings, could have made India regret the tardiness, as the Pakistanis did at Mohali
About 4 years later here's Prem Panicker on his blog collating some of the best pieces written on Viru by some very good cricket writers. Read the entire post, if you will, for links to some fine pieces of writing.

g) And just to show that he is not just a fan of Rahul Dravid, Suresh Menon unloads about Virender Sehwag.
VIRENDER SEHWAG’S batting is a reminder that there are no absolute standards in sport. “They told me in the dressing room that I was hitting good balls to the boundary,” he said after his neartriple century in the Mumbai Test, “but actually I was hitting only the bad balls.” The combination of innocence and ruthlessness, of self-doubt and self-awareness is unique.
HIS ROLE in the rise of India to the No. 1 spot in Test cricket has been fundamental. In the last 25 Tests (eight series), he has scored more runs than anybody else (2,093 in 20 Tests) as India beat Pakistan, drew against South Africa, beat Australia, England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka (they lost in Australia and Sri Lanka)
As Sehwag went berserk against Sri Lanka to the tune of 293 runs, there were many spectators with stories of their own to share.(By the way, I did not know that Sehwag was the vice-captain of the current Indian team. With MS Dhoni getting suspended for a couple of ODIs Viru should be back at the helm again. It will be interesting to see how he juggles the middle-order, sans Dhoni).

h) Even as the current edition begins to reach for the #1 spot in Tests and ODIs (getting there is not enough, staying there is more important IMHO), Indian cricket's next generation readies itself. Here's a handy guide to the players who will represent India in the Under-19 World Cup in a few weeks. Which of these names will be hawking televisions and toothpastes when not playing cricket in the years to come? Your guess is as good as mine. I will try to keep up with their progress and if I spot anything I will be sure to pass it along to you.

i) I have a fun comparison for you. Here are the stats for two Test players currently representing their country.
Player A: 48 Tests, 87 innings, 3509 runs, HS 160, average 42.79, 9 hundreds, 20 fifties, 44 catches.
Player B: 49 Tests, 88 innings, 3144 runs, HS 199, average 39.79, 8 hundreds, 21 fifties, 45 catches.

Not much to choose from between the two, is there? Both were lauded as the future of their countries' hopes but have been treated very differently by the media. Player A is the proverbial golden child, handled with cotton gloves as his mistakes are glossed over, his potential constantly brought up, and is likely to captain his country very soon, while player B is on the verge of having his career stalled because of a perception that he has not done enough with his chances. How would you react if you were either player?

(Update: CricInfo's Andrew McGlashan seems to have picked up on this and talks about it in his latest column.)

There is a lot more to this than plain numbers but you can see how players' livelihoods are really at stake when the media decides to lay tags on them.

(By the way Player A is Alastair Cook and Player B is Ian Bell)

j) Take a look at the first two items on sports page from December 8th, 2003. The seeds for so many different things were sown on that day that it boggles the mind to play a game of what-if based on "what if Sourav Ganguly had not succeeded that day?".

k) Finally, just for kicks, here's VVS Laxman.

(Reuters 2003)

Friday, December 18, 2009

The goose and the gander

In his role as a Match Referee for the ICC, Chris Broad has been at the center of many a storm. Apart from (seemingly) being on a one-man crusade to wipe out chucking from the game, he surfaces from time to time to dole out punishments when the cricketers cross the "fine line" between banter and verbal abuse.

Yesterday Brad Haddin, Suleiman Benn, and Mitchell Johnson got into a two-step tango of sorts in the 3rd Test between Australia and West Indies. Here's what happened (note in particular the 2:40 mark for future reference):

(Note: Some language is definitely NSFW)

When it happened I thought to myself that Benn, Haddin, and Johnson would lose big chunks of money and miss a couple of ODI (always easier to dock those games than Test matches). Naturally, the broad sword of justice (pun intended) ruled on the argy-bargy this morning. Benn was handed two suspension points which effectively means he will miss two ODIs, while Haddin has been fined 25% of his match fee and Johnson 10%.

This is the part of that article that boggles the mind (emphasis mine).
Broad said: "It was an incident which could have been avoided. No one likes to see cricketers pointing bats at their opponents or pushing each other away. It is not the sort of example that players should be setting at any time, least of all in a series which is being played in a great spirit and being followed by millions around the world on television.

"The decision to find Benn guilty of a Level 2 offence is indicative of the fact that conduct contrary to the spirit of the game is completely unacceptable. I hope Mr Benn has learnt his lesson and will be careful in the future
What?!! Does Chris Broad even understand what he is saying here and how it contradicts the very punishment he meted out?

This is wrong on so many levels. I am not opposed to the fines or the bans. I am opposed to the differentiation in the types of justice being meted out. I'll let someone more articulate that I, Prem Panicker, explain exactly why I am so flabbergasted.
Absolutely unimpeachable statements, those. Especially the one about pointing bats not being the kind of behavior anyone wants to see on a cricket field. But, um, just who was batting at the time?

"The over began with a run-in between the bowler Benn, who was moving across to field a drive, and the non-striker Johnson, who was taking off for a single. The contact seemed incidental, with neither man at fault, but Haddin appeared to inflame the situation after completing the run, when he pointed his bat at Benn."

Uh oh. So at the end of an accidental contact between opposing players Brad Haddin — who was not the player who was pushed, even accidentally — made it his business to make a physically threatening gesture at his opponent. That is not, as Broad so vehemently says, the kind of behavior you want to see on a cricket field — so of course the law came down hard and heavy, with a 25 per cent of match fees fine.

Presumably, the law does not want to see on a cricket field a player standing still for bats to be pointed at him — which must be why Benn attracted the heavier punishment of a Test match ban. Again

"There appeared to be some incidental contact between Johnson and Benn when Johnson moved to position himself between his partner and the bowler. Things became even uglier when Johnson pushed Benn away, following the initial contact. After stumps the West Indies captain Chris Gayle said he felt Benn had not initiated the physical clash."

Again, Benn’s physical involvement is being described as ‘incidental’; Johnson’s response as deliberate, and deliberately physical. So naturally, Johnson gets docked 10 per cent of his match fees. It all makes perfect sense, no?


For instance, note that “inappropriate and deliberate physical contact between players during play” is deemed a Level 2 offence; note that there was nothing appropriate about Johnson pushing Benn; note that the prescribed fine is 50 per cent of the match fees and/or a ban for one Test or two ODIs. And finally, note that Johnson got away with a mere 10 per cent of his fees.

Had there been a review system for match officials, Broad would have been put out to pasture ages ago. There isn’t, so he isn’t
By the way, when he was a player, Broad was no spring flower and was known for his petulant nature and brushes with the "spirit of cricket". Here he is in Sydney, roughly 21 years ago, smashing the stumps after getting out:

He should be happy he played in an era when there were no Match Referees or maybe it would not have mattered. Someone as inept as himself may have been the Referee and would have "punished" him with a 10% match fee fine for that transgression while giving the off-stump a Test match ban for letting itself get uprooted.

His CricInfo profile says it all, really.

P.S. Even as I type this Shane Watson has gone and taunted Chris Gayle after dismissing him in the second innings. It will be interesting to see whether he gets a 10% fine or just a warning from Broad.

Update: As I suspected, Shane Watson got off with a lenient sentence - a 15% match fee fine.
Shane is a very energetic and enthusiastic bowler but on this occasion he has gone too far by running down the wicket screaming, thereby not showing due respect for the opponent," Broad said. "While handing down the punishment, I took into account that Shane admitted his mistake by pleading guilty."
Wow, Mr. Broad. Do you even realize how disgustingly warped your reasoning is? Shane Watson is a chocolate-boy who happens to have "gone too far" so naturally you pull a 15% fine out of the sky. On top of it, he pleaded guilty, so he gets a more lenient sentence? Too bad the West Indies Cricket Board does not have to guts to question the ICC about this. Tony Cozier is the lone dissenting voice I hear, but even he stops short of pulling his punches.

Passing grade

The last couple of weeks have been hectic to say the least. Apart from staying up all night to watch India and Sri Lanka duke it out in the Test series, I have also been winding down my teaching responsibilities.

As of today all term papers have been red-inked, grades assigned, committee meetings for the calendar year completed, and now a brief holiday beckons. For some time I have been bottling up thoughts and feelings in the far recesses of the mind (or my Gmail account). Be warned, my friends, a deluge is about to commence.

Here's a sneak preview of one such thing...the advent of winter.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Polished pursuit of perfection

Karan Johar likes directing movies with Shah Rukh Khan in them. His latest - My name is Khan - is no different. Based on the preview, which was released recently, it seems to be a mishmash with many different themes running through it. In other words - a typical Bollywood melodrama.

Let the tears roll!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Silent storm

Here's a short movie featuring Buster Keaton. Looks very simplistic but must have taken a lot of time to set up and film. Wow!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Et tu, CricInfo?

I have never hidden my liking for CricInfo, the "home of cricket on the Internet". The writers are top-notch, the reporting is rarely hyperbolic with both sides of issues given equal time, the match coverages are brilliant,...well, there are many more such examples, all good things for sports website.

But that does not mean they do not occasionally disappoint me. Most cricket-related websites give lip-service to match reports and my common grouse is that they provide no insight into the happenings of the game. If I could have written the same report without watching a single minute of the match just based on the scorecard, then the scribe was not reporting but just regurgitating.

Imagine my disappointment this morning when I looked up CricInfo's "reports" on the Ranji Trophy matches currently being played. Please read through it and tell me one case where something beyond the scorecard is provided. *sigh*

Here's a sample of the "report":
Uttar Pradesh resumed the third day needing 183 to get with eight wickets in hand and lost five of them en route to a win that took them to the quarter-finals of the Ranji Trophy's Super League. Mohammad Kaif, batting at No. 3, added 40 runs to his overnight score even as Shivakant Shukla added just one to his, dismissed in the first over of the day, but really aiding UP's charge to victory was Parvinder Singh. Parvinder atoned for a first-innings duck with 62 from 95 balls, studded with ten boundaries, and added 93 with Kaif. The pair was dismissed in relative succession - within five overs and ten runs of each other - but handy cameos from Bhuvneshwar Kumar (29) and Piyush Chawla (21) helped UP chase their target of 236 with three wickets remaining. UP are now second in their group's points table with 18, second to Karnataka's 23. Bengal, after this defeat, sit at fifth place with eight points.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Running diary - Day 5: Zaheer's pfeiffer takes India to #1

This is a running diary that I will keep updating periodically with random thoughts as and when they occur during the day's play of the third Test between India and Sri Lanka being played at Mumbai (December 2-6, 2009). I shall keep it in chronological order so the latest additions will be at the tail end of the diary. Also, since this is being done on the fly, excuse the spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Running diary - Day 1: Dilshan and Mathews keep India at bay

Running diary - Day 2: One word - Sehwag

Running diary - Day 3: Attritional ascendency by India

Running diary - Day 4: Chip, chip, chip

It is 9:30pm CDT and with 30 minutes to go for the start of the fifth day's play, I am making the following predictions. If you read this before the match, could you acknowledge it so I cannot be accused of making them up after the fact? Here are my predictions:

a) Kumar Sangakkara will be out quite soon on Day 5.
b) The Sri Lankan tail will wag, particularly Muttaiah Muralitharan.
c) Sri Lanka will avoid the follow-on.
d) India will require a small amount (let's say around 20) to win.
e) They will do so for the loss of one wicket (maybe a final wicket for Murali).

Okay, let's see how it pans out.

10:03pm: Kumar Sangakkara gets a thick outside edge to the (vacant) third man fence past gully off Zaheer Khan. And off the third ball, prediction #1 comes true for me!! Sangakkara hangs his bat out to a ball that moves off the seam and a routine edge to MS Dhoni behind the stumps. Another chip. Three chips to go. ZAK's three wickets in the innings are Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera, and Kumar Sangakkara - three of the top 4 run-getters in Test cricket in 2009. (The fourth is Tillakaratne Dilshan).

55 runs behind, 3 wickets in hand. Rangana Herath replaces the departing Sangakkara.

10:08pm: Harbhajan Singh comes on at the other end. Around the wicket to the left-handed Herath with two slips and a forward short-leg. Harbhajan hits his straps right away, ball after ball lands just outside the off-stump and beats the batsman 3 out of the first 4 balls. The fifth is chipped in the air to midwicket for a single. The last ball is edged to square-leg by the right-handed Nuwan Kulasekara for another run.

10:19pm: Herath tries to pull ZAK and the ball hits the bat-maker's sticker and pops up towards midwicket where Pragran Ojha comes racing in and takes a sharp catch diving forward. Another chip. ZAK gets a good chance to pick up a Michelle Pfeiffer. (51 runs needed, 2 wickets remaining). Murali comes in and slogs the very first one for four through midwicket. Will ZAK bowl a bouncer to Murali? No, he doesn't and Murali swings over midwicket, one bounce to the fence. ZAK comes around the wicket and bowls a bouncer that Murali twists out of the way of and top edges to the fine leg fence!

Over in college football, Nebraska takes a 12-10 lead over #3 ranked Texas. The BCS is about to implode!

10:31pm: ZAK gets his Pfeiffer. Kulasekara jumps onto his backfoot to defend a short-pitched ball and edges it towards VVS Laxman who takes a very comfortable catch. Another chip.

A few runs to get, one wicket left.

Texas manages to get two big penalties courtesy Nebraska and with a second to go, attempts a game-winning field goal.....and makes it! Okay, BCS folks heave a sigh of relief. Alabama-Texas for the national championship. Certainly not a pairing I expected or hoped for.

10:36pm: Murali nearly hits a six, Sehwag nearly takes a catch, in the end it is two runs to the batsman. Two balls later, Murali swipes in his own style and he edges it behind the stumps for Dhoni to fittingly take the catch to win the Test. India reaches #1. At least in the ICC rankings table. Dhoni leads India to another Test win, rapidly climbing up the charts of India's successful Test captains.

Of the five predictions I made only the first two came true. 40 percent success rate. I'll take it in return for the Test win.

Life resumes for me. It has been an enjoyable 3 weeks for me. I hope you had fun reading these diaries, too.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Running Diary - Day 4: Chip, chip, chip

This is a running diary that I will keep updating periodically with random thoughts as and when they occur during the day's play of the third Test between India and Sri Lanka being played at Mumbai (December 2-6, 2009). I shall keep it in chronological order so the latest additions will be at the tail end of the diary. Also, since this is being done on the fly, excuse the spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Running diary - Day 1: Dilshan and Mathews keep India at bay

Running diary - Day 2: One word - Sehwag

Running diary - Day 3: Attritional ascendency by India

Day 4 is the make-or-break day for this Test. I believe that the Test will end today with an Indian win. But I also am convinced that Sangakkara will get his maiden century in India in a losing cause. The 4 Indian bowlers are, collectively, in a much better frame of mind than the Sri Lankan bowlers. Sri Lanka's opener, Tillakaratne Dilshan, is as close as any batsman is to India's Virender Sehwag and he will need to duplicate Sehwag's feat. Today's bowlers abhor getting their analyses ruined in the runs column and are prepared to get fewer wickets in search of a lighter economy rate. Therefore, what Sri Lanka needs to do is to keep looking for runs. Quick runs. That will spread the field and make it easier for them to bat India out of the Test.

In the first Test of this series India trailed Sri Lanka by 334 runs after the first innings and batted for the good part of two days (129 overs with an additional 6 available, I believe) to draw the Test. Sri Lanka has to believe that they can do unto India what the home folks did to them. The Sri Lankans have bravely talked about giving India a target of 150 on the last day. To do that they needs to score 500 runs. It is imperative they get at least about 350 of that today. Let's see if they mean what they say or it is just talk.

As far as India is concerned, the players know that they need 10 balls to go their way and have 10 batsmen to clean up. The trap has been set, and they will wait for the batsmen to fall one by one. This is not a pitch where the bowlers can run through a batting order, but there is enough help for the bowlers to keep their head in the game.

Okay, here we go.

10:00pm: Zaheer Khan to start the day. Look for him to start with a couple of looseners. Hah! ZAK probably has heard me and bowls two bouncers in the first four balls. The second one is fortuitously top edged by Dilshan to the fine leg fence. Encouraging signs for the fans of both teams. ZAK seems more into it already and induced a semi-false shot from Dilshan. On the other hand, the Sri Lankans should be happy that Dilshan is prepared to take the bowling on. Encouraging signs.

10:05pm: MS Dhoni entrusts Harbhajan Singh with the ball at the other end. Let's see how Harbhajan attacks and, more importantly, how does he respond if he is attacked. Luckily for him the batsman facing him is Tharanga Paranavitana. Tharanga is content to defend and gives Harbhajan a gift of a maiden to start the day. Two slips and forward short leg for Harbhajan, incidentally.

10:10pm: ZAK is content for now to bowl outside the off-stump and the openers are watchful for the ball that comes in. Come in it does, and Dilshan helps himself to a single to square-leg. The only run in that over. Looks like the plan is to keep it tight from one end while Harbhajan bowls a more aggressive line from the other.

10:14pm: I give Harbhajan a lot of grief at times and deservedly so, but so far today he has bowled an attacking line. A backward short-leg is added to the field and Dilshan flicks it between the keeper and the backward short-leg fielder for a four. That was close. The next ball is swept with full gusto and Murali Vijay, at forward short-leg gets hammered on the thigh. Ouch!

Sri Lanka 22 for no loss in 7 overs. Dilshan 13, Tharanga 9. Trail by 311 runs.

10:22pm: ZAK overpitches and Dilshan channels his Delhi Daredevils captain's inner muse and drills it to cover where a tumbling Yuvraj Singh stops all runs but gets stung on his forearm in the process. Dilshan is adopting Plan B for Sri Lanka - look to injure the Indians. Plan A, of course, involves troubling the scorer all day. Harbhajan is bowling over the wicket and Dilshan, inexplicably, chooses to raise his bat very high and pad it away. I find it surprising when batsmen do that. You are already outside the off-stump, use your bat to cover the line and play it. I have seen Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar given out LBW while shouldering arms. (The SRT dismissal was when the fellow was in the 90's, Collingwood was the bowler, and Simon Taufel the umpire).

10:31pm: Harbhajan is starting to bowl the irritating line of his, middle and leg to the right hander from over the wicket. The pitch is giving him tremendous bounce and turn and he should try to get it from off or just outside the off-stump. Gives up 4 byes doing that. Oh no!!! Dilshan gets a second shocker in the Test. He shouldered arms to Hanbhajan. The ball was fuller and struck him on the underside of the front thigh but the ball was drifting down the leg side even as it hit him and Darryl Harper gives him out! I hate to say it but shouldering arms is a dangerous proposition with today's umpires. Especially since Shane Warne convinced them that batsmen could be given out shouldering arms and on the front foot. 15 years ago, Dishan could have done it all day (and indeed Jimmy Padams Adams famously did do in one series in India in 1994-95).

But Dilshan, you have such a wonderful array of strokes, why are you padding them away and giving the umpire a chance to get involved?

30 for 1 in 9 overs. Sri Lanka trail by 303 runs.

10:35pm: ZAK probes away outside Kumar Sangakkara's off-stump but Kumar ignores everything. ZAK skips away with a maiden.

10:40pm: Harbhajan probes away past the off-stump but bowls one shorter than the rest and Sangakkara simply cuts away very sweetly for a four. Australia remembers this shot of his very well.

10:45pm: ZAK is not able to do too much with the ball today. Paranavitana glides the ball through the 2 slip-1 gully cordon for a four to the vacant third man region. Other than that it was an uneventful over. Tharanga is looking solid here but in a way that is totally different from the first innings where he seemed to be in a hurry to get runs.

10:49pm: Harbhajan is mixing it up to both batsmen from around the wicket (both are left-handed) but it is clear he prefers bowling to right-handers. Oooh, he goes over the wicket and sends one in that just goes past the edge of the bat.

40 for 1 in 13 overs. Tharanga on 14, Sangakkara on 6. Sri Lanka trail by 293 runs.

10:54pm: Sreesanth is introduced for the first time. Let's see how he fares on this pitch that offers more bounce than the one in the previous Test where he did so well. A fairly steady over by him, no extravagant swing or bounce. Sangakkara lets him get away with a maiden. The captain is playing quite cautiously, probably mindful of the way he has gotten out all series long playing extravagant shots.

10:56pm: How did that ball miss the stump? Harbhajan bowls one at 97kmph and Sangakkara is beaten comprehensively and the ball just misses the off-stump. Lucky. Sangakkara counters by swinging away at the next one, misses and the Indians go up immediately appealing for a catch. Harper is not interested. I wonder what snicko will say.

Sreesanth and Harbhajan are bowling quite steadily but there is something missing. It may have to do with the fact that both batsmen are settled and pushing hard at the ball, waiting for the bowler to come to them to score runs.

Sri Lanka 49 for 1 in 18 overs. Tharanga on 21, Sangakkara on 8. Sr Lanka trail by 284 runs.

Tharanga is beginning to feel his oats. After producing the best cover drive of the innings for four, he then greets Pragyan Ojha, who is introduced into the attack, by repeatedly sweeping him, including once to cow corner for a four.

11:20pm: Ojha is bowling a bit too straight on the off-stump from over the wicket. The batsmen are waiting for the ball to turn and then either punching him or sweeping him for runs, Tharanga moreso than Sangakkara. Tharanga does it extremely well and picks up another four with a sweep.

11:31pm: ZAK is brought back to replace Sreesanth. I am surprised Sreesanth did not try to bowl around the wicket. Apart from being a change in line to the lefties, it would also create some rough for the spinners outside the off-stump. ZAK is played away cautiously by Taranga. Nothing much happening from either side. The game of cat and mouse is well under way.

67 for 1 in 24 overs. Tharanga 31, Sangakkara 16. Trail by 266 runs.

Tharanga is in the danger zone for him. A very good starter, he has shown a propensity to get out after working hard to get a decent innings going.

11:40pm: Ojha gets Sangakkara to flick agonizingly close to Dhoni's gloves. This was the way he got out in the first innings. Oooh...the replay shows that it was a little further away from Dhoni than I thought but not more than half a foot. By the way, earlier in the innings when the Indians were convinced they had Sangakkara caught by Dhoni, snicko showed that there was absolutely no contact between bat and ball. Tharanga jumps out and thumps Ojha to deep mid-on for four. Tharanga tries to repeat it and is beaten completely. Luckily for him the ball hits his pad and rolls away to first slip and he scampers back in time. Ojha is still flighting the ball in spite of being hit and the fielder has not been moved back. Good job.

11:43pm: ZAK drifts into Sangakkara's pads and is casually flicked through midwicket for four. ZAK is unable to do much here in terms of swing or speed and I think it is time to have a double-spin attack. Surely Harbhajan cannot already be tired, can he? Actually, Dhoni has shown in the past that he likes a fast bowler-spinner combination more than a double-spin attack. Also, in the afternoon it will be harder for the fast bowlers so he may be trying to extract as much as he can from them in the cooler morning hours.

11:46pm: Harbhajan comes into the attack. Looping it on the off-stump from round the wicket. A good line from him. Sangakkara is equal to the task and watchfully plays out the over. Ominously for India, Sangakkara looks a lot more relaxed.

11:51pm: Tharanga presents a straight face to a good length ball and the drive fetches four runs past mid-on. Sweet shot. ZAK comes back by beating Tharanga on the forward push. Small signs for ZAK but not enough to warrant many more overs for him. The Indians can squeeze in a couple of overs before lunch. Would be a good time to try Yuvraj or Sehwag or even SRT for one over.

82 for 1 in 28 overs. Tharanga on 41, Sangakkara on 21. Trail by 251 runs. I sense a wicket coming here. 50 run partnership between the duo. Good going. They need about 5 times this to feel safe.

11:54pm: Harbhajan continues over the wicket and bowls his quicker one at 97kmph. Tharanga goes on the backfoot and jabs it away. The next one is picture perfect, landing on middle stump and beating the forward prod. Dhoni collects the ball above his waist to his left.

Nope, no wicket there. Maiden for Harbhajan, though. Will please him immensely. 10-1-28-1. Just the type of analysis he strives for in ODIs.

11:58pm: Dhoni thinks like me! Sehwag into the attack, coming round the wicket to Sangakkara. Sangakkara defends and then taps it to short midwicket for a single. Four balls to go for lunch. Tharanga leans forward and defends the next two balls. Two balls to go. Shorter outside the off-stump, it climbs up and takes the splice of the bat and they get a single to point. The last ball is a b-e-a-u-t-y spinning past Sangakkara's forward thrust. Ooof! On top of it, since he took less than two overs to bowl it, India can squeeze in another over before lunch. The Sri Lankans should have wasted a little time there.

11:59pm: Tharanga is playing Harbhajan very cautiously with a very low backlift and is not even trying to score runs now. There are still some old-fashioned batsmen playing cricket these days. By the way, Dhoni, why do you have a deep point? Tharanga defends and gives Harbhajan another maiden.

84 for 1 in 31 overs. Tharanga on 42, Sangakkara on 22. Sri Lanka trail by 249 runs.

Sri Lanka scored 74 runs in that session. Based upon their current play and from the type of batsmen to follow, it is unlikely that they will cross India's score today. To do that they will need to score more than a run a ball for the rest of the day. I do not see that happening. Sadly, that will mean that they will always be under pressure and each time a wicket falls (if it does) the pressure ratchets up even more. But you knew that, didn't you?

Okay, time for a break. Be sure to return in 35 minutes.

12:40am: Sehwag continues after lunch. I like this. I was worried that he would be one and done. Sehwag is bowling with three close-in fielders and does not have a deep point. Sangakkara edges one to the left of Dravid...that was close. Sehwag getting good spin away from left-hander from round the wicket.

12:45am: Harbhajan is bowling with a deep point and Sunil Gavaskar (SMG) is tearing into him for such a defensive field. I agree with SMG's outburst here. India is leading by almost 250 runs and Harbhajan has a fielder for a bad ball. He is the second highest wicket taking off-spinner in the history of the game. MS Dhoni is unfortunately an accomplice in this endeavor. I wonder how many runs it will take before MS Dhoni and Harbhajan will bowl with a completely attacking field? Tharanga plays away a maiden, reinforcing Harbhajan's thoughts about the field. He is bowling with a perma-scowl on his face. Lighten up just a little bit, Harbhajan, you have a lot of bowling left to do.

12:51am: Sehwag is bowling without a deep point while Harbhajan does. Strange. Almost in response to that, Sangakkara cuts one away to deep point for four and (sigh) Dhoni responds by sending a fielder deep.

(Editor's note: Personal tangent). We had a bowler on our WVUCC team, AB, who occasionally tried to bowl a "faster one". He never got a wicket with it but was convinced that he could get the batsman out LBW. However, when he tried that ball he always pitched it short and would get thumped to the leg-side fence. In time our captain used to start with a deep midwicket for him. Unfortunately, it dawned on us a few games later that AB thought the deep midwicket fielder was a catching position and was now intentionally pitching his faster one short as he wanted the batsmen to hit it in the air. In all the years we played with him, AB never got a batsman out at deep midwicket and by the time his tenure with us was winding down he was bowling fewer and fewer overs. For some reason, as I watch the fielders in the deep for our #1 spinner, I am reminded of AB.

1:03am: Brad Hogg, on the commentary stint with SMG, is about to pick a fight with the Indian and does not even know it. Tharanga is distracted by some movement to the far left of the sightscreen and Hogg comments that a batsman who is distracted by the movement to the far edge of huge sightscreens (which are there so spectators can move freely behind them) is focusing on the wrong place. His focus should be on the bowler. SMG tries to counter it by saying that sometimes the batsman needs to have a completely clear field of vision so he can concentrate. Hogg continues on his point, oblivious to the fact that the batsman most bothered by sightscreen movement is SMG's favorite son SRT! Watch out, Hoggy!

The lefties are simply milking the gap at deep point, scoring 3-4 runs an over without a sweat. Plug the gap, Dhoni, plug the gap. Make the batsmen work for their runs.

By the way, over an hour ago I "sensed" a wicket was going to fall. I guess one hour is sufficient time to say that my sense was wrong.

102 for 1 in 41 overs. Tharanga on 47, Sangakkara on 34. Trail by 231 runs.

1:13am: Ojha replaces Sehwag, flights the ball, and Sangakkara wanders down to flick it for a couple. He cuts the next ball from in front of the stumps (Ojha is bowling round the wicket and spinning it into the lefty) for three runs. Harbhajan walks across and is advising Ojha to move the off-side fielder squarer and deeper. *sigh* Ojha continues to flight it, drawing Tharanga out of the crease for a defensive prod. Tharanga's scores in this series 35, 38, 20, 53, and 48*. Will he finally carry on to three figures this time at least?

1:17am: Tharanga simply angles the bat and runs the ball down to fine-leg for four runs to take him to his second fifty of the match. Well played, so far. Harbhajan switches to round the wicket. A better angle with two slips and a forward short-leg. Ravi Shastri advocates patience to the Indians saying that a wicket can easily lead to one or two more quick ones.

The two teams are settling into a familiar post-lunch dance. Ojha is beginning to draw the batsmen out of the crease more often. So far the batsmen have been content to pat him away. Harbhajan is bowling to a straighter field with less flight. Harbhajan asks for a silly point in addition to his forward short-leg and two slips.

117 for 1 in 45 overs. Sangakkara on 44, Thranga on 52. Trail by 216 runs.

1:31am: Sreesanth comes in to bowl just as Tharanga started batting in a cap. And Sreesanth strikes!! He pitches a ball on off-stump and swings it in to hit Tharanga plumb in front. There were two noises but it was just bat hitting pad well away from the ball. Tharanga looks unhappy but even he does not know he missed the ball. Hawkeye has the ball hitting the middle of the middle stump. Tharanga misses out on a start again.

The crowd wakes up again. Mahela Jayawardene at the crease.

Earlier today I talked about Jimmy Adams and his Padams nickname. I wandered over to CricInfo and checked out their All Today's Yesterdays feature and Jimmy Padams Adams is mentioned! Spooky! Check it out.

1:44am: Sreesanth is bowling full and on the stumps and Sangakkara and Mahela are extremely carefully playing him away. Sreesanth bowling really well. Sangakkara has been stuck on 44 for a long time.

125 for 2 in 48 overs. Sangakkara on 44, Mahela on 5. Trail by 208 runs.

Chip. Chip. Eight more chips to go for India. Patience is, indeed, the key. Drinks break.

1:55am: Harbhajan is settling into the restrictive role while Sreesanth prowls at the other end. He gets Mahela to edge miss a ball that just barely swung away enough and through to the keeper. His next ball is a double-edged doozy - an overpitched no-ball that is hit to gully for four. Sreesanth gets back at Mahela with an action replay of the good ball. Mahela looks at his bat wondering if it needs to be widened just a little bit.

Sri Lanka trail by 200 runs with 8 wickets left. The other details are incidental for now (unless milestones are reached) as Sri Lanka is batting too slowly to overhaul India today, meaning it will be battling for survival well into the fifth day. (For the record, there are 42 overs to go, so unless they score at almost 5 an over they will not cross India today).

Sangakkara has scored 6 runs in the last 33 balls he has faced. Inching towards a fifty (46*).

2:12am: ZAK is back and Mahela is back - in the pavilion. 21 consecutive dot balls were bowled by Ojha and ZAK and this is NOT the way to save a Test, my friends. ZAK changes line and length with impunity knowing he will not be thrashed and one such change, over the wicket across the batsman, results in Mahela leaning forward and letting his angled bat touch the ball on its way to the keeper. That is Dhoni's 99th catch and one of his most important yet. Mahela gone for 12.

Trail by 198 with 7 wickets left.

Samaraweera comes in to bat. Sangakkara has now scored 3 runs in the last 36 balls. Obviously he has not followed the fortunes of the Indian team too closely in the past 5 years. You CANNOT dead bat your way through two days of cricket. More so on a pitch that is giving some help to the bowlers.

2:30am: ZAK strikes again with a big hand from VVS Laxman. Bowling round the wicket, ZAK gets the ball to climb even as it holds its line. Samaraweera is forced into pushing his bat out and gets a thick outside edge that is snaffled by Laxman falling low to his left. He caught the ball near his ankle and the roll takes him right next to Dhoni. Dhoni leans over, confirms the catch has been taken and they exchange a high-five and then a big hug. Some inside joke there about the way the catch was taken as they laugh about something. Methinks it may have been that one of them felt that 2nd slip should not be there as no balls had gone that way in the Test so far.

Trail by 196 runs, 6 wickets in hand. Sangakkara is on 48, by the way.

2:34am: Sangakkara takes a single off Ojha to get to 50. This has got to be the most muted celebration of a 50 in his career. No joy for the skipper. The "final frontier" comment is coming back to haunt him just as it did Steve Waugh.

2:38am: Angelo Mathews gets a reprieve! Lunging forward to Ojha, who is bowling on a beautiful trajectory on and around off-stump, he edges the ball between the two slips. Neither of them moved to the ball. It could have been taken more easily by Laxman had he been lower to the ground. Mathews is going at it with "hard hands". Not a good strategy. Yesterday evening, the most notoriously hard-handed batsman there is, MS Dhoni, took to holding his bat so loosely it was twirling in his hand after the ball hit it when he was defending. Mathews should do something similar. But Ojha gets him before he can contemplate this strategy!!! Leaning forward to smother the spin, Mathews edges it and Dhoni takes a smart, sharp catch behind the stumps, the 100th of his Test career. Milestone Watch continues without even me needing to try hard.

That's tea. Sri Lanka trail by 189 runs with 5 wickets remaining.

Sangakkara will get a lot of good but misplaced press for that Test cricket oddity - the "lone fighter on a burning deck while staring at defeat" innings. But he has contributed directly to this predicament. At one point he was on 39 in 90 balls. Now he is on 50 in 151. He has taken 61 balls to score 11 runs and just added to the pressure by letting the bowlers settle into a rhythm. It is interesting for me to see how this is playing out from the other side of the fence, having been at the receiving end when India did this a few times in the past few years and lost Tests.

Ravi Shastri advocated patience when Sangakkara and Tharanga were stitching together a partnership. He reminded the viewer that on a pitch like this one wicket could lead to another quick one. As usual, he was wrong. One wicket has led to three quick ones. (Seriously though, good call, Ravi).

3:08am: Stop the presses! After bunting, defending, and ducking the first four balls, Sangakkara flicks the fifth one to the square-leg fence off Sreesanth! This sudden deluge of runs, all 4 of them, send sea gulls scurrying for cover in places as far away as Adelaide. Sangakkara reaches 1,000 Test runs for the calendar year. A list headed by Samaraweera, by the way.

3:19am: Sangakkara dances down the wicket to Ojha and hits a sweet-looking six over the sightscreen and follows that with a shimmy and a drive through cover. Finally, he is looking to spread the field and disrupt the bowler's rhythm. Something about barn doors and horses bolting comes to mind, however.

Sri Lanka trials by 168 runs with 5 wickets remaining.

3:32am: Sangakkara is looking to score more runs, probably trying to get close enough to a 100 before he runs out of partners. Prasanna Jayawardene is looking comfortable against ZAK and Ojha. Sangakkara has moved on to 74 now, while Prasanna is on 18. Indians have settled back into the waiting mode again. It is surely just a matter of time before the next wicket falls.

3:42am: Harbhajan replaces Ojha, eying a five-for. To do that he needs to take 4 of the last 5 wickets. Sangakkara plays him away quite easily.

3:47am: ZAK is replaced by Sehwag, who is greeted by Jayawardene with a slog swept six. Sehwag getting a taste of his own medicine. 54 run partnership in 65 balls. Prasanna sweeps again, but simply manages to top edge it! Oooh...reaches the fine leg fielder on the bounce. Close.

3:56am: 127 runs behind, Sri Lanka is playing more positively and reaping the rewards for it with a more spread out field, easier singles to get, and a general sense of security about their batting line-up, which was not there at tea.

4:01am: Ojha replaces Sehwag and he strikes immediately! Jayawardene went on the backfoot, playing for the turn, which was not there as Ojha bowled the arm ball. Struck right in front of the stumps and it was indeed a matter of time before another wicket fell, wasn't it?

125 runs behind with 4 wickets remaining. Secondary countdown: Sangakkara needs 19 runs for 100.

I am afraid that MS Dhoni will start to spread the field and give Sangakkara some easy singles in order to be able to bowl to the other batsmen. If I were him, I would not change it one bit. Let Sangakkara continue to work for every run and try to take wickets as and when you can. Nuwan Kulasekara, with a top score of 64 in Tests, comes to bat. Four close-in fielders on the off-side now. Kulasekara is out LBW. No!!! The umpire says not out. Hawkeye has the ball hitting middle and leg-stump 2/3rds of the way up the stump. It was another arm ball to a right hander. Ouch!

4:09am: Kulasekara is a very popular young man. No less than 5 fielders, the wicket-keeper, and the bowler are close-in to him, within touching distance. A visibly moved Kulasekara reacts by pretending to be unmoved thereby reducing Harbhajan close to tears. His spirits perk up when ZAK reminds him that he did get a maiden out of it.

4:12am: Sangakkara has one eye on the scoreboard and dances down and thumps it to deep midwicket for a one-bounce four. 14 to get for him. Ojha helps him out with a ball so bad, it was going straight to leg slip. Kumar sweeps away for a four and reaches 90. A single to midwicket takes him to 91 and to safety. He will get a century easily now.

By the way, check out the first three sentences of my running diary for today. I may be jinxing myself, but I cannot help gloating right now. Maybe the reverse jinx will work and Sangakkara will not get to his century!

4:15am: Harbhajan is bowling to Sangakkara with all the leg-side fielders (four of them), barring forward short-leg, on the boundary. Sangakkara shows that he is playing for his personal milestone by refusing to take a single. This is just the 7th wicket partnership, captain. Surely, Kulasekara knows how to hold a bat. Your team needs the runs and not for you to be shielding the tailenders so soon.

4:21am: Ojha tries to bore Sangakkara to death by bowling so he can hit it all the way to the boundary on the leg-side, but he refuses the single and painfully watches the ball roll all the way before playing the next ball. He may as well save himself the energy by simply defending the ball. He does dance down to the last ball and hits it over the midwicket fielder for a four to get to 96.

4:31am: Sangakkara meets his date with destiny, getting to 100 with a four through midwicket. He celebrates it with two more fours through cover. Handsome, handsome cover drives. Vintage Sangakkara.

91 runs behind with 4 wickets remaining.

Only 8 overs left today. By golly, it looks like the Test will stretch to a 5th day, gladdening the heart of the Treasurer of the BCCI. Sangakkara takes Zaheer Khan to extra cover and then third man for successive boundaries. 5 boundaries since the new ball was taken. Sangakkara dealing in multiples of four. Only 21 more boundaries required to tie the scores.

4:54am: Sangakkara produces the sweetest, high-elbow straight drive for four, followed by a glide to deep square-leg. Cashing in with boundaries that are on offer.

65 runs behind with 4 wickets remaining. Kulasekara has held strong for over an hour. He has contributed 9 runs to a 60 run partnership. Two overs to go for close of play.

5:08am: Harbhajan gets six balls at Kulasekara and bowls three of them outside the leg stump. He gets his maiden, though. Small victories.

5:09am: Sehwag comes on for the penultimate over of the day. Sangakkara refusing to take singles, still unsure about Kulasekara's ability to flat bat everything. Surprisingly, Sehwag gives up a single off the last ball and Sangakkara will bat the last over. He is playing nightwatchman to Kulasekara. Talk about role reversal! Sangakkara has been the nightwatchman for about 70 minutes now.

5:12am: Sangakkara takes a wide offering from Harbhajan and hits it in the air past cover for a four. Takes a single to get off strike and will go into the 5th day unbeaten on 133. Kulasekara is batting on 9 in 45 balls.

Okay, so my prediction of an India win today did not materialize. But they are primed to pick up the win tomorrow. It is a matter of time and they have plenty of it - one whole day and 90 overs of it. My other prediction of Sangakkara scoring a century has come true. This innings will cement over the cracks in the batting edifice that appeared until now, as such centuries are wont to do. Yes, it was a high quality innings but only after he eschewed the ultra-defensive approach that doomed their innings in the mid-day period.

Sri Lanka trail by 59 runs. I expect a fairly quick finish to the game tomorrow. And then I can go to bed at a decent hour! Good night.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Running Diary - Day 3: Attritional ascendency by India

This is a running diary that I will keep updating periodically with random thoughts as and when they occur during the day's play of the third Test between India and Sri Lanka being played at Mumbai (December 2-6, 2009). I shall keep it in chronological order so the latest additions will be at the tail end of the diary. Also, since this is being done on the fly, excuse the spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Running diary - Day 1: Dilshan and Mathews keep India at bay

Running diary - Day 2: One word - Sehwag

9:50pm: Day 3 promises to be a lot of fun. I am curious to see how Virender Sehwag feels this morning. I sense that he may have blown his chance to get to 300 yesterday. Ignoring the score, I hope Sangakkara begins the day with an attacking field, looking to get the batsmen out. That is Sri Lanka's only hope. If they spread the field as soon as the ball is hit to the boundary they will simply be playing for time. With 3 days to go, time is a commodity in great supply for India.

India 443 for 1 in 79 overs. Sehwag on 284, Rahul Dravid on 62.

9:58am: Sunil Gavaskar (SMG) does a very odd pitch report speaking "for" all the players involved in the match. For Sehwag the pitch report is just a little ritual that is done before the day gets started. The umpires are on their way to the middle and SMG and Ravi Shastri are doing the commentary, no doubt excited about the impending milestones that the Indian team and its players can leave behind in their wake. All of this is disregarding Sri Lanka. The field placement to start the day's play will tell us a lot about the mindset of the visitors.

10:01pm: Rangana Herath to start, just one slip and short mid-off in place. After watchfully playing away the first five balls, Sehwag hits the ball hard to sweeper cover for the first run of the day.

10:05pm: Muttaiah Muralitharan at the other end to Sehwag. Just a forward short-leg and short midwicket close-in. Murali starts round the wicket and Sehwag defends the first three balls. Sehwag delicately late cuts the fourth for a couple of runs to third man. Repeats the shot for a single this time. Murali finishes the cheapest over of the innings for him, giving away just 3 runs in that. 70 maiden-less overs and counting for the maestro.

10:10pm: Sehwag punches Herath off the backfoot to deep midwicket and hurries through for an easy two and follows that with a single. Into the 290's here. Rahul Dravid plays at and misses a sharply spinning ball and Dravid hits the ground but the Sri Lankans are convinced they got the man. Clearly missed everything on the replay and Dravid's bat did hit the ground. Dravid gets mad! He dances down the wicket and sends the ball way over long-on for a six.

456 for 1 in 82 overs. Sehwag on 291, Dravid on 68.

10:13pm: Another late cut by Sehwag for a brace, taking the ball from in front of off-stump. The next ball is looped in and Sehwag tamely bunts it back straight to Murali who juggles the ball but takes it on the second try. Sehwag out for 293.

10:24pm: Sachin Tendulkar (SRT) walks in at 458 for 2. He takes on Murali and paddle sweeps him for four and then jumps out and thumps him through midwicket for another four.

10:26pm: There is an awkward hush around the stadium now that Viru is out and the match has settled into a normal Test mode. Herath completes a tidy over in which he gave just a couple of runs to deep fine-leg.

10:29pm: Murali continues round the wicket and SRT misses a couple of paddle sweeps. Gives up and flicks it instead for a single. Test match batting for Dravid, defending away safely, bat in front of the pad. Murali is energized now, flighting and getting bite and bounce from the wicket.

10:32pm: Herath bowls the worst ball I have seen him bowl in three Tests, short and on the leg-side. SRT leans back and swings it will full gusto to the midwicket fence. The next ball elicits a Dhoni double to the square-leg umpire. SRT looking like he wants a move on today. The latent ghost of Sehwag may be hanging around in Viru's role model.

481 for 2 in 88 overs. Dravid on 74, SRT on 18. India lead by 93.

10:35pm: SRT eats up a ball wide outside the leg stump from Murali and gets his 4th boundary of the day with a paddle sweep. The rest of the over is negotiated quietly. Murali is bowling with a forward short-leg and a leg slip in place while coming round the wicket. He has the wicket of Sehwag so he is smiling quite a bit.

10:38pm: Chanaka Welegadara comes on now, replacing the off-color Herath. Bowling wide of the off-stump to a solitary slip and a save-the-boundary field. No intent being shown by Sangakkara to try to take wickets. One no-ball in the over and the other balls harmlessly left until the last ball of the over which is on the same line and Dravid loses his patience, chases it and edges it to the keeper. Uncharacteristic dismissal but similar to ones he suffered in Australia at the hands of Mitchell Johnson.

Dravid out for 74. VVS Laxman comes in now. 487 for 3 in 90 overs. SRT is still there on 22.

10:45pm: Murali goes over the wicket for the first time and the leg slip disappears. SRT plays a typical SRT drive through covers for a simple boundary. Then flicks a single to bring Laxman on strike for one ball. Murali goes back to round the wicket but easily patted away by Laxman.

10:50pm: Welegedara is given a 6-3 field but bowls on SRT's pads and gets clipped away for a couple. Now he resumes his wide of the off-stump line. Better line from Sri Lanka's perspective. Welegedara asks for and get a short midwicket and bowls a slower ball but SRT gently pats it away. The last ball is a bouncer that is very easily negotiated by the little fellow who sits down at the crease.

10:54pm: Murali coming round the wicket to a strong leg-side field. A Laxman field. forward short-leg, leg slip, short fine-leg, short square-leg and short midwicket stopping the flick that he plays so easily. Laxman content to play Murali off the backfoot. The field is restricting him and Murali finally bowls a maiden after 75 consecutive non-maiden overs. Wow.

10:58pm: Welegedara is bowling wide of the stumps but gives up a single off the last ball. Maiden thwarted and Sri Lanka does not get it's back-to-back maidens.

11:02pm: Murali is bowling wide outside the leg-stump and a short ball is missed out on by Laxman. The Sri Lankans appeal for a catch but Darryl Harper refuses the request. Murali ends the over with no further runs and drinks are taken.

The first hour has produced 54 runs but at the cost of two wickets for India. Laxman is not even trying to force the ball into gaps and is on 0 off 11 balls. SRT has also slowed down after a quick start. The last 4 overs have produced just 5 runs. Funnily, even though India has the 104 run lead they appear to be under some stress as they need to make this innings count and get a huge 300 plus lead.

11:10p: Welegedara continues after the drinks break and is keeping Laxman quiet. Laxman is just content to play with a short backlift. The entire momentum generated by Sehwag is gone. The Sri Lankans look a lot more active and happy and seeing Laxman in this defensive mood is buoying their spirits even further. Same pitch, same bowlers as the ones Sehwag played. What a contrast! Laxman finally gets to push it to cover and gets a single. Why is the fielder so deep, Sangakkara? You disappoint me so. Here you have a batsman who is afraid of hitting it too hard and you just give him a gap to exploit. Aaargh!

501 for 3 in 96 overs. Laxman on 1, SRT on 34.

11:14pm: I wonder how Sehwag would have played Murali who is still bowling to the Laxman field and getting away with it, keeping Laxman quiet. Laxman continues to try to pierce the tight field and finally gets through for his second run.

11:17pm: Herath comes back. Surely he will bowl over the wicket and outside the leg-stump. Nope, he comes round the wicket to SRT. A couple of singles to both batsmen result and nothing much happens.

11:21pm: Flick-drive from Laxman for a couple of runs to deep midwicket. A few balls later he just taps to short point and gets another single. Katra katra...

508 for 3 in 99 overs. SRT on 36, VVS on 6.

11:25pm: Herath is bowling outside the off-stump and Laxman and SRT clean up to the tune of 6 runs in the cover region. I think Herath is trying to set them up for the carrom ball. Bowls it but Laxman leans forward and pats it to midwicket.

514 for 3 in 100 overs. SRT on 38, VVS on 10. India lead by 121.

11:28pm: The crowd is starting to get back into it, cheering every single from SRT now. They are slowly getting over the disappointment of losing Sehwag's brand of entertainment. 5 men around Laxman to stop the flick shot, a testament to how worrisome his various flicks are to the fielding team. So far the field is succeeding very well and Laxman repeatedly finds the fielders. This is the same type of field that was used to slow down Laxman in the first Test when he was trying to give the strike to SRT, who was batting in sight of his century. It worked then, it is working now.

11:33pm: SRT gets two runs from a paddle sweep but otherwise is finding it hard to get runs. At the other end, Murali pitches it short and Laxman goes over the packed field with a pull shot that bounces a couple of times before crossing the square-leg boundary. Bad ball by Murali. Then Laxman walks way back into his crease and flicks it past leg slip for a sharp single to short fine-leg.

522 for 3 in 103 overs. SRT on 41 and Laxman on 15.

11:40pm: SRT takes the last ball of the over and sweeps it conventionally to deep square leg for his first boundary in ages. The first real signs of intent from the man in over half an hour. Laxman's stodginess is rubbing off on SRT. Is this a sign he may be trying to break the shackles? The new ball is available now and, yes, the Sri Lankans take it right away.

11:42pm: Nuwan Kulasekara is entrusted with the new ball. Bowling to just two slips and a short cover in close on the off and a short mid-on on the on-side. The rest of the fielders are about 3/4th's of the way to the boundary. Laxman exploits the distance to deep point to get off the strike. SRT is beaten by a slightly moving ball from Kulasekara and the next ball is watchfully left by him. There was width on offer but SRT is not biting.

528 for 3 in 105 overs. Run rate has been falling today and it is just above 5 now. Laxman on 17, SRT on 45.

11:52pm: Two runs in that over and with the score at 530 in 106 overs, the run rate is exactly 5. The dip continues. SRT is on 46, Laxman on 18. 50 balls into his innings, Laxman hits the first authentic Laxman shot, a punch that was all timing, racing away to the cover boundary.

Last over before lunch coming up and SRT on strike to Welegedara. Laxman on 22, SRT on 47. India lead by 142 runs. SRT is watchful and takes a single off the fifth ball of the over when Welegedara finally moves onto SRT's pads. VVS defends the last ball and takes us to lunch. India has scored 93 runs in this session for the loss of two wickets. What a contrast to yesterday.

It has been a fairly dull morning with the Sri Lankans and the Indians (post Sehwag) going back into the 1980's handbook on how to play Test cricket. Time for a break now. Be back in half an hour as the beast needs to be fed.

536 for 3 in 108 overs at lunch, SRT on 48, VVS on 22. India leads by 143 runs.

There are 4 hours of play to go (4.5 actually) and 60 overs left in the day. If India bats cautiously they can get 200 more taking the lead near 350. So, a push in the final couple of hours should take the lead over 400. Enough, I think. Let's see how the afternoon unfolds.

12:43am: Kulasekara continues. Two slips in place and that's it for close-in catchers. Three fielders in the cover to mid-off arc. SRT cuts to third man for a single. 50 run partnership in almost 20 overs. Sad way to consolidate the start from Sehwag. Laxman pulls to deep square-leg for a single. SRT gets beaten on the forward press as the ball moves away after pitching. He is looking for a single to take him to 50. I predict it will be a flick that gets him there. And it is a flick to deep fine-leg and his 54th Test 50 is on the board. The young man needs another 33 runs to get to 13,000 Test runs, by the way.

12:55am: The game has come to a standstill as neither batsman is even trying to push the ball off the square. The camera lingers on Sehwag in the dressing room, talking to Gary Kirsten. I wonder if he is calculating what the score would have been had he still been out there. It definitely would have been more than 540 by now, for sure. 6 singles since lunch in 3 overs.

1:06am: Since neither batsman is looking to take on the bowlers a slow dance is being played out. Sri Lanka is not actively trying to take wickets and India is not trying to force anything.

1:07am: As I say that, the first shot in anger is a hook by Laxman off Welegedara to the deep square leg boundary. The next ball is fuller and, anticipating that, Laxman flicks from ouside the off-stump to the long-on fence. A Laxman specialty that. Another shorter ball that is flicked through midwicket for a single. In three balls Laxman doubles the run output since lunch. It is also the best over of the day and there are 3 balls to go. The fourth ball is punched through cover where Sangakkara dives away to his left and slows the ball - two runs. The fifth is defended and so is the last one.

558 for 3 in 114 overs. Laxman on 39, SRT on 53. India lead by 165 runs. 55 overs to go.

1:13am: SRT is caught on the walk and the ball cuts through the gap between bat and pad and he is bowled by Kulasekara. SRT gone for 53 in 103 balls. I firmly believe the lack of intent did him in. SRT and Laxman allowed the bowlers to bowl where they wanted to without fear of being hit. 71 run partnership in 24 overs, of which 12 runs came in the last over. Slow going.

1:21am: Laxman glides Welegedara to the third man fence. He follows that with an Azhar-like twirl of the bat to a short-pitched ball outside the off-stump and the ball is smashed to deep point for another 4. The field spreads completely and Laxman simply flicks from outside the off-stump to midwicket for an easy single. Russell Arnold asks Ravi Shastri if Laxman is the best player of pace in the Indian team. Shastri ponders and drives around the SRT, Sehwag, Dravid, and Gambhir wagon and contends that VVS is a good player of pace but not the best. Unfortunately, he does not name his vote for the best player. He does add that if you talk about spin bowling then Laxman rises in the list because of his wrist work.

1:28am: Kulasekara is getting the ball to cut in, i.e. cut away from the left-hander, and beats Yuvraj on consecutive balls as the batsman was poking outside his off-stump. Typical early jitters for Yuvraj. Sri Lanka have to get him in the next 10 runs because if he gets going on this pitch he will have some fun.

1:29am: After a long, long time Murali is back in the attack. Yuvraj does have problems against Murali so this should be a good one. 7 fielders on the on-side for Laxman as Murali goes around the stumps and bowls a foot outside the stumps. Laxman still manages to flick in the gap between leg slip and short fine-leg and gets to his third 50 of this Test series. This time he has enough breathing room to make it a big one as India bats for time for another couple of sessions. Murali has a big smile on his face as he bowls to Yuvraj. It took three Tests for this but finally he seems to be enjoying bowling. Not seeing Sehwag in front of him is a big relief. Yuvraj leans forward and thumps the ball with a straight bat - two bounces into the long-off fence. Immediately Sangakkara sends mid-off back. Too soon Kumar. Have some faith in your bowler. Let Yuvraj try it again...

575 for 4 in 118 overs. Laxman on 50 and Yuvraj on 6. India lead by 182 runs with 51 overs to go.

1:38am: Kulasekara gives up two singles and then, off the last ball, watches helplessly as a proper ball in the corridor outside off-stump is timed away to the cover fence by Laxman. The bat did not cross the perpendicular after it hit the ball. The placement was superb, through the three fielders in that region. Vintage VVS.

1:40am: Short spell for Murali. Herath comes on. Maybe Murali wants to change ends. No, it looks like Murali is nursing his ring finger, which is one of his spinning fingers due to the weird wrist position he has for releasing the ball. Seems to be in some discomfort but is not leaving the field.

583 for 4 in 120 overs. Yuvraj on 7, Laxman on 57. India lead by 190 with 49 overs to go.

1:53am: I don't believe this! Yuvraj Singh jumps out of the crease to Herath, is beaten comprehensively, and Prasanna Jayawardene fails to even collect the ball. I would not have believed it if I had not seen it myself. It was a routine stumping for any keeper. Prasanna has dropped Sehwag's catches in the first two Tests and this time misses a stumping.

1:58am: Laxman paddle sweeps Murali on the bounce over leg-slip for a four. Oh no! He jumps out and tries to clean long-on. Instead the ball climbs high in the air and Kulasekara settles under it at mid-on. He just threw it away there. If anything, he should have tried to hit it inside out onto the off-side where there are just 2 fielders. Grrrr....Laxman is out for 62.

592 for 5 in 123 overs. Yuvraj on 11 and MS Dhoni joins him now. India lead by 199 runs with 46 overs to go.

2:02am: Yuvaj bludgeons a sweep shot to the square-leg fence. MS then edges a ball past slip and gets three runs to take India's total past 600. In spite of how huge it is, it is not big enough. India must ensure it does not need to bat again in this Test match.

2:16am: Yuvraj and Dhoni have been punching away in the gaps and taking singles. Sri lanka is keeping a tight leg-side field and bowling there but the gaps are there for these swift runners to exploit. Suddenly, against the grain, Yuvraj goes to clear deep mid-off and an easy catch by Mathew gives Herath a wicket. Yuvraj out for 23. Harbhajan takes a single and Dhoni lunging forward edges the ball between Mahela at first slip and Dilshan at second slip at waist height to the boundary. Herath is starting to get the ball to talk a little bit now.

615 for 6 in 128 overs. India lead by 222 runs with 42 overs to go. Dhoni is on 10.

Harbhajan Singh commits hara-kiri. Going for the reverse sweep for the second time in this series, Harbhajan donates a wicket to Murali. I hope he thinks about this when he is bowling and the batsmen refuse to give in so easily. The match is still very open. Very bizzare series of dismissals here with Laxman, Yuvraj, and Harbhajan just throwing their wickets away as if the lead is near 400. It is just 222. After this over there will still be another 220 overs left in this Test. Enough time for Sri Lanka to overhaul India's score, put up a total and put India under pressure on a 5th day pitch. Surely they don't think it is enough, do they?

2:35am: Dhoni is meshing into ODI mode here, scampering for two's and looking for singles. The worrisome aspect for me is that Murali is unable to make an impression on Zaheer Khan, who is able to play him away easily. If Murali is struggling against a tailender, what hope do the Indian bowlers have against the front-line batmen?

Possibly the last over before tea. Herath on to bowl to Dhoni who defends with such soft hands that the bat turns 180 degrees in his hands upon contact!

628 for 7 in 134 overs. Dhoni is on 20, ZAK on 3. India lead by 235 runs with 34 overs left in the day. Herath bowled the previous over so quickly, Murali has time to squeeze in another over to Dhoni. No damage done.

At tea India are 629 for 7 in 135 overs. Dhoni is on 21, ZAK on 3. India lead by 236 runs with 33 overs to go. I'll be back in 20 minutes.

3:04am: Dhoni begins with a Dhoni double to square-leg. Basically it refers to the situation wherein he drops the ball with soft hands towards the square-leg umpire and since the fielders on the boundary assume it is a simple single and come ambling in, he races across and completes two runs. Dhoni is not afraid to give the strike to ZAK, who is defending away competently.

3:07am: The commentators begin to indulge in their favorite parlor game - guessing when the batting team will/should declare. Ravi Shastri thinks that India should give itself an hour before close today to bowl at the Sri Lankans, with a lead of about 300 in the bag. Another Dhoni double is easily taken and those are the only runs of the over. Dhoni still hasn't transitioned to the slog over Dhoni. Content to deal in ones and the occasional two. Sri Lanka keeps a leg-side heavy field for Dhoni and a run-saving field for ZAK. Neither team is trying really hard to do anything different after the brief flurry of wickets.

I will write again when something different happens.

645 for 7 in 142 overs. Dhoni on 33, ZAK on 7. India lead by 252 runs with 26 overs to go.

3:33am: ZAK suddenly decides to swing away to long on where Kulasekara running backwards takes a great catch. Murali picks up gift wicket number 4. How unexpected was that? ZAK scored 7 runs in 51 balls in a partnership of 32 in as many as 16 overs. India has meandered along again.

647 for 8 in 145 overs. India lead by 254 with Dhoni on 33.

3:52am: Finally! Dhoni waltzes down and hits the biggest straight six of the match so far off Herath. The next ball is a Dhoni double to midwicket taking him to 49. The rest of the over is spent in trying to get that 50th run but he fails. The quest for the 50th run spills over into the next over but he is unable to put Murali away into a gap.

668 for 8. Lead is 275. Dhoni on 49, Sresanth on 7.

Eventually after spending about 11 balls on 49, Dhoni walks down the wicket and rolls the ball to long-on for a single to take him to the 17th fifty of his career. The next ball fetches a wicket as Sreesanth is trapped plumb in front of middle stump as he goes back to flick and misses. Sreesanth begins to walk even before the umpire gives the decision!

670 for 9 in 151.4 overs. Dhoni on 50. India lead by 277 runs with 17.2 overs left today.

4:15am: This is going nowhere. India is not getting any runs as Dhoni is not taking singles unless it is the last ball of the over or close to it. The other balls are battered away but there are so many fielders on the boundary that no fours are forthcoming. The last five overs have produced 5 runs. If I was Sri Lanka I would try to not get them out. Let India keep batting. The longer India bats, the less time Sri Lanka has to worry about batting.

4:25am: Dhoni is occasionally finding the boundary and now launches an even bigger six than the one he hit previously. Phew! When he connects they really go far. He broke a chair in the second tier of the stand. Dhoni moves on to 69, Ojha is on 1. India's lead is now 298 runs.

4:31am: Welegedara bowls a bouncer and Dhoni swivels and smashes it for six over square leg. Moves on to 75, 3 balls still to go in the over. 698 for 9.

4:35am: Dhoni launches into another straight shot for a six off Herath. India crosses into the 700's. Herath still persists with a slip. Hope springs eternal. Dhoni moves onto 83.

(SMG reminds us that India has scored 261 runs in the whole day so far today, whereas Sehwag scored 284 runs all by himself yesterday.)

4:42am: Dhoni steps out to the leg-side and flat bats it to midwicket for another six. This is the highest score ever made by India in Tests. The shot he hit was nothing more than a flickish jab that is his specialty.

711 for 9 in 162 overs. Dhoni is on 89. India's lead is 318 runs. Ojha has contributed one run to the 41 run partnership so far.

4:6am: A double to the gap at midwicket takes Dhoni to 91. A fierce cut shot is dropped by the point fielder. It was a fiercely hit ball so we should applaud the fielder for stopping a four. The last ball is edged by Ojha for a four to the vacant third man area. Bonus runs, these.

4:51am: Dhoni sweeps and runs hard for a double and then, since he is on 94, he waltzes down the wicket and hits the longest six he has hit all day, I think, to reach his second 100 of the series. The irony is that Sangakkara does not have a century in the series and Dhoni has two. Whodathunk it? Dhoni went from 50 to 100 with Ojha for company. Ojha's contribution: 5 runs in 14 balls to the partnership of 56 runs.

Final damage: India scores 726 for 9 declared, a lead of 333 runs. Dhoni's 100 came in 154 balls with 3 fours and 6 sixes. At one point Dhoni was on 52 in 115 balls with 1 four and 1 six. After that he scored 48 runs in 39 balls with 5 sixes and 2 fours. Oh, you did know that Dhoni declared as soon as he got to his century, right? Sri Lanka has to bat three overs today.

5:00am: Harbhajan Singh has the ball to start the innings. Bowling to two slips, silly point and forward short-leg. Naturally, Harbhajan drifts down the leg-side and is glanced away to the boundary by Tharanga Paranavitana. Harbhajan is bowling round the wicket, by the way.

5:05am: Pragyan Ojha is going to bowl the second over. Tillakaratne Dilshan punches the ball to deep cover and gets a couple. The next ball sees him coming dancing down the wicket and driving to mid-off for a quick single. Slip, silly point, forward short-leg and backward short-leg for Tharanga. Tharanga's playing well forward and smothering the spin. Ohh, inner edges the ball but is lucky that it hits his pad and rolls down the edge of the bat. He ends the over with a gentle flick to midwicket to add to his score.

8 for no loss in 2 overs. Last over of the day coming up. Harbhajan is safely negotiated away by the two and Sri Lanka has all 10 wickets in hand for a two day battle to come.

11 for no loss in 3 overs. 180 overs to go in the Test. Sri Lanka trail by 322 runs.

Time to sleep. Good night.