Sunday, March 06, 2011

Spin it to win it

I had originally intended to give the India-Ireland match a miss until I was asked to take a peek at Kevin O'Brien. (More specifically, his heroics against England a few days ago). I am glad I stayed up all night and watched cricket, including the England-South Africa game (until I switched over to the India game with Amla and de Villiers cruising towards a regulation win).

Some things that stood out for me:

a) It was soooooo much fun to see a classical off-spinner in action, tormenting the batsmen ball after ball and not a doosra in sight. He looked like he could take a wicket with every ball and, not surprisingly, raised the hopes of his teammates, who then forgot about the score and attacked the wickets with great gusto. Too bad that off-spinner is Graeme Swann and not Harbhajan Singh.

By the way, Graeme Swann's combined analysis after 4 games - 39-3-170-7. Economy Singh's analysis after 3 games - 29-1-128-2. Whose home grounds are these again?

b) In 2003, before the World Cup final started I felt that Ganguly had made two mistakes - selecting Economy over Anil Kumble and entrusting the opening over to Zaheer Khan and not Srinath. The first over set the stage for the rest of the final. Today, ZAK is a different bowler and it showed in as impeccable a first over as you can imagine. He got only two wickets in his spell and should have had more if India had a half-way decent 2nd slip fielder and not a make-shift one. For a few minutes there, I just imagined it was ZAK breaching through Ponting's defences and not Stirling's. Life was good in my alternate universe.

c) For a long time, if you were not transcendent in one particular skill, the route into a cricket team was to start out as a bowler who could bat and then transition into a batsman who occasionally bowled. (And not just in India as folks like Dilshan and Samaraweera will attest). Today the roles are shifting. Folks who have reputations as batsmen first are becoming wicket-taking bowlers. Shahid Afridi and Yuvraj Singh are prime examples.

For the past few months, it is the bowling arrow in his quiver that has ensured that Yuvraj stays in the team ahead of the likes of Kohli and Raina. Today he is our best wicket-taking spin option. *sigh* . His batting is still subdued, like a fellow who knows how to bat but has forgotten what it means to do so. Once in a while he flashes those shots - the ones he times so impeccably that adjectives such as imperious and dismissive are attached to it.

If there is someone in world cricket who times a ball better when on song than Yuvraj does, I'd like to see him bat.

d) The team with the best and most varied attack is South Africa. They have pace bowlers to die for and spin bowling options who double up as excellent fielders. In fact, pound for pound, it may be the best fielding unit among the favorites (Ireland was also spectacular in the field today). Couple that with a batting line-up that boasts the two top-ranked batsmen in ODI cricket (and neither is named Smith or Kallis) and you have all the ingredients for an undisputed favorite. Unfortunately, losing from seemingly-impregnable situations is their historic bugaboo and that came back to haunt them today.

Do they have effigy-makers in South Africa?

e) Wonder of wonders, with his very first words in response to the (always) hyperventilating Ravi Shastri, MS Dhoni praised the Irish team! Surely, he does not read my blog, does he? I am glad he has realized that it takes two teams to play a game and, hopefully, this isn't an aberration. His next test will come (after the World Cup, I hope) when he loses a game and is magnanimous about the other team's role in his defeat.

Now I shall retreat into my burrow until summoned to watch another game.

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