Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Change is everything

Virat Kohli has captained India in 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 Test matches*. The most incredible fact that I can report from this is that India has never fielded the SAME playing 11 in consecutive matches under his watch. Every match has featured a change from the previous one.

Update: Sourav Ganguly once had a 29 Test streak like this as captain. That's done and dusted with now!

India has lost only 3 Tests under Kohli. I guess there is some method to his madness. His overall record sits at - 32 Tests captained, 21 wins, 3 losses, 8 draws.

For comparison:
MS. Dhoni: 60 Tests, 27 wins, 18 losses,  15 draws
Sourav Ganguly: 49 Tests, 21 wins, 13 losses, 15 draws


P.S. Yes, I know that injuries have forced his hand on multiple occasions.

* Updated as of the start of the Delhi Test December 2017 against Sri Lanka

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The razor's edge of tomorrow

Picture this: India is batting in the third inning of a Test match. It is midway through Day 4 and the team is trailing by 125 runs. One need not know too much about Indian cricketing history to know how the rest of the story plays out. In an attempt to play for a draw, some of the most elegant and exciting batsmen in the world will will eschew every risk known to batsmankind and block every delivery that comes their way. Soon, the pressure will build, a tiny mistake will be made and a feeble lead will eventually be produced before, on Day 5, the opposing team polishes away a small target with the loss of a couple of wickets, thereby giving the Indian team "something to build on".

In the most recent Kolkata Test match between Sri Lanka and India, India began the second inning staring at a 120-odd run deficit. But this Indian team, under Virat kohli's bristling, in-your-face leadership is a different beast altogether. Soon it is 166 for no loss in 37 overs...and the match transforms.

But, there is a twist in the tail. Day 5 begins with the Indians playing a subdued game and staring at difficult times with the lead just 170 runs when the 7th wicket fell.

At that point in time, Virat Kohli was batting time, still managing to be on 58 off 93 balls. The game was in the balance and, breathtakingly, the anti-Tendulkar came to the fore. Rather than retreat into a shell, and try to shield the tail, Kohli went into ODI-mode and took the attack to the Sri Lankans. Boundary after boundary followed and the Indian captain turned the match on its head with a totally-safe but very aggressive display of walking the talk. In the next 28 balls, he scored 46 of the most risk-free but dashing runs imaginable and reached 104 not out with an inside-out six over wide mid-off that was as exciting as it was inevitable. And then India declared! Setting Sri Lanka 237 runs to get off (possibly) 40 overs. Realistically, because of the deteriorating light conditions it was closer to 30 overs and the Indian bowlers came to the party with a vengeance.

Bhuvaneshwar Kumar repaid his captain's faith (11-8-8-4) and when light finally rescued the Sri Lankans, they were tottering at 75 for 7.

A stunning turnaround orchestrated by a man who is, hastily, rewriting how the rest of the cricket world is going to view Indian cricketers. In a good way.

Virat Kohli just turned 29, scored his 50th international century, captained the 30th Test of his career, and oddly, looks like he is just now getting started.

Suddenly, away tours to South Africa, Australia, England and New Zealand don't seem as daunting any more.

Monday, July 17, 2017

High on the hills was a lonely GOAT

Only one man could bring me out of blogging semi-retirement: the Rajah himself.

The story arc of Roger Federer's resurgence has been written many times over by multiple authors around the world and I will not repeat it here. A cursory Google search will suffice. Instead I want to put down some random, disjointed thoughts that float through my brain...

a) For a long time DH and I were reconciled to the fact that he'd be stuck on one prime number - 17. When he won #18 earlier this year in Australia, DH remarked that he would HAVE to win one more to get back to a prime number because that's where he should be (by himself and one). Well, what do you know? It may be time to start thinking of 23 now. Impossible? Well, many of us thought 18 was impossible.

b) Remember this commercial from 10 years ago? It was released on July 6th, 2007, just moments after Roger had won his 10th major and was narrated by Tiger Woods who ended it with the haunting words: My name is Tiger Woods. I have 12 majors and counting. So keep up, buddy.

Yesterday, Roger did what Tiger always dreamed of - overtaking Jack Nicklaus' major count (18). For the record, Tiger has stalled at 14 for over eight years and it does not appear he is going to add to that total.



c) The Federer of 2017 is winning because he is better than the Federer of a few years ago. He is winning because he has improved. His backhand, especially, is a lot flatter and more potent. the elegant top-spin laden one has been beefed up by another version - a flattened, whiplash of a shot that singes across the court with power that is approaching Wawrinka territory.

d) The 2017 Wimbledon final was, finally, lacking in excitement or prolonged tension for Federer. But I am not complaining one bit. I'll take that any day over the 5 set gut-wrencher from earlier this year at the Australian Open where he was (gasp!) trailing 1-3 in the fifth set. Even today I sometimes break into a cold sweat thinking about what might have happened had Roger not raised his game.

Imagine this - Nadal wins the Australian Open. Suddenly the major head-to-head is 17-15 in Roger's favor with the French Open coming up where Nadal would make it 17-16. Oh dear...the GOAT narrative would have taken a drastic turn for the worse for us FedFans. Phew! Thank heavens for that atomic backhand (and Robin Soderling).

e) The loss to Juan Martin del Potro at the 2009 US Open stung for a long, long time. Then came the capitulation to Marin Cilic in 2014 when all Roger had to do was take out Cilic and then Kei Nishikori (neither of whom he had ever lost to at that point in time). For years, I've wondered what those two missed US Opens would have done for his legacy. Suddenly, after what has transpired this year, the pain has eased tremendously.

f) Roger is the only man to have played at least 5 finals at each major. At the French, he has one win (in 2009, thank heavens for Soderling) and 4 losses to the clay GOAT - Rafael Nadal. One wonders what the actual count might have been if the gods had not sent Nadal to mess with us FedFans.

g) But seriously, just watch these 5 games from the 5th set of the 2017 Australia Open again and marvel at how close it was to being a completely different narrative. A matter of inches...literally, on multiple occasions.



h) In 2012 after the Olympics in London, in spite of winning a silver medal, it seemed quite inconceivable that Federer would last as long as Rio in 2016. Verily, it came to pass - Federer did not play in Rio while recovering from his myriad injuries. But if you had told me in 2012 that he would not play in Rio but would win multiple majors in 2017, I would not have believed it possible. I am still having a tough time believing it.

i) Hailing from a nation where we revere the Krishnans and Amritraj for simply making it to the quarter-final at Wimbledon, it is astonishing to think that Federer has played 70 Grand Slam events (tied for first all-time with Fabrice Santoro) and has reached the quarter-final or better in 50 of them. Yes, 50 of them!

j) For a man known for the beauty of his groundstrokes and the fluidity and grace of his foot movement, it is mind-boggling to think that he is third all-time in the list of aces hit on the ATP tour. And, if he plays the rest of the year, he's definitely going to be #2 behind Ivo Karlovic.

k) The final word has to, definitely, belong to the late, great David Foster Wallace from his famous essay: Federer as a religious experience. Mind you, this was published on August 20, 2006, almost 11 years ago, but it still resonates just as loudly today:

... Roger Federer is showing that the speed and strength of today’s pro game are merely its skeleton, not its flesh. He has, figuratively and literally, re-embodied men’s tennis, and for the first time in years the game’s future is unpredictable. (...) Genius is not replicable. Inspiration, though, is contagious, and multiform — and even just to see, close up, power and aggression made vulnerable to beauty is to feel inspired and (in a fleeting, mortal way) reconciled.

(Credit: SI.com)